To our distinguished guests on the floor: Thank you for joining us. Thank you for sharing of your time and experiences serving our great nation. Students, I hope you were listening closely as our veterans were recognized. I hope you heard all the different branches of service that were recognized and when and where they served, whether in war or peace, stateside or abroad. And noticed how many of your classmates in the audience are touched by one of our honored guests.
I am a peacetime veteran. I was in ROTC at the University of Alabama during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and left active duty before September 11, 2001. Not a Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day for that matter, goes by without me remembering those whose service and sacrifice far exceeded mine. Or going to bed thinking about who’s on radio watch. Or a holiday wondering what junior officers, NCO’s, and enlisted are on staff duty or CQ. Or when the weather and conditions are awful like they are today: hot/cold, wet/dry, hungry/thirsty and knowing that somewhere, somebody has it worse than I do. This is one of the gifts that my service has given me: Perspective.
Perspective on what is important. Perspective on the things I missed that I will never get back. And the perspective to recognize how precious our time together is.
When I was 21, believing I was ten feet tall and bulletproof, I didn’t think for a minute about what my parents must have felt watching their first born get on a plane to Fort Lewis, Washington. When I was 22, I didn’t think for a minute about how my in-laws must have felt watching their baby girl drive away with a soldier headed to Fort Hood, Texas.
In all the time I spent with my fellow soldiers, from every walk of life and corner of this country, I cannot recall a single conversation about politics or parties or ideologies during the hours, days, and weeks we spent in tanks, tents, and Humvees. What I do recall is conversations about family. Stories that started with “So, there I was!” Stories about other soldiers. And conversations about home. Homes like:
- Pocotello, Idaho
- Thibodaux, Louisiana
- Elkhart, Indiana
- North Tonawanda, New York
- Brownsville, Texas
- Elko, Nevada
- Compton, CA
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- And Tyler, Texas visiting the home and family of SGT Eric Ferguson, one of my squad leaders who was killed in a military vehicle accident in October of 1997 at Fort Hood, TX.
In addition to perspective, military service has given me a myriad number of gifts that have become part of my fabric, part of my DNA, part of my being, the essence of who I am as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, neighbor, and educator.
Those gifts include:
- Living up to a standard
- Taking ownership
- Eating last, or not at all. If you were at our ceremony last year, you may have heard Coach Jimmy Gentry tell his story about never taking the last biscuit.
- Realizing that “It’s not about you.”
- And probably my favorite quote: “How you do anything is how you do everything”
Service is a gift. A gift that gives in perpetuity, whether you realize it or not. A gift that begins with volunteering, taking a first step, raising your hand. Volunteering to be part of something bigger than yourself. Doing your job. Playing your role. Making things better for someone else.
Students, service doesn’t have to start with or even include the military for that matter. It did for me and for that I will be forever grateful. It did for our honored guests here today and we are gathered to demonstrate our gratitude to them for their military service. As you continue your journey, I encourage you to be part of something bigger than yourself, to give selflessly, demonstrate gratitude, and live up to a standard. If somewhere along your road in life, you find yourself alone, out front by yourself, and not knowing what to do, just keep moving forward. If you take a look over your shoulder, we’re all right behind you…cheering you every step of the way.