The Sleeping Giant

In politics, they call her the sleeping giant. China has existed as a political state, although through many evolutions, for far greater a time than many western countries particularly the United States. As a political and socioeconomic entity as a whole, China is clever and very diplomatic and slow to aggressive action. China uses trade to exert influence. That is how China has lasted through dynasties.

Many people are starting to worry about China and Taiwan. There is talk of Russia and the Ukraine lately too. I moved my children to Guam to live with their Dad for a year or two. I hope this wasn’t a mistake. If some military move was made by China, Guam would surely be in the way. Not much is said about the invasion of Guam in WW2 but it was very bad. Everyone talks about what happened at Pearl Harbor. Guam was invaded and the local people…some were beheaded and others severely tortured.

In recent weeks, the Iron Dome used in Israel has been setup in Guam. This is good but I am not sure it can counter a missile attack if needed. There’s been a lot of military defense talk in the news between Australia, the US in Guam and Hawaii, and Taiwan. I worry about my kids and I worry about the Chamarro people there. Christmas is coming. I’m torn between wanting them to be with their Dad and worrying about their safety on the island.

Perhaps it’s nothing, just needless anxiety. Perhaps the sleeping giant will remain in slumber. I hope so.

Return from Duty

by J. Speer

SSgt Miller took the overnight flight home.

It was a grueling flight much like the desert sands and blazing heat of the Middle East.

It had been a long year since he’d seen his children, now 14 and 8 years old.

The gym was a packed house.

He stood in the hallway in uniform near the school trophy cases.

Filled with deep emotion inside, he appeared calm and collected on the surface.

The school announced a special guest of honor over the intercom.

His daughter was on the Varsity team playing basketball.

She was a guard on the court.

The team was 7 and 2 this season.

It was something that together they discussed frequently over the long-distance phone calls at night.

He had taught her how to play ball.

Years ago in the driveway of their family home, they shot hoops together and played horse.

Countless hours.

He told her how to hold the ball just right for free throw shots and how to release it into the air.

When the school principal motioned him to enter the gym, his heart skipped a beat…

As did hers when she saw her father across the court.

She ran to him.

He held his arms out open wide.

His hat was in his left hand.

Her little brother and the soldier’s wife were already moving towards them from the stands.

Tears welled up in the faces of many nearby in the crowd as father and daughter embraced.

He kissed her forehead and smoothed her hair.

He held her tight.

She looked up at him smiling.

“I love you, Dad,” she said softly and shyly so only he could hear.

“I missed you.”

“I’m home,” he said with heartfelt gladness.

His son hugged them both.

The boy was grinning happily as he pressed his head against his father’s side.

His wife stood close by allowing her children this moment with their father.

She was crying tears of joy as well.

The crowd smiled and clapped loudly.

Home.

He was finally home.

Remembering 9/11

What I remember most about 9/11 was seeing my coworker cry.

We were in Germany at the US Army Transportation Management Center Europe. We were working on accounting bills for soldier travel throughout the theater. My coworker from downstairs came to our office and told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. We didn’t believe him at first. But we followed him down the stairs to a little radio at someone’s desk and we gathered around the radio listening to the broadcast in shock….especially when the towers fell. I remember bringing my hands cupped to my face and I remember that my coworker began crying very hard.

We left work early and I caught a ride to Vilseck. Everywhere all over the military bases, the soldiers were in formation. It was an eerie sight to behold. The woman I caught a ride with also was upset. Her husband was Infantry and she was certain we would be going to war and the soldiers in Germany would be sent first. Turns out, I think it was the Big Red One soldiers from my home state of Kansas at Ft. Riley that got activated first.

The day of the attack, she dropped me off at my husband’s unit where the soldiers there were also gathered in formation. My husband was a 1st Lieutenant at the time. He began pulling double duty shifts for three or four weeks after that. He and his soldiers would work during the day and help guard the gates of Vilseck at night. I remember that we went to Threatcon Delta immediately. I also remember that the German government sent German soldiers to guard our families too and protect us.

The next day after 9/11, I left for work at 2 am in the morning and it took many, many hours to get through security. If I close my eyes now, I can picture the long line of cars in the darkness and the soldiers at the gates checking and carefully inspecting each and every vehicle. We lived off base in a small community called Auerbach. The military commanders at Vilseck sent 2 humvees filled with 4 or 5 armed soldiers with helmets and kevlar equipment and big guns to guard our small community at night. The soldiers protected our families every night for weeks and we would go out there to give them coffee and hot chocolate at times.

I remember sitting in my German duplex in the nights that followed the attack and watching the news endlessly. I remember the conversations with the other wives….all our husbands were working overtime…..and so we gathered around at patio tables to discuss things. We were all kinda worried about the potential of war.

The hardest part about 9/11 was seeing the jumpers out of the World Trade Center buildings. It brought tears to my eyes then. 20 years later, the images still bring tears to my eyes.

The attacks were horrible but GW Bush was right in his latest speech at Shanksville today. 9/11 unified the American people unlike anything I have seen since. It didn’t matter what you looked like, what you prayed, what your background……you were an American. We were Americans together and we felt the pain and suffering on 9/11 together. In some respects, I miss that collective unity……..how in the face of adversity, devastation, and malevolence, the best and brightest of human connection rises to the surface to counter it.

Remember 9/11 but most of all, remember that unity when the American people came together and the many nations of the world such as Germany also stood by our side to offer support, respect, and condolences. God bless America.

The Christmas Gift

In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.

The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.

The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??

Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.

A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.

Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.

I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.

I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.

Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.

I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.

It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.

Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.

He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”

He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”

He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”

With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.

You Have the Right to be Here

Perhaps I’ve told you this story before. I have told it so often. But, it does bear repeating I suppose….

There are certain moments in our lives that have a significant impact and will forever shape our destinies like perhaps the birth of your first child, the achievement of a college degree, or the attainment of an important goal. Some of these moments may even appear out of the blue on days which seem quite inconsequential to our existence. This is the story of one of those moments in my own life. It is a true story.

I am not a great writer. However, if I am able to effectively convey this positive message to you, the reader, then it will be worth all the effort.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It occurred nearly 20 years ago when I was in my mid-20s. America was at war in the Middle East. I was a military spouse and my husband was deployed to Iraq. Also, through some great fortune or twist of fate, I had landed a Department of Defense Government Service Level 7 job south of Washington D.C. Although the title sounds quite auspicious, I assure you that I was merely a secretary. However, I worked for two important people.

They were military Colonels and engineers, highly intelligent and dedicated to their roles. My tasks were simple really. Once or twice a week, they would travel to the Pentagon to report their management of military building projects at bases all over the world. I would arrange their travel plans. Also, I was responsible for maintaining accurately their reports on these construction plans. One large and detailed report I worked on daily was called the War report.

One day, I royally screwed up the War report. We had a meeting and it was noted. I was publicly reprimanded. After all, I worked for the military. Admittedly, I fully deserved the reprimand considering the importance of the document. I endured the discipline in silence but my cheeks got real flush and later, I broke out in hives. It was the first and only time in my life that I broke out in hives.

The next couple of days, I worked diligently at my desk and tried not to mess up again. But, I was pretty quiet and feeling bad. On top of that, I was itchy and I was considering leaving the job.

The other Colonel called me in to his office politely. I rose from my desk and walked over there. He asked me to shut the door to his office and to “Please take a seat.” He remained seated at his desk and I sat down across from him and well,… kept my eyes down a bit.

He didn’t say anything at first. Perhaps he was looking for the right way to approach a conversation. I had assumed he wanted to talk about travel arrangements. He was leaving the very next day for D.C.

We didn’t share much in common, him and I, except our work perhaps. He was much older. He was male. I was female. He was African-American and I was Caucasian. The list of differences could probably go on and on.

Eventually, he motioned to the wall to his left and I looked over at the wall. On the wall were many military decorations that had been awarded to him through his 20+ years of service to the country. Some of them were quite large and prestigious looking. He waited for a moment, then he pointed to a small white piece of paper, handwritten, and framed under glass with just a plain small gold frame around it. It was placed at the center of the wall and seemed unimportant compared to the other items. In fact, I had sorta skipped over it as I had looked at the other awards.

He said, “That one is the most important.” He remained pointing at the little framed paper.

Then he motioned for me to go and look at the item. I got up from my chair and wandered over to the wall. It was a poem, a little poem copied down. The title read The Desiderata and it said it was written by some guy named Max Ehrmann, some guy I had never heard of.

He told me, “Read it.” That’s all he simply said. I stood there at that wall for a while and really read the poem, word for word. When, I finished the last portion of the poem where it read, you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.

Well, I felt better and as I finished up the final section, I admit I got a little teary-eyed.

I sat back down across from him. We both looked at each other. He was a man of few words and he only really spoke when he had something important to say.

He said, “Go back and just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”

In hindsight, that was probably about one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me whether he realized his impact or not. He didn’t have to help me but he did in his own unique and wise way. Perhaps this small story seems unimportant to you but it would go on to influence my future.

This poem has a special place in my heart because of that moment. Years later, I would buy a copy of it and I gave it to my children. I read it to them. Years later, I would tell someone here or there about the story. Years later, whenever I was down and out…I would read this poem and feel comforted and hopeful. Whenever I felt unworthy or not valued by others, I would remember the line about the child of the universe.

You have a right to be here.

And years later, today, I write this story to you with the intention that it will inspire you as well. The last few words of the poem are “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” This is something as I grow older, that I firmly do believe in regarding attitude determining altitude.

I encourage you to take a moment and read The Desiderata. This world, despite all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, is still a beautiful place.

8 Traits of a Wise Leader

This is a short presentation I put together a few years back for a university concerning leadership skills. It discusses various topics like General George Washington, the Human Genome Project, NASA, etc. Here are the slides and speech material: