SGM Pamplin Saves the Day

I spent this past week at Ft. Lee, Virginia doing Army Reserve stuff. Specifically, I attended a conference put on by the training command I fall under. It was a gathering of all the chaplains and chaplain assistants (now called religious affairs specialists) within the command. A host of guest speakers were there throughout the week, all with a plethora of useful information, including a one-star general that took the time to address us. Ok, maybe all the information wasn’t useful, but if my unit commander asks, that’s what I’m going with. Overall, the trip was definitely worth it.

 

I had only one moment where I wasn’t happy to be there. I was trying to watch the and pay attention to a particular presenter at the time, but there was an attendee standing behind me, talking the whole time. He was either interjecting to the entire group, interrupting the speaker, or he was talking to the person next to him, disturbing those of us sitting in the area. At one point, I made a comment that the guy behind me should give the class since he knows it all and seems to like to talk. Yes, I said it loud enough for him to hear on purpose. Like I posted in a previous blog, I don’t really pull punches anymore at this point.

At the end of that lesson, as we were going on break, the gentleman that annoyed me approached me. He looked at my name and rank on my uniform and addressed me, “Staff Sergeant George, what was the deep sigh for? You might be an expert on this subject, but others might need to hear this.” Oh, my goodness. Did he really just talk in a condescending way like that to me after he was talking the entire time over the presenter? I said, “Sir, can I speak honestly here?” He said yes, please do. So, I told him how I felt about him speaking the whole time, distracting us, that my sigh wasn’t about repeat information, that in fact it was my frustration of his non-stop talking. I got nothing out of that presentation because of him. He apologized, and I believe he was sincere. I took my break outside for some nicotine, actually a double dose of nicotine, I was still pissed, despite his genuine apology. Mostly because of his condescending attitude at the beginning of our conversation. He didn’t even know he was being an ass.

The next speaker after the break was Sergeant Major Pamplin. His presentation and his words were exactly what I needed to hear. For some reason, whatever he was talking about, seemed to put everything in perspective. I was no longer fuming about the rudeness I took personally. In fact, the guy wasn’t trying to be rude, he was trying to help the group, although it was still irritating me and others the way he was going about it. My frustration escalated his talking to rudeness and disrespect in my mind. But it occurred to me that my anger was as much to do with how I deal with situations as it was the guy that kept talking during the previous presentation. With his words of wisdom, SGM Pamplin saved the day. Again.

I first met SGM Pamplin in 2008 while at Ft. Dix (he was a Sergeant First Class at the time). He was in charge of one of the chapels and I was a chaplain assistant preparing for deployment with a unit I had just been cross-leveled to. Just a few days before my unit was to board a plane to Iraq, one of our Soldiers died. I had to help put together a memorial service with no materials, no venue, and with almost no training. I had just recently become a chaplain assistant at that time, after a 14-year break in service, and the training to become a chaplain assistant was very lacking, almost a waste of time. I had never put together a memorial service, not even in training. I was basically set up to fail. Not because it would be anyone’s fault, just because of the circumstances.

I went to the chapel, where I met SGM Pamplin. I told him the situation that my unit was dealing with. I explained that I was new to the job, that my unit was not prepared for this situation, that we were on our way out the door in just a few days. He didn’t bat an eye. He provided everything we needed, and then some. I had all-access use of his resources to put together the memorial service. He gave his guidance. He made sure I was set up for success. He saved the day. And I will never forget it.

I’ve seen SGM Pamplin at various events and functions over the years. He always has an encouraging word when he speaks to a group and always tells an audience that if we need something from him, to reach out and he will do what he can to help. Everyone says that. But I know SGM Pamplin means it. He’s a leader that I’ve tried to model myself after.

What’s the point of this story? Sometimes, just doing your job with a good attitude or helping someone develop their sense of purpose in a job can make a long-lasting impression on someone else. I’m sure the Sergeant Major had no idea the effect he had on me with his leadership and willingness to guide me. As far as he knew, he was just doing his job that day, just another day at the office. I’ve had people in my life, both in and out of the military, tell me years later how much an impact I had on them. I didn’t know. I never thought twice about things like that. I was just doing my job or trying to help someone along with theirs. We all have the capability to make a difference and might not always realize it in the moment. Think about that once in a while. Food for thought. It’s never just another day at the office.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Walk It Off

I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Telling someone with PTSD to get over it is like telling someone who is deaf to listen up.” I guess the same thing could be said that someone with a compound fracture of the leg should just walk it off. Or that someone with a stutter should speak clearly. Maybe we could tell a blind person to look closely. None of this works that easily. There is some truth to that meme. But there are also some things we can do to better ourselves.

I will never “get over” this thing called PTSD that I was diagnosed with in 2015. I will likely have to deal with the symptoms for the rest of my life. Just this week, I had a mild PTSD moment at work, for about a minute or so. And I happened to be working with the only other army veteran in my department at the time. Yeah, he gave me shit, but he was also understanding and helped me out. I have explained to most of my coworkers at my new job how sometimes I might need a minute to regroup in certain situations. In five weeks at my new job, that’s only happened the one time, for that one or two minutes. I’m nowhere near the bad place I was three years ago. I’m not as trapped in the darkness of my mind as I used to be. I feel better now than I have in years, many years. Some of it coincidence of fortunate events, some it is that I’m making decisions to be better.

Other PTSD moments->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

I do, however, still have some issues. I slept on my couch three nights in a row last week because I didn’t feel like taking my sheets out of the dryer and making my bed. Funny thing is, there are two beds in the guest room, made and ready to go. I still have trouble occasionally with sleep and dreams, even with the medications from the VA. I’m also lacking motivation. Especially with my writing, as can be evidenced with the fact that I haven’t posted here in a month. Depression is an ongoing issue, although I deal with it much better now than I have in the past. I’m continuing to learn how to deal with all this. It’s a process.

It’s not easy->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/09/02/harder-than-it-looks/

I took a new job last month. If you follow Story of My Life, you may remember that I left working at the restaurant in the airport for a new restaurant job. After two months at that job, I made another change, to what I hope will be my last job change. Here’s the thing. This new job is something I’ve never done before. Years ago, I had the self-confidence to do almost anything. Not so much the last few years. But I decided to make a complete career change. I built up enough confidence to take a chance and go to an interview for a job I had applied for. And to be honest, at the time, I couldn’t remember for which job I applied when they called me for the interview. But I accepted the interview. I had applied for a number of jobs late last year when I knew things at the airport weren’t going to work out. I knew it was time for a change.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

At the interview I was asked, “Have you done this kind of work before?” Um, nope. I think I said, “Not exactly. But if you’ll teach me, I’m a fast learner, I work hard, and I show up on time.” In the last year and a half, I can count on one finger how many times I was late for work (not including the time I was subpoenaed for deposition last-minute or the time the VA took an hour and half to do something that should have taken 5 minutes). I was late clocking in one time, by one minute. And for the few of you that personally know me, you know that still bothers me. But my response to his question, along with me already having a commercial drivers license, got me in the door. On a side note, I’m glad I renewed my CDL a couple years ago even though I wasn’t using it at the time.

My newfound confidence paid off. I got the job. I’ve been there five weeks now. This confidence is something I’ve been rebuilding for a while now. It’s taken a long time. It’s not that I was able to “get over” having PTSD, it’s that I worked at it. I take my medications as prescribed. I go to my appointments. I work on staying calm in stressful situations, which doesn’t always happen, but it certainly works a lot better than it did just a few years ago. And I am open with people about what’s going on in my head. Believe it or not, that helps tremendously.

So, like a deaf person can learn sign language to communicate and function in the world, I can learn to deal with and overcome my PTSD. Yes, “my PTSD,” I own that shit. It’s mine, for life. And while the symptoms will always be there, I will continue to find ways to survive and function. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it. Just don’t tell me to get over it. It doesn’t work that way.

Thanks for visiting Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

March Madness and Life

I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I love the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. It may be the best sporting event in all of sports. Especially the weekend of the first two rounds. And especially this year. I don’t watch all the games, but I watch a couple games each day that interest me and try to catch the highlight shows at the end of the night. This year’s first two rounds last weekend certainly lived up to the madness of March Madness. Buzzer-beating game-winning shots, the #1 overall seed going down, elation, heartbreak, chaos, poise, desperation, and confidence. Just a few things from the first round alone. Every game for the seniors is potentially their last, and every freshman that takes the court has a chance to do something historic. Underdogs can win and overrated teams usually reveal their weaknesses. All of our brackets are busted. It’s madness, complete madness.

While March Madness might be the most exciting sporting event, baseball is my favorite sport. Yes, baseball over football. At no point in a baseball game is the game over until the last out is made. There is no clock. There are no flags to be thrown. No turnovers. Baseball is the only sport that can’t change from offense to defense in the middle of a play, the defense must get all three outs to change sides. And one of the most interesting things in comparing baseball to all the other team sports is that every ballpark is different. In all the other sports, they have the same playing fields, same dimensions, same yard markers, same goal height. No two ballparks have the same dimensions, only the standard 60’ 6” from the mound to home plate and 90’ between the bases.

My life sometimes feels similar to March Madness. It’s chaotic and anything can happen. It’s had excitement, surprises, moments of success, and plenty moments failure. And there are times that even though I’m living my life, I can’t believe what happened and would like to see a replay. I get happy when a good thing happens to me and I get upset when a bad call happens that’s not my fault. Sometimes I feel like that team that’s down by 5 with 15 seconds left but doesn’t have any timeouts left to stop the clock to regroup in hopes of making a final effort to avoid defeat. I’m probably like the 16 seed that people root for as the underdog, even though they know there’s no chance of winning.

But a 16 seed won a game this year, for the first time ever.

March Madness also means that Major League Baseball is right around the corner, something I start looking forward to as soon as the world series ends. My life is like the madness in the first weekend of March Madness from time to time. PTSD doesn’t follow a season. The symptoms come and go as they please. Sometimes my frustrations turn into anger. I become depressed without warning. I go from having a great day to a horrible day in the blink of an eye. I’m often on edge and tense and hypervigilant. I get stuck in that madness sometimes, some of which is from outside sources and some of which comes from within my own mind. I don’t always do a great job of looking passed it. But I’m learning. I’ve found that the periodic madness of my life doesn’t last, I just have to make it through it, that there’s something ahead that might be good. It helps to find things to look forward to. But even then, it can sometimes be a challenge.

Even with the unpredictable madness, I see baseball coming. In baseball, the game ain’t over until the final out. No lead is insurmountable, no clock will expire. And no series is won or lost until the final out of the final game. And I’m still in the game. It’s madness, but I’m still in the game, still swinging for the fences. I’m striking out a lot, but every once in a while, I connect and hit one out of the park. And if I find myself at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the game on the line, I’ll make contact or I’ll go down swinging.

The madness of life is a given. Don’t get stuck there. Something better is coming, whether you can see it or not from where you are now. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless, and Go Red Sox!

Dave

You Don’t See Me

I had a conversation with the new Command Sergeant Major at my army reserve battalion. It was a little one-sided. Those of you who have served in the military know what I’m talking about. I’m coming up on the end of my military career in the reserves, an ending that is not as much my choice as it is the army’s. With that said, I’m a little less likely to hold my tongue than I might have before. I’m still respectful, I just don’t pull my punches anymore, I leave no doubt as to what I’m thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said that started, “With all due respect Sergeant Major.” But I know it was the truth. Then the Sergeant Major spoke. And what he said was also the truth. I had hoped to talk with him more that weekend, but with a busy training schedule it wasn’t to happen. So, I thought I’d write out what I would have liked to say to him.

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me, the soldier. He only sees what’s left of me, the soldier. He sees the old guy whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t see that I came back into service at 36 years old after a 14-year break, because the army needed people to do a job. They needed people really bad at the time, and I answered the call. And I would do it again.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/26/the-cost-2/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that can’t pass the army physical fitness test. But he doesn’t see that until my deployment to Afghanistan (2013-14), I was passing the PT test at the standards of an 18-year old (the standards get easier as the soldier gets older). Yeah, I was in my early 40’s passing it with the numbers an 18-year old would have to do to pass. He sees an older, slower soldier. But he doesn’t see that the last two months of my deployment to Afghanistan I was injured. I sucked it up and completed my mission. He doesn’t know the doctor at my little base over there suggested I go to Germany for treatment, then home. He doesn’t know I decided to stay, despite the pain I was in.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/18/yard-work-and-running/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that moves slowly. He doesn’t see that on my two deployments, I brought my chaplains back safe and sound. And that on my last deployment, we traveled Afghanistan extensively. He doesn’t see that in the narrative of my Bronze Star award it tells how I performed my duties under hostile enemy attacks. He doesn’t see that while I was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were soldiers that had been hiding in the instructor unit (my current unit) for a decade or longer.

Left:  Kabul, Afghanistan 2103.  Right:  Umm Qasr, Iraq 2008.

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that lacks motivation. He doesn’t see my ribbon rack on my dress uniform. He doesn’t see that if I were to update my rack, I’d have 15 different awards on my chest. He doesn’t see all the times I volunteered for different things. He doesn’t see that at a previous unit, I had used up all my allowed time for the fiscal year but still drove 50 miles to give a brief for free (retirement points only). He doesn’t see that I coordinated the suicide intervention training for a CACOM I was in, and that my CACOM was the only command in USACAPOC that met standards by the deadline. Yeah, I got an award from the USACAPOC Command Chaplain for that.

The Sergeant Major sees a somewhat disgruntled soldier. He doesn’t see that I’ve been stuck in a broken system that hasn’t fully addressed my physical and mental injuries. He doesn’t see that I never chose to be a substandard soldier, that in fact, at one time, I was a damn good soldier. He doesn’t see that the circumstances and stresses of all that I’ve gone through have made me what I am now. He doesn’t see that the weight I bear from the physical and mental issues of not being able to perform like I used to was a contributing factor in my suicide attempt in 2015. That, among other things. He doesn’t see how much this kills me inside, only how it currently affects my attitude, something I know I need to work on.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/25/breathe-in-breath-out-if-you-can/ (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me. He only sees what’s left of me. That’s not fair to either one of us. He probably doesn’t see that I’m my own worst critic and that I absolutely hate that I’m not able to do the things I used to do or handle situations and stress like I have in the past. He has no idea how valuable an asset I can be in the right environment. I could see it in his eyes that he plans on creating the right environment. I could hear it in his voice when he spoke to me. It’s a big job he’s taking on, and I don’t think the odds are in his favor, only because the problems he wants to fix have been there for so long. But I truly hope he pulls it off. It’s probably too late for me to experience the right environment again, but perhaps it will be there for future soldiers in that unit. When my time in the army reserves is over, I will leave satisfied that I made my area a better place overall. I might limp across the finish line, or even fall short of it altogether, but I did my job and did it well. And no one can ever take that from me, no matter what’s left of me at this point.

Thanks for stopping by Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

My GPS Needs Therapy

My GPS needs therapy. Or some kind of addiction intervention, or something. I think it’s high, or maybe bi-polar. And it definitely needs help. As I’ve mentioned before, I drive 500+ miles once a month to Ft Jackson, South Carolina for my army reserve training. And then, 500+ miles back home. It’s a grueling drive some months, depending on what time I get on the road, traffic, weather. It takes at least 8 ½ hours one way. It’s taken as many as 10 hours.

When I started going to this reserve unit in 2015, I drove from where I live in the Florida Panhandle up through Atlanta, then took I-20 across to Columbia, where Ft Jackson is located. If you’ve ever driven through Atlanta, you know why I desired to find a different route. Now I take the Georgia backroads from Mariana, FL (after a short drive on I-10 from where I live) up to just west of Augusta, GA. I call it backroads, but it’s not as bad or stereotypical as it sounds. However, the first few times I didn’t go through Atlanta, it was almost all backroads. Some of which seemed barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic. And one road that might forever be imprinted in my mind is Old Balls Ferry Road. You can insert your own jokes here.

I don’t need my GPS for directions anymore, after almost three years of taking the same route, but I do use it for traffic updates and to see my travel time. Traffic updates have come in handy more than once. And we all know that when plugging in the destination, the initial GPS estimated time of arrival is really just a challenge to see if we can beat it. I usually do.

Here’s the deal with my GPS. I plug in my destination. It usually gives me two routes to choose from, with one of the routes having a variation somewhere in it. Basically, my options are the shortest time or the shortest distance. The shortest travel time would be to go through Atlanta, which I hate. The shortest distance (at least when I first started doing this) was literally through some of the weirdest backroads I’ve ever been on. It was the shortest distance, but without using any common sense. Of course, it’s just a GPS, it probably doesn’t have common sense, although I talk to it like it’s a real person. But eventually, I refined that route with one that is both shorter in distance and makes sense. But most importantly, keeps me out of Atlanta traffic.

My GPS also gets confused. I’ll glance at the screen while driving (the onscreen display is wonderful for seeing how the road ahead is laid out). There, on the screen, is a suggestion of a different route with a little arrow pointing to a display that reads “32 minutes slower.” Or “54 minutes slower.” I’ve seen it up to an hour and 10 minutes slower. Why? Why would I want to go that far out of my way? The other thing it does is gets stuck in rerouting mode because I go the way I want to, a way that makes more sense. That’s actually amusing to watch it tell me for 10 miles to make a U-turn until it finally gives in and changes to my new route. I imagine the GPS getting frustrated with me as I drive down the highway passing on its suggested turn. And there’s one small stretch of road on my way back home that my GPS won’t even recognize. And what’s funny is, that’s the way it takes me on the way up! Did it completely forget that road? And why only on the way back? I seriously think my GPS is stoned sometimes.

Either I have some cool life-lesson to offer with this story, or I’m just a sad, bored soul that enjoys pissing off his GPS and then writing about it. Well, today’s your lucky day. It’s both. It is probably a little sad the enjoyment I get from knowing that if my GPS could cuss at me, it would. Is there an app I can download for that? “I said turn left you M#@&$er!”  (In the voice of Samuel L. Jackson).

But seriously, find your route that you’re comfortable with in life. There are a million ways to get where you are going. Some of them will take less distance but more time, some might be quicker but a longer distance. Only you can decide which is more important, which route is better for you. For me, not dealing with the stress of driving through Atlanta was important to me on my monthly trip to South Carolina. As with driving, you can change your route in life anytime you want. Whatever your GPS is (family, friends, coworkers), it might not understand where you’re going, or tell you to turn around, but as long as you know your destination, it’s all good. Go, explore, and enjoy your journey. Take some new roads, get lost, and do a U-turn if you have to. Just make sure you know where you’re going.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave