At a recent alumni event, things were winding down. My chores – hand out name tags, collect the uncollected money, take a few photos – were all complete. Before I left to write the short story and publish the photos, I went to catch up quickly with a Wabash-grad, Air Force friend. As I approached, it was readily apparent that he was engaged in a “lively” conversation with the spouse of an alumnus.
As I got closer and took a seat, the lady asked my friend: “Tell me, you wouldn’t let your child join the military, would you?” The question, spoken in sincerity and seriousness, came across not as much a question but as two clearly defined, distinct statements. First, “how could you let your child join the military? Aren’t you concerned with their safety?” The second statement was clearly: “Surely you would want them to find a better career?” My friend was doing just fine, he didn’t need me as a wingman, and I elected to disengage – live to fight another day, we say (and keep my day job). Before I could get away, she looked at me and asked me the same question. I am pretty sure she didn’t know what my chosen profession was.
I said I would be proud to have one of my sons serve. I turned and moved away…and sat on my hands.
However, on the long drive home, I just couldn’t get the conversation out of my mind. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this – I’ve heard it a lot over the last nine years. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind this time. I should have told her about Sam – #1 in his class at the Air Force Academy (entrance standards, by the way, equal to some Ivy League schools) and a Rhodes scholar – I am pretty sure Sam majored in physics. Of course, there’s also: “Spike” who has a PhD; “Breck-noid” the test pilot; John, the Harvard quarterback, “Jedi” the guy who could build the TV-guided bomb blindfolded; “Mikey” who had the photographic memory and had read every tactics manual ever written and; “Burgie” who, at 600 knots, 100’ AGL, and with 4 or 5 Gs on his body, could calmly record exactly why the TV guided munition or laser designation system wasn’t working like it should – for those engineers safe and sound back in their offices. These are just the guys I flew with. There are also countless young men and women I met in ROTC who are now Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. I had the privilege of getting to know to them at my father’s Alma Mater, a little university up north. All of those I mention, and many more (many are Wabash grads), are world class people, not dummies, and not second class citizens. They do what they do so this lady has the freedom to express her thoughts and feelings.
I was extremely proud of my AF buddy. He didn’t lose his cool, he listened, he spoke respectfully, he conversed, he didn’t argue….and he didn’t deck her. I knew he wouldn’t. He’s a Wabash man, a liberal arts graduate. He’s a gentleman. Some part of him was enjoying the conversation and the difference of opinions. Intellectually stimulating. Food for thought. A Wabash kind of conversation.
I came away thinking that this type of discussion, friendly disagreement over a pretty serious topic, is increasing missing from our society.
I should have continued to sit on my hands – the safe thing. However, the folks she talked of are my friends. My friends. And I would be a lesser person if I didn’t speak up.
This entire conversation came on the heels of the President Pat White telling the group that he challenges the young men at Wabash to be world changers. I like that – I am repeatedly impressed by the accomplishments of our guys. However, while we should stand in awe of the guys who go out and change the world, we should also pause to say thanks to those who go to work every single day trying to keep the world the same – their end goal is to protect that world and those more famous world changers. They also quietly protect and serve those folks who doubt their character, skills, ambition, and brains.
OK, I know, back on my hands.
This will be my last blog – when the day comes – it might get slightly rewritten. In the meantime, for those 7 people who have told me you read the blog, I’ll keep posting. I just couldn’t…well…you know…
When you see this one again, it’s “Miller Time” for the Grunge.
That’s the Grunge and his favorite office of all – F-111F tail number 886.