THE FORTIES: He was 6'6" and the Navy made him sign a waiver about potential injuries due to his height. A giant for the times, he always played center in the best of ball games. They put him on a minesweeper and sent him to the north Atlantic and then the south Pacific. He knew about war. He was quiet about it. In the time we shared together I never once questioned his courage or his patriotism. My Dad never once questioned mine....
FAST FORWARD: The Sixties. It was a confusing time. David left a full ride to college (football) to join the Marines in Vietnam. We buried him in Gettysburg. Medal of Honor. Jim played his guitar as I stood in the circle in the Pentagon where we all sang anti-war songs. Jim left college for the Peace Corps. I never acknowledged that I felt something when I sang patriotic songs, not protest songs.
FAST FORWARD: 1980's. The United States Army made me an offer I could not refuse. I became a DAC---a what? Department of Army Civilian. Oh, Lord, not one of them! The folks were proud and so was I. My less than subtle self made a commitment to never let the prejudice that I began to hear from soldiers and DACs about the other group go unanswered. We all needed each other, couldn't they see that?
FAST FORWARD: Desert Storm and Vicky and Wendy went to war. Wendy had served in Vietnam. All the soldiers left quietly. No bravado, just a sureness about the job at hand. I felt a special responsibility as I took the best care I could of the families who stayed behind. The Sixties were laid to rest for me; Vic and Wendy returned safely. We stood on the edge of the parade field and sang God Bless The U.S.A.
THE PRESENT: Almost 30 years into my career (14 as a DAC); 17 moves; multiple employers such as colleges, hospitals and clinics, private sector, consulting, commercial...I've been around. The Army is the best employer I have ever had, but as soldiers understand, it is my time to go. But not without commenting on the prejudice that seems more apparent as times have become more difficult in Defense.
No center takes the court alone. I still proudly serve in a support role. I never forget that I am only here to serve soldiers. I do contribute; I know I make a difference. But it is the pair of dirty, black boots that sit in my office, a gift from a departing soldier, that assures my sense of perspective. It is more than gratitude that is required; more than knowing one's place in an organization. There is no irony in my "wanna be" activities as I have accompanied soldiers to military training; there is only intention. We must be curious enough, care enough, and extend ourselves enough until the bridge is built. I pray that my efforts will continue, that many soldiers and civilians will seek the deep appreciation that I feel for both. It takes the whole team. Ask the center.