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.