On Being a Veteran

 This was originally an email to my agency on Veteran’s Day about what it means to me to be a US veteran today, but there are a few things I wish to expand upon.  First, I want to dispel the notion of members of the military as being “suckers and losers.” They are not.  While a wide variety of men and women enter the military, and some might be viewed as losers, or may feel that way about themselves, by the time they finish basic and advanced training, they are no longer any such thing. They become soldiers, people who are willing to lay their lives on the line, not just for each other, or for friends and family back home, but for an idea – the nation, something bigger than self. The oath we took as soldiers first and foremost commits us to the Constitution, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;”  words that still make me proud to have served. I am still committed to that mission, albeit as a private citizen.

To serve one’s country is to commit to the idea of the country, not any particular individual. To support and defend the Constitution is a powerful statement. It’s a commitment to stand against those opposed to rule of law, freedom, and equality. Although it is fair to say that we have not been very good about distributing equality equally. The nation remains a work in progress. We also know that the Constitution was flawed from the beginning, in that it did not provide freedoms to all people. Thus it has been amended as many of us believe we can achieve something better for America.

My time in the US Army was a mere three years, followed by six years in the US Army Reserve. It was not easy time, despite it being peace time. It was a time full of opportunity, self-development, and pushing beyond what I had perceived to be my limits. It was also a time, especially looking back, to see just how racist and genderist government structures can be. That’s why I appreciate so very much the work that the agency is doing to develop a new statement of ethics and values that is focused on equity.

Some of the men I served with feel that those years in the Army were the best years of their lives. I remember it quite differently. I also remember that these guys did not really seem to be enjoying the experience all that much. No matter how many tough, cool, and exciting things I did then, they don’t come close to my years here in Virginia.  I’ll admit that dangling below a helicopter, climbing the side of a glacier in combat gear, cruising across plateaus in the Canadian Rockies in six-wheeled combat vehicles, and blowing lots of shit up occasionally was fun and makes for good memories, but those things did not define the years.

Finally, while I appreciate the current “Thank you for your service” attitude,  I don’t need thanks for serving. I benefited greatly from my service. It was an honor and privilege. Others, however, need and deserve much more than thanks. They need ongoing support and a nation that has not forgotten them and their colleagues.

I’ve spent 19 years and 9 months in Virginia state government. I’ve tried to bring the same values to this job that I learned in the Army: complete the mission, take care of your people. It’s not a bad model.

One Perfect Shot #Chasing350

I suck at golf. I really do. To be good at golf requires consistency over time in mind and body. It requires development of a repetitive swing that holds up over time. I don’t have that, never have, but it has been better in the past. Now, with the 10-year absence of a left side vestibular (balance) nerve, physical repetition seems beyond me. As for the mental aspect, my untreated ADHD, while it is a super-power for my job, creates challenges in focus at times. I’m repetitive about big ideas and concepts over time, according to colleagues, but little moments, not so much.

The thing is, golf can be a pretty abusive relationship. One can spend three or four (or more) hours playing golf and feel pretty beat down. Especially when your score is crappy. You can swear you’ll never play golf again – right up to the moment says, “Next weekend?”

You can easily get to feeling discouraged and beat up while you’re playing, and then it happens – just one perfect shot. If feels like you’ve kissed by the goddess herself. It’s what keeps you coming back….regardless what happens next. It happened to me last Sunday.

For 16 holes, I was kind of all over the place. I hit some really good shots, had some shots go really wrong (hooks and slices), missed a lot of short putts – clearly, I was struggling with both tempo and alignment. On the 17th, a short par five, playing about 483, I just cranked one out. Right down the middle, the ball seemed to hang endlessly in the air. A total of 295 yards, with only 10 or 15 yard of roll. It was glorious.

So, there I am, standing over the ball, just inside 190 yards. Partner and I are talking.

“You’re going to go for it?”

“I guess. I’ve been hitting like shit all day, but this is normally an easy six iron.”

“You’ve got to. You know I would and I don’t have your length.”

We waited for slow group ahead to clear the green. I took my practice swings. They felt good. Step up, swing….and chunked it, hitting a good half-foot behind the ball in the soft turf. This is something I’ve been fighting lately, so while frustrated, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Walk the 70 yards, hit again, put it on the green, and two-putt for an easy par.

All that really matters to me is that I hit that drive.

I played again on Veteran’s Day. It was a gray, rainy day, just like all those days I played in the Willamette Valley in the 1990s. The course was pretty much empty, so I played as a single, unrushed, and working on aspects of my game. As usual, a mix of good and bad, but with no one to watch, either to celebrate the good or mourn (or laugh at) the bad, it was just easy to relax. I got to 17, looking for redemption.

I found it. Sort of. The drive was not perfect, as it came down on the edge of the cart path to the left, behind a stand of trees that intrude into the fairway, 287 yards from the tee. I had no straight shot, has not worried about score or making a conservative play, so attempted a heavy draw with the six iron. I took my stance, aimed wayyy right and almost. Landed in the greenside bunker on the right. I was pin-high and pleased as hell. Still ended a two-putt par, but it was good.

Next hole was a disaster, but I will be back at 9:40 am tomorrow.

Practicing Golf v. Playing Golf #Chasing350

I spent two weeks fairly ill, tested twice for Covid-19. Fortunately, both tests were negative. Even though wasn’t the corona virus, it was enough like it to be really unpleasant and just a bit scary. It also weakened me. I was never bad enough to have to stay in bed, and I was able to do some swing practice, but it got harder to do and I became sloppy.

Last Sunday, I did feel strong enough to get out and play. It was a lovely, grey and drizzly day, much like those days I played golf in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Unfortunately, it was raining buckets in Spotsylvania where my playing partner lives and he bailed out, assuming the worst. Out at the course, the forecast was for 0.02 inches per hour – at most a heavy drizzle.

When I arrived at the course, there was one group out on the front nine and another that started while I was on the range. Being a single, and not wanting to put pressure on any group, nor wanting to have a four-hour round or longer, I started on the back nine. Visibility was low and I lost track of my drive quickly. All I knew was that it was heading down the left. So I teed up another ball and swung away. Same result. Started walking, and found both balls, only about a foot apart. in the left rough.

The golf balls of my first two drives when I thought I had lost the first, little more than a foot apart.

I wish I could be this consistent with my swing on an ongoing basis. I am so wild, no matter how many lessons, no matter how much practice, I just do not really better. However, it is something that these were at 238 yards and pure carry, maybe a foot of bounce. The round itself was up and down, short game was really freaking good, long game not so much. Longest drive was only 245 and thus disappointing. To be fair, I had been sick and was still recovering.

I finished my round, cold and wet, in about three and a half hours, never seeing anyone else. It was lovely. The drizzle had stopped by the 11th or 12th hole. On the last par three I didn’t wait long enough for the GPS in my watch to catch up. I also forgot everything I knew about the hole. I took that 187 yard reading and thought, “well, I’ve been hitting a little short, let’s go with a 6 iron.” From the blacks, this is normally a 7 iron for me…at a 178 yards. Anyhow, I hit that ball so pure, so straight at the flag, I thought for sure that it was going to drop into the hole. I was of course disappointed when it dropped 20 yards behind the hole into the woods…and I never found that bright orange ball.

I played yesterday, after a very wet week. Course was generally soft and marshy and my swing was shit. Absolute shit. After looking at my swing speeds in practice and looking at my actual distances and what the estimated swing speeds were, I became convinced that I wasn’t making the same effort on the course. This was about the same time I ran across an article or video lesson that suggested that this was not only common, but often a result the misplaced belief that swinging slower provided more consistent results, when it generally results only in shorter results.

I swung harder and faster yesterday, trying to manage this 48″ driver in wet, mucky, windy conditions. It was not pretty. The only drive worth reporting was 259 yard carry that had incredible hang time. if the course had been hot and dry, I believe it would have been easily 300 yards plus on that particular hole. Temperatures in the low 50s don’t provide optimal results.

Another good thing that happened is that I played three of the par fives in par, with two putts each (yes, always missing the birdie putt). They felt easy and natural to play that way, not as if I had played them really really well.

Bottom line, while there is a lot of left yardage between 259 and 335 yards (my goal) of carry, I’m not expecting huge distances in off-season weather. Golf this time of year does provide a good check on actual carry distances, especially when the ball plugs, as mine often do. Yesterday’s long drive was gorgeous, high with incredible hang time. That alone made the day worthwhile.

Side note one: I’ve been encouraging my playing partner to swing harder, because distance really matters. I’ve told him numerous times that I think he can hit farther than he does. Yesterday he was doing that. He was hitting carry distances that equaled his total distances this past summer. Also, by pushing him back to the blues, from 5,800 yards to 6,400 yards, that has also forced him to swing faster and better. It is good to see, even though he continues to beat me on scores. As long as I hit it the farthest, I don’t really care.

Side note two: I’m taking notes from the long drive champions, like Kyle Berkshire. I may be more than twice his age, but there is no reason I can’t try to swing like he does with these four easy steps.