In Honor of Veterans Day, and because it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.

Since it’s Veterans Day today I wanted to post this story from a few years ago. It’s a way of showing that it’s okay to laugh at some of the things we did in the past.

Midway through my enlistment period in the United States Army I was assigned to the Directorate of Combat Development to work for a high ranking Colonel at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Col. Petty was a very strong-minded, detailed-oriented person charged with a division responsible for creating new weapons and integrating them into the military.

Fort Bliss, TexasHe was a no nonsense type of leader and always expected everyone to carry out their orders perfectly at all times. He was also known to reassign subordinates due to failure, or for other shortcomings he deemed not appropriate for successful delivery of a product.

Once while walking out of a building after a long meeting, upon two Sergeants failing to salute him, he stopped, turned back and addressed them in a stern voice, “Sergeants! Do you not see the rank on my hat! You’re supposed to salute an officer; this better not happen again!” As soon as the Colonel addressed them they realized they better stand at attention and provide a proper salute. Which they did, and apologized profusely as the Colonel turned back around and walked away.

By the time of this assignment as an enlisted member of the Army I had already been promoted three times within a 18 month period and would be up for a fourth promotion, to Sergeant from SP4. So I was never worried about being able to work in a high pressure environment, even though I was only 19 or 20 years old at the time.

Fort Bliss, TexasI had an immediate supervisor, SGT Novotny, and a Sergeant Major, SGM Larson that I reported to, but I spent most of my time around Col. Petty. A few of us enlisted personnel shared areas of responsibility including setting up A/V equipment in the conference room and assisting civilian staff with various tasks. But I was the only person in the building tasked with driving Col. Petty to his appointments, either to different buildings in the post, or somewhere off base like the Boeing headquarters. So pretty much I was usually not bothered by other staff in the office, including officers and enlisted members because they knew I worked for Col. Petty.

The job had its perks too, like frequenting the Officer’s Club for an occasional snack or beverage, meeting high ranking officials from the Ronald Reagan administration, or simply making my own work schedule, although always mindful of the Colonel’s meetings for the day.

Because I had to be at work early every day – by 6:30 each morning I was at the motor pool picking up the military sedan – I was normally excused from physical training (PT), and apparently that caused some friction with the other military personnel in the building. Especially the Sergeant Major. If I had to describe SGM Larson I would say he was a little like Sergeant Carter from the Gomer Pyle TV show, but a lot like Archie Bunker too, the old and opinionated character on the 1970’s sitcom All in the Family. Foul mouth and all.

There was this one particular time when Col. Petty was to be attending meetings in Washington D.C., at the Pentagon, and this included a Friday, a normal PT day scheduled for all, including the officers and high ranking NCO’s in our building.

Thursday afternoon the Sergeant Major called me to his office and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to be at PT in the morning, and that he didn’t want any excuses from me. He went on to say that I had already missed too many training sessions and there was no reason for me not to be there. I can still remember him saying, “Look it, Cromack! I know the Colonel’s not going to be here tomorrow so you better be at PT in the morning!” I assured him I’d be there, but still not believing me he continued, “If you’re not there in the morning I’m going to be very upset and I’m going to take it out on all of you guys tomorrow.” Again, I assured him I’d be at formation in the morning, and not to worry. I wasn’t sure why he had taken this attitude since all of the days I missed physical training was due to my work schedule and not that I was goofing off.

Later in the day SGT Novotny came by and told me the Sergeant Major had talked to him and made it his responsibility to make sure I was at PT the next day. SGT Novotny pleaded with me “Cromack! You gotta be there tomorrow, okay?” And so by the end of the day it seemed everyone in the building was interested to see whether I would show up the next morning or not.

But as I mentioned, at this point I’m also wondering why the big fuss since most of the time I’ve had a legitimate reason for not attending PT. But regardless, now I know what’s at stake for tomorrow and probably should make an effort to attend PT in the morning, no matter what. And nobody wanted the Sergeant Major ranting and raving the next day, especially with the Colonel gone.

I always make sure to set my alarm before I go to bed at night and certain I set it that night, I went to bed thinking I’d prove everyone wrong in the morning, or at least show them that they were overreacting.

Sure enough, I wake up on time, get dressed and start getting ready to leave. Headed out the door, it’s still dark and a bit cold as well. However when I try to start the car, nothing. Just a click. Click. Click. And then nothing again. Oh no! So I pop the hood open and check for any loose cables, the distributor cap is on well, the battery clamps are on tight, I can’t see anything visibly wrong. So I get in the car again and try one more time but still nothing. At this time I realize I’m running out of time and need to figure out how I’m going to get to the base from my apartment off base.

Remembering I have SGT Novotny’s telephone number I head back inside the apartment and dial his number. His wife answered, and I asked if John is there. In her soft Korean accent, she tells me, “No Walter, John’s gone.”20150524_0917571

Well, now I’m really running out of time, and I’m running out of options too. And all this time I’m running the events from the previous day in my mind, and know there will be hell to pay, for everyone, not just me, if I don’t show up at formation very soon.

So now I know there’s only one thing to do to get out of this jam that I’m in. Having promised everyone that I’d be there just made things worse. I need to start running to the base, and very quickly, if I’m to make it on time. (Queue the “Run Forrest, Run!” music here.)

In the dark and cold morning I talk off running, literally sprinting down the street, with dogs barking on either side wondering exactly how many miles it is to the headquarters building where everyone is assembling.

Luckily the apartment I rented was located towards the base of the mountains, not too far from the Army hospital, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, so it was not too much of a strain, as the majority of the run was downhill.

So I get to the entrance gate manned by MP’s, William Beaumont Army Medical Centershow my ID and keep running to fall into formation. Upon arrival to where other troops were forming, I tried to play it cool and pretend all is well, and I even let the Sergeant Major know I was there.

So now training begins and we go through the usual 15 minutes or so of warm ups and calisthenics. But by the end of the first session I start getting tired and now wonder how in the world I’m going to be able to complete not just the exercise session, but soon we’ll start a three mile run. Oh no! I have to run again!

As I said before, I arrived at formation trying to remain inconspicuous fearing I would be the butt of all jokes the rest of the day. And I didn’t want the Sergeant Major to know he got the best of me either, this time anyway.

fortbliss5Somehow I made it through the run without falling out of formation, and no one is the wiser, and I think I’m done with my ordeal. Having returned back to the headquarters building, we are dismissed from formation and those who live off base head to their cars to go home, with just enough time to shower, eat breakfast and be back on time to put in a normal day’s work.

But now another dilemma: Do I ask for a ride back to my apartment and risk the grief I’m going to get at work?

Looking around to find Sergeant Novotny, I find him, swallow my pride, and ask him for a ride home. Knowing the gig is up, I tell him what happened hoping not too many would find out at work. I especially didn’t want the Sergeant Major to know because then he’d be gloating the whole day telling everyone he made me attend PT. Anyway, as I walk into the building, I hear the first shout of the day, “Hey, Marathon Man! Glad you made it to work!”

And so the moral of the story: When you’re running out of options, make sure you run downhill!

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Funny How Things Turn Out Sometimes

Rambling about nothing important here; but maybe something that can be used as a lesson someday.

When I was in elementary school I was really quiet and most times stayed to myself. I wasn’t included in games when sides were chosen and I was too shy to ask to be picked on a team. My perceived lack of talent also didn’t help. I stayed on the sidelines and would usually stand and watch as others had the time of their life taking part in games and having fun.

I also wondered later when I got older whether they thought I was dumb. Or if they thought I had a learning disability. But that’s a topic for another post.

As I moved through my middle school years I beganplayground to break out of my shyness and actually developed a love of sports. I’m not sure when it happened but by the time I was 13 or 14 it turned out I was very good at sports. And maybe it was there all along and I hadn’t been given an opportunity to display those skills.

In middle school I was also much better with schoolwork and could usually get good grades when I wanted. Although it did seem I had an issue with staying focused and not wanting to do more than I needed. I also didn’t push or challenge myself too often and was satisfied with just getting a passing grade. In other words, I was just average. Or maybe I was just an average teenager.

By the time I got to high school I was much more advanced athletically and much to everyone’s surprise – those same friends from elementary school that wouldn’t allow me to play – I could usually out-play most of them. In any sport!

I remember a particular day after an (American) football game during physical education class my freshman year where I made some plays at quarterback that others were talking about the rest of the day.

Another day I was hoping to sit out a volleyball match but the coach insisted I play. He made me play because he liked the intensity with which I played, and because I think he enjoyed watching me spike the ball so hard across the net and hit one of the guys in the stomach or chest. Oh, the joy of getting even! But who holds grudges, right?

Yet another time the tennis coach stopped everyone at practice and asked that they all come over to tenniswatch a match in which I was playing. I actually lost this match, probably the only one I lost when I got challenged. (Challenged is the keyword here. When I played for fun then that’s all it was, fun, and the competitor in me was left idly standing by.)

Anyway, the tennis coach commented every time one of us used proper technique and I still remember her saying something to the effect of “this is how you play the game guys.” What a thrill that was for me, with my elementary days now a distant past.

In the classroom I had a few teachers that would rearrange seating assignments on Mondays based on grades we received the previous week. And although there was this one girl that usually got perfect scores – and she happened to be in a few of my classes – I got a lot of satisfaction getting the first seat every once in a while. If not, I was usually in one of the first few seats. And this was about getting back at the guys and not the girls, so I didn’t mind coming in second to the girls.

So later on in life I wondered whether those same friends remembered our dogbiteyounger days, and if they knew they provided extra motivation for me to succeed. Probably not, but I’d like to think they did.

~But to all those I say, “Don’t pick on someone you may think is weak as it may come back to bite you in that special part of the anatomy sometimes referred to as your ass!”

20 Things a Great Father should do

Having had some early struggles in becoming a father I think I’ve been able to appreciate having children more than most fathers do. Only when you go through a battle do you really cherish the reward.

I base this not only on personal observation but also from news reports from all over the world. How many times do we hear about absent fathers when a kid gets in trouble? Or about fathers who inadvertently forget about their children when they separate or divorce their spouse.

Regardless of life and career accomplishments a father might have, the only thing that matters is what kind of father and person he is. We should embrace the opportunity to be great fathers. It is a way of passing down our legacy to our children.

These are my own Top 20 things to do to show you’re a great father; I’m sure other fathers have their own things they do to make them stand out as great fathers.

  1. Be kind, always Seriously why wouldn’t you. Wouldn’t you rather they remember you for your kindness instead of that one time you were mean to them? Because they’ll remember the mean one way longer than you think.
  2. Be patient They’re little, they’re growing and sometimes they don’t know how to do things. Be gentle with them and give them a helping hand instead of losing your cool. Losing your cool is not good for anyone, especially not for someone who’s counting on you for help.
  3. Show affection Why not hug them and hold them close. It feels great to do this. And not just for them but for you too.
  4. Provide a sense of security Have a stable home life; have a stable job. Providing them security is one less thing for them to worry about in their little heads.
  5. Be dependable Always, always try to do what you say you will do. They’ll remember if you don’t. If you don’t think you can do something then don’t promise.
  6. Show up and be there Attend their activities even if they’re not doing something you like. Just being there will make them feel better.
  7. Be supportive When they want to do something you don’t agree with put yourself in their shoes and think of what your own parents would’ve said or done. If this elicits a bad experience then don’t do the same to them.
  8. Discipline them Yes, kids will do things that will earn them a timeout. When issues come up make sure you explain why they’re being disciplined. Don’t just say “Because I said so!” Make sure you do this with love and not any other motive.
  9. Make them laugh Be spontaneous and say something funny or silly. It’s okay to act up every once in a while. It’s just you and them and no one is watching.
  10. Be the role model You have no choice in this one. What you say and do will shape their minds. Be the best role model you can be and someday you will see the results and will be very proud.
  11. Greet them with a smile Kids notice human behavior and body language more than we realize. They don’t care if we’ve had a bad day at work, or that we got into an argument with someone. They just want to feel your love and there’s no better way to show them than to always greet them with a smile.
  12. Do the little things Even if it’s just spending time watching TV with them or sitting at the dinner table. Offer to help them with their homework; or just ask them how their day was. You’d be surprised with some of the responses you’d get.
  13. Get up early and make them breakfast Food is always a good way to bond with kids. There’s nothing better than to share some time in the kitchen and let them help make something for all to share. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; anything they like  will do.
  14. Read with them Not only should you read to your children, but you should also allow them to read to you too. If they’re too young to read get an animal picture book and make animal sounds with them. They’ll get a kick out of that and will show them you’re comfortable being with them.
  15. Take them places Why not ask them to go with you when you run errands or when you need to go to the grocery store. The time you spend together in the car can be very valuable.
  16. Be a good husband; respect their mother Children need to know there’s stability in the home and how you and your spouse interact around the house will have a major impact on their lives. A son will learn how to treat women by how a father treats his wife.
  17. Know when to say no There will come a time when a request can be granted but saying no will be more important than giving them whatever it is they want.
  18. Don’t ever yell at your child, ever We are not Neanderthals guys; we don’t need to rant and rave. If you ever lose your composure and yell at your kids they have already won the fight because they’ll know what it takes to get under your skin.
  19. Listen to what they need Kids will usually verbalize what they want so this one on the surface doesn’t appear important. But it’s important to have a feel for your children so that you know what they might not be telling you.
  20. Love them with all of your heart Why wouldn’t you love them with all of your heart. After all, they made you who you are and have given you the greatest love in life. Your children will always love you no matter what and you should do the same.

That’s it! That’s my list. Very simple and not difficult to do at all. But if you do have trouble with one of the items on this list don’t give up and say you can’t do it. Just improvise and come up with your own alternative. The important thing to know is that we are heroes and sometimes even idols to our children and we should act accordingly.

A Father’s Day Letter to my Father

Hello Dad! It’s now more than 45 years since you’ve passed and even though I think of you often I‘ve never taken the time to say things to you. There have been many times I wished you’d been alive to see the things I’ve done. Like when I decided to join the military just like you did. It turned out I did well in the Army and that gave me the confidence I needed to accomplish more things in the future. I thought you’d want to know that.

There have been many things happen in my life, as you can imagine, and most have been good but there have been a few bad ones that I deal with to this day. It’s been the difficult times that have led me to a life of empathy, compassion, strength and respect for others.

The things I’ve accomplished have been mostly through hard work and dedication but others by pure luck, or by being at the right place at the right time and others simply by choosing not to quit.

I’ve also failed many times Dad, for various reasons, but I haven’t let those setbacks stop me from moving on and living a productive life.

Dad, I want to tell you that even though I wasn’t quite seven years old when you died I learned a lot from you. I learned from you to share with others and learned how simple gestures of kindness can leave a lasting impression on someone.

Specifically, I remember the times you were home from your fishing trips and you would load the kids in the car. And not only your children but our friends as well. You would take us to the drive-in to get burgers and fries and ice cream. And you’d always pay for everyone and you did it happily!

I did that when my own children were young often taking them and their friends out for pizza, or to the movies or for a game of bowling. If I hadn’t seen you do that I don’t know if I would’ve known any better. I learned that from you Dad!

I also want to tell you about something I found out long after you died that made me appreciate you even more.

While I was going through some papers that Mom gave me a few years ago I learned that you sent her money from wherever your fishing trips took you, even half-way around the world it seemed. I have some deposit receipts from the bank stashed away somewhere. I was truly impressed by that but I shouldn’t have been surprised because you provided well for your family. I remember that about you Dad.

I found some other documents that showed you started working in the fishing industry at a very young age and that you didn’t stop working until your health got to be too bad. I admire you for that Dad.

Dad, I want you to know I’ve been steadily employed since I graduated from high school. I go to work every day and I have you to thank for showing me that I need to provide for my family just like you did for yours. There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit or give up but I have you as an example and still to this day look back on your life and get strength from that. Thank you Dad!

And Dad, I also want to tell you that because of you I love the ocean. And I love seafood just like you did! I remember you bringing fresh seafood home when you got back from a fishing trip and remember you preparing it for us. Thank you also for taking us fishing at the boat ramp. It was a thrill to see all those blue crabs when we pulled the bucket out of the water. And we would go home and again you’d prepare them for us to eat. Thank you for doing that for us Dad.

A few years ago I visited Biloxi because I wanted to see where you grew up. jw-1968I noticed that the house you lived in is very near the ocean. When I retire from work I plan to move back home and buy a small house near the ocean too Dad. And I’ll spend a lot of time fishing, just like you did. But I’ll do it for fun and not for work like you did. I know you’d like that for your youngest son.

Dad, Happy Father’s Day! I wish you were here so I can thank you for all that you taught me. And maybe you would be proud of me for the man I’ve become. I think I’m becoming more like you each day. And I am very happy about that.

Your son who has never forgotten you.

Above and Beyond: Is it in your genes?

I’ve been researching this so called Above and Beyond trait, if we can call it that, and I’m leaning towards putting it in the same category as other more identifiable traits such as eye-hand coordination and common sense. Let me explain.

For those of us who have been blessed with exceptional eye-hand coordination, hitting a tennis ball, ping pong ball, or simply catching an object thrown at you without fully turning your head or following the object into your hands, it just comes naturally.

I’m one of those that gets shooed away at a carnival’s basketball booth because I’m making too many shots, clearing the shelves of stuffed animals, and handing them to kids as they walk by. True story, by the way. It happened at a jambalaya festival in Gonzales, Louisiana, many moons ago.

And so I think for those who always seem to go above and beyond, whether the task is big or small, it just comes naturally. For many who go above and beyond, it is actually a little awkward that it is pointed out because they didn’t take on a task and say to themselves, “Wow! For this task I’m going to do more than I’ve ever done before!” It just doesn’t happen that way.

Unless it’s an employee who’s trying to save his job, sarcastically speaking…

Anyway, see what I mean? It’s like saying, “Today I’m going to have more common sense than I did yesterday.” I think you either have it in you, or you don’t.

So then, how do you know when someone is one of those “above and beyond” persons?

One way of course is to ask. And it’s okay for a person to list some examples of when he or she went above and beyond, but if the person tries to explain how or why, just stop them. It can’t be explained. It’s just in you.

However, as with other human skills, you can always work on improving yourself, but just the fact that you have to work towards making yourself better in one area means you aren’t quite there. Right? It’s like asking a historically lazy person not to be lazy anymore. Yeah, right…

So like eye-hand coordination and common sense, I think you either have Above and Beyondness, or you don’t.

No? I’d like to hear from other folks about this. And if this is the first time you’ve thought about this subject, let me know. It’ll help my research. Not that I want to go above and beyond

The Miracle of Being a Father

We know the old saying about how if things come easy they’re not worth having or how good things are worth waiting for. This is my story about having children late in life when I didn’t think it might happen.

During my first marriage back in the early ’80s, my wife and I tried often to have children. Being unsuccessful after about five years of trying, I decided to take the first step and seek the help of a specialist.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was probably the biggest mistake I would make in my life. You see, after testing was complete and the doctor had the results, the doctor came to the conclusion that I would never be able to father any children.

As devastated as I was to hear this, I remember walking through a long hallway, walking towards the exit of the building and thinking to myself, “Well, if God wants me to have children, I’m going to have children someday.”

I actually didn’t dwell on this too much after that day, and I can’t really explain why. For someone who loves and enjoys children so much I really wanted to have children. But I really didn’t let it bother me.

But for now I had to go home and report the news to my wife, already knowing what her reaction would be. Needless to say, this, and other reasons, would mean an end to our marriage. My wife had previously told me she didn’t want to adopt, and didn’t want to go through an alternative way of conceiving. And I didn’t want to push this anymore.

We were both still in our mid 20’s. We separated without telling anyone. We had been everyone’s perfect couple, childhood sweethearts, together since the age of sixteen. I know it broke our family’s heart knowing that we were no longer going to be together, especially her mother and younger brothers and sisters too. To this day I still see them the same as always and their kids still call me uncle and I still call them my nieces and nephews. It was an awful feeling not to be part of their daily lives anymore.

Having moved out of town to move closer to my mother and siblings in a different state, I lost touch with my ex-wife until about seven years later when I returned to our hometown to attend a friend’s funeral.

At the funeral service I saw my ex-wife’s best friend from high school, and learned from her that my ex had remarried and had two daughters.

When she told me this, the first thing that popped into my mind was that the infertility specialist had been correct in his assessment and that it was my fault my wife hadn’t been able to get pregnant.

So now about fifteen years after first getting married, and wanting to have children, I was married again, actually married a women with two beautiful children.

I remember when we were first getting to know each other one of the questions I had been wanting to ask her was if she already had children. At this point in my life I didn’t want to marry a woman who hadn’t already experienced childbirth for fear of going through what I went through with my first wife. I didn’t want to put myself in that position again, and didn’t want to put another woman through the agony of not being able to conceive. At least that’s how I felt.

So thinking back to what I said to myself walking out of the doctor’s office that dreadful day many years ago, I thanked God for finally allowing me to have children. And I promised God I would always strive to be the best step-father I could, and to treat both children as if He himself had delivered them to me.

And now as I sit in a hospital room watching over my youngest son, who’s now 16 years old, and who came down with pneumonia yesterday, I again thank God for giving me another miracle and proving the specialist wrong.

Oh yeah, and my wife was again pregnant about a year later, this time with a beautiful baby girl.

When the youngest son was about 10 or 11 years old I remember him asking me why I had named him after me. At that time I felt he was too young to understand, but I may be getting closer to telling him the whole story now.

One thing I want to tell him, right or wrong, is that I had already made up my mind that if God allowed me to have a son I was going to name him after me. I’ll tell him that after all I went through, with the emotional trauma of losing my first wife, and living all of those years not knowing whether I’d ever have children, I wanted the privilege of passing my name down to him. I hope he would understand.