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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What Did We Learn?

“What did we learn?” I might be the only one I know that liked the movie Burn After Reading. And that was my favorite line in the movie, “What did we learn?” At the end of the movie, J.K. Simmons, who plays a CIA superior, asks that question. You might recognize him and that line from the Farmers Insurance commercials from a while back. In Burn After Reading, Brad Pitt was excellent as a goofy, idiotic fitness center employee. John Malkovich was superb, as usual. Tilda Swinton perfectly plays a woman you want to hate. And some guy named George Clooney was in it also. Really, why am I the only one that likes this movie? It’s on Netflix. Y’all should check it out.

But this isn’t a movie review, per se, but more of a reason to ask ourselves, “What did we learn?” Throughout the whole movie, there is a comedy of errors with the CIA, other branches of the government, and even the Russian Embassy at one point. Nothing seems to be going right for anyone involved in the plot. It’s a hilarious mess. And at the end of the movie, the CIA superior (J.K. Simmons) simply asks, “What did we learn?” No one in his office had a good answer. Even though he had no idea what had happened to cause all the craziness he had to deal with, he answered his own question by saying something along the lines of, “Let’s not do that again.”

As I mentioned last week, I recently changed jobs. On a shift before I left, I was talking to my buddy I worked with in the kitchen. The lack of hours was the only reason I left that job, one of the points of our discussion. We had both been frustrated with the cut in hours. I mentioned to him that I learned a lot during the year I worked there. That upset him, at least that’s how I took it with his response of, “I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t get anything from this.” I guess I see his point. As a cook, I got very few new lessons from that job to add to my skill sets of working in a kitchen. So many people, like my friend, fail to see the bigger picture. I did learn some things, albeit, not much related to cooking. But I did learn.

I’m 47 years old. There is not quite as much new stuff for me to learn as when I was in my 20’s, and there’s even less desire to learn some of it on purpose. I doubt I’ll learn Mandarin at this age. I’m probably not going to learn how to rebuild a car engine at this point in my life. And I’m certainly not going to learn how to perform brain surgery. There’s a ton of new things I’m not going to learn as a whole, and I accept that. However, every day I can find something to add to what I already know. I think that’s why I’m so engaging with people, because I might learn something. And I’m always open to new experiences and adventures, and the lessons that come with them.

I’ve learned a lot of important things in my life. I’ve learned there’s plenty more things that I don’t know than what I do know. I’ve learned that listening can make a world of difference for someone. I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to sound smart is to say less. I’ve learned that others can make me happy or sad, or elicit other fleeting emotions, but that I am solely responsible for my own happiness in my life. And that starts with me being happy with myself. Which I’m not. At least not completely, but I am working on it. It’s hard sometimes with periodic bouts of depression, some of which last for weeks. But I’ve learned it doesn’t last forever. I’ve learned to keep moving forward.

While I might not learn something new like how to navigate a ship using the stars, I will continue to take each day as an opportunity to add to myself and learn something. What did we learn? It doesn’t have to profound or life-changing, or even a good lesson for that matter. Because even in the craziness of life, no matter what the lesson is, you should be able to give an answer at the end of the day when asked, “What did we learn?” Even if the answer is, “Let’s not do that again.”

Thanks for stopping by this week. I hope you learned something. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Milestones and Reflections

This past week, my blog surpassed 400 followers from all over the world. Granted, that’s not a huge number, but it’s still an amazing milestone to me, considering I write for my own pleasure and therapy. I didn’t set out to create any kind of following for this site, only a place for me to put some thoughts somewhere, like a way to journal. Originally, Story of My Life was a place for me to do some writing during my deployment to Afghanistan and share a few things with my family and friends. After returning from war, I took a two-year break from posting here. I then started using Story of My Life again in February 2016, as an outlet for self-therapy and recovery. Based on the number of followers, comments and likes on the posts, it seems like a lot of people can relate to what I’m putting out there.

As I celebrate a very modest milestone, I also want reflect on Story of My Life and share with some of you that might not know the progression this blog has taken the last couple of years and why I post (almost) every week. I say progression of this blog, but in reality, it’s my progression. These are my thoughts, feelings, experiences that I share here. Some entries are comical or silly. Some are dark and painful. Some are rants, usually complaining about dealing with the VA. I’ve posted poetry and short fiction stories, but mostly, real-life stories of me surviving my life.

While my first blog post to Story of My Life was 5 years ago, it’s only been in the last two years that I started a new journey of using weekly writing as therapy and sharing my story with the world. The beginning of this new journey started with me opening up about a failed suicide attempt, being taken to the psych ward at the hospital in hand cuffs by the police, and being diagnosed with PTSD and major depression. From there, I shared what I saw as obvious irony in the fact that I attempted suicide, being that I was the lead trainer in suicide prevention training in most of my army reserve units. Ironic, in a twisted way, I know.

I’ve shared stories from my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, stories about my kids, and I’ve written some entertaining fictional stories. I’ve touched a little on the end of my marriage and I’ve exposed some of the flaws with the VA that veterans have to deal with. I’ve written about the struggles I have from time to time with depression and suicidal thoughts. I’ve also written about some of the victories I’ve had the last two years, which include sharing a couple excerpts and progress from the novel I’m writing (yes, still working on that). I’ve written about the weather, traffic, youth sports, investing, the Mississippi River, and I’ve shared some about my civilian job in a few posts. I cover most everything that pops into my head in any given week. We can all see the pros and cons in that. But I do it anyway.

I write every week and post it here because it helps me. I am able to sort my thoughts and put them in some kind of order that makes sense to me. It’s a way to track my progress as well as my low points. Each post gives me a record of what I was doing or thinking and I can go back any time and see what was on my mind. I know, I can do the same thing without putting it on a blog, but I feel that making some of these stories public forces me to put more thought and effort into this project. And I know that my story helps other people, too, which is a bonus for my motivation to keep writing and sharing. Knowing there are people out there that can relate to my issues and mental illness is helpful to me as well. I appreciate all the likes and comments of support on my posts each week.

I do this for me. But I also do it for everyone else that hasn’t found their voice yet in speaking up comfortably about their own mental illness. I share it with the world so that someone that might be in the dark places of the mind, like I have been, know they aren’t alone. If you need help, reach out. If you know someone that needs help, help them find help. You don’t have to be a professional to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You only have to get them to someone that is (hospital, police, fire station, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255). Helping is easier than you think.

For those of you that might be new to Story of My Life and want to get a bigger picture of my story, below are some links to previous posts that will highlight my journey the last two years.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/06/battlefield/  (the beginning of my new journey)

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/16/depressed-ptsd/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/11/26/suicidal-anonymous/

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

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/07/15/my-worst-war-memory/

Thank you all for your support, I hope that I am returning the favor in some small way here. And thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Get Philosophized

Philosophy says that the early bird gets the worm. Ok. But the early worm gets eaten. I guess timing is everything. And it is. I used to drive a box truck for a produce company. If my truck wasn’t ready to go when I showed up for work at 4 a.m., I would be running late getting my route done. It was at least an hour drive from my starting point to my first stop. I needed be ahead of the morning traffic. Between Pensacola and Ft Walton Beach, there must have been 372 school zones (I exaggerate, of course, but it sure seemed like it). And if I didn’t leave on time, I would undoubtedly catch every one of those annoying school zones, one of which was less than 100 feet. If I didn’t leave on time, I would be at least an hour late just a few stops into my route. And my leaving on time was contingent upon the night loaders getting their job done and getting the trucks loaded.

On the flip side, when I did leave on time, I would have about an hour wait by my third stop. Nap time! The cab of the truck wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep, but a couple times a week, when the loaders got my truck ready on time, I would enjoy a short cat nap while waiting on the manager of that restaurant to show up and accept the delivery. Sometimes I was early, sometimes I was late. Being the early bird that gets the worm, or the worm that got told by customers he was late, all depended on someone else doing their job.

I really miss that job.

And on the subject of being early, why does my GPS offer me slower routes when I’m driving from Florida to South Carolina and back every month for my army reserve duty? It shows “This route is 34 minutes slower.” “This route is 15 minutes slower.” I’ve seen it give a slower route by an hour and 15 minutes while driving. Why? Why would I want a slower route? If I didn’t care what time I arrived, I wouldn’t be using my GPS. But honestly, I mostly use it for traffic updates and an estimated time of arrival. But really, why try to sell me on a slower route? It’s more than an 8-hour drive one way. I don’t want to go slower. I just want to get there and take a nap.

Another philosophical anomaly is seeing a glass half empty or half full. Who came up with that? I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but that’s just ridiculous. Let me explain. I’m a very analytical person. I need more information than just a cylindrical container being at 50% capacity. The truth is, if you are filling the glass and stop halfway, it’s half full. If it’s full to start with, and you drink half of it, it’s half empty. This same equation works for beer, except that with beer it’s always half empty. No one starts out with only half a beer.

Lastly, let’s look at “I think, therefore, I am.” I like that one. But I still have questions. Do I exist because I think? Or do I think because I exist? What about some of the people we deal with on a daily basis that make us scratch our heads when they think? Come spend a day with me at the airport I work at and you’ll see what I mean. I guess when Descartes came up with “I think, therefore I am,” he didn’t add an addendum that it has to be intelligent thought. I guess his glass was half full.

Thanks for stopping this week and getting philosophized. And since I skipped last week, Happy New Year. May your 2018 be as good as you make it. Well, that statement is an interesting bit of philosophy. Think about that for a while. Good day, God bless.

Dave

My List Is Complete

About twenty years ago I managed a pizza delivery store in Panama City Beach for a couple of friends of mine. During the spring break season, we were open 24 hours a day. It was busy. According to our food distributor, we were the busiest independent pizza store in the country based on how much cheese we ordered each week during that time. MTV was in town covering the festivities of party-goers, Spinnaker and La Vela were packed every night, and the strip was bumper to bumper traffic for miles all day, and continuing late into the night. Needless to say, getting everything done each day was a monumental task.

One of the guys I worked for there was a list-keeper. Everything he needed to do was on a list. It wasn’t always the neatest looking lists, but it worked for him. He kept everything in Steno pads. And he always seemed to have everything crossed off his list at the end of the day, for the most part. I was impressed with his ability to get it all done, but also not happy with myself for never finishing my list and always having to move things to the next day. I was a great manager, but for some reason, I could never cross everything off my list.

I finally asked him one day, “How do you get it all done? You have a page full of stuff, the same as me, but you get a lot more of it done than I do.” His reply changed my life. Well, that’s a little dramatic, but his words certainly have stayed with me for more 20 years. It was so simple. I still use his strategy today. He said, “When I get something done, I add it to my list and check it off.” Mind blown. Eyes opened. Life changed. The philosophy of that simple idea is amazingly deep.

He would start his list with what was important to be accomplished. It might only be a small handful of things. As he would get things done throughout the day, he would add those things to his list. Since those things were already done, as he added him to the list, he would check them off. That’s brilliant. Do you realize how much stuff we actually get done in a day? If you made a list, you would know. And if you knew how much you do get done, maybe you wouldn’t beat yourself up for not completing your to-do list, a list that might be unrealistic to begin with.

As 2017 draws to a close, I look back on the year and I know I did not even come close to getting all the things done that I wanted to this year. If I had made a list at the beginning of the year of all the things I wanted to get done in 2017, that list would still need some work, or the year would need to be extended. But I won’t lament or lose any sleep about not finishing my hypothetical list. I will, however, be happy with what I did accomplish, even if some of it is trivial or perhaps less productive in the big picture of life as I see it. I still got a lot done this year. I survived. And that is a rather huge accomplishment in and of itself in some respects.

I finish this year broke, but none of my bills are behind. Except my student loans, which will likely never get paid. I didn’t get much done this year on the novel I’m writing, but I estimate that I wrote about 30,000 words to my blog in 2017. Neither of those endeavors pay the bills. I really just want to make a living as a writer, but I like the job I have and the people I work with. I’m not where I want to be in life, but I am certainly not where I was a short while ago, which is a good thing. I didn’t finish everything on my list for 2017, but I am pretty happy with what I did get done, including the less important things I added to the list as I went along.

My friends, do not make an overwhelming list for yourself that you cannot finish. Once you start moving things to the next day, it becomes easier and easier to keep doing that. You will never get it done that way. Pick a few things that are important. As you move throughout your day, week, or year, add to your list the other, less important things you get done and check them off. You’ll be surprised by how much you really get done, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Happy New Year to you all. May 2018 be a year of checking off the important things on our lists and realizing how important the things not on the list are that we get done as well.

Thanks for stopping by this year. Hope to see you in 2018. Good day, God bless.

Dave