March 2014 Presiden’t Message
I often try to think of what should be communicated in this message to our members. Do I speak about the activities that we are doing, what we have done, and what is on the horizon? Do I acknowledge the hard work of all of our board members? Do I discuss the hurdles that we face as a chapter and an Army? Do I remind everyone that we need your membership in order to continue on? Do I express our gratitude to all those corporate members and volunteers who stand by us and support our soldiers and their families here at Fort Bragg? Any one of these topics is appropriate for this area of our newsletter. But what is more important is why. Why are these things important to you, me, our leaders, our families, and those who serve our country?
Why are these things important? We stand ready to support you our servicemen and women, but what can we do that isn’t being done? How can we help you navigate through an unclear way ahead for you and your family?
Do you remember the first days you served in the military? My guess is that there were some days you asked yourself why you made this choice, other days you were more than excited about your future with the military, and some days you felt uneasy about what may be next and where the path might take you. The thought of the unknown brings multiple emotions to the surface. Regardless of the reason for joining, you decided that being a member of our nation’s military was going to be something you would commit to and follow through with. Your decision was made knowing that there were risks and sacrifices that would be made. Yet, you chose this path, the one that was more uncertain than any other. This path that you are on is not just yours, but those who love and care about you are on this journey as well. Your family, your friends, your spouse, your children, and anyone who is in your life will provide some type of sacrifice in order for you to be part of the military.
It is an overwhelming notion that nearly everyone who has served and is serving has given up so much and asked those around them to do the same. There is a proudness that comes from each one of us that is related to or knows someone in the military. For those who served, they too should be proud of the commitment they made. Why wouldn’t we acknowledge everyone and anyone who gave up their time for our country? Why would we only give a discount to those who retired from the military or who are currently serving. All of this and the future of the military remind me of a story.
Indulge me for a moment as I provide some insight into why I am so committed to this organization and to our military and their families.
The other day, I was in line at a store and a man in front of me who was probably in his 70’s was getting ready to check out. The person checking him out asked him if he was retired military? He paused and looked at myself and the others behind me and said, “I served in the Army”. He took a deep breath and then continued, “but I didn’t retire from the Army.” The cashier continued to ring up his items and she said, “ok, because we give a military discount to retirees and active duty.” The cashier continued to ring up his items without missing a beat or even lifting her head up to see his reaction. He smiled and then said, “I guess watching nearly all of my friends and fellow troopers die isn’t good enough for your store to recognize my service. I guess this veterans card doesn’t really matter.” He pulled out a veteran’s ID card and showed it to the cashier. By this time several gentleman behind me were telling the cashier to give him the discount. The cashier stopped ringing the items up and seemed flustered and not sure what to do. She remarked that she wasn’t able to give him a discount if he wasn’t retired because this was the store’s policy. She looked at myself and said, “I could lose my job”. She continued to apologize as she went back to ringing up the rest of his merchandise. But, then something unbelievable happened. There were not many people behind me in line, but as the cashier finished ringing everything up one person next to us in another line, caught her attention and handed her a few dollars. He remarked, “if you won’t acknowledge his sacrifice to this nation, then I will gladly offer to give you a few dollars to equal the discount he should have received.” Within what seemed instantaneously, people started to come up and hand money to the cashier! I too handed several dollars to the cashier. One man commented to the veteran as he handed the cashier a twenty dollar bill, “Sir I just ETS’d last week. I didn’t retire either. My family has given too much and I want to see my kids graduate. But your sacrifice is not discounted sir. I thank you and hope you know that I appreciate your service to our country.” What was amazing to all of us was, this veteran who didn’t retire, but who obviously served his time, and lost many friends, turned to the younger gentleman who ETS’d from the Army and gave the $20 to the cashier and he said, “I will not take your money, because you will need it for the days to come.” He took the $20 away from the cashier and handed it back to the young man. He continued, “the road ahead is challenging and the things you have been through will never be far off in your memory. I am humbled by your act of kindness. I never asked for your help, but your willingness to help me is the best thing I could ask for. Thirty-some years ago, when I came home from Vietnam, no one supported me or thanked me. I just lost most of my friends and I had no job. I lost the girl that I loved and wanted to marry. No one offered discounts to anyone in the military or retired military. People don’t understand what those in the military give up when we serve our country, retired, not retired, active duty or not. I said good-bye to my parents and my girl and I didn’t know whether I was coming back. Then I saw my friends die and I couldn’t prevent that. Each and every time you go off to combat, you lose a piece of you. A discount is wonderful and helps my wallet. But the kindness of a fellow human being is precious and heals my heart.”
With everything that was going on, the manager came over and the cashier explained what happened. The cashier ended up giving the discount to the gentleman anyway. But no one, not even myself would take the money that we handed the cashier back. By this time he was checked out and standing to the side and in front of the check out line. He was shaking peoples hands and hugging others to thank them. By the time I made my way through the checkout and it was my turn for the veteran to thank me, he gave me a hug and I remarked, “You may leave the job of being a soldier, but you never leave the people.”
Is there a reason why I mention this story to you? I do because as we face difficult times, and the downsizing of our military, we need not forget that we are in this together. We may leave the job, but we don’t leave the people. That is why this is by far one of the most rewarding and yet self-sacrificing jobs that anyone can be in. The job of a soldier, the job of a soldier’s family. I ask you to consider this in the times ahead. Remember why you joined the military. Do not forget those first days and the emotions that you felt and remember that just as you read this, someone is in their first days of being in the military and they are feeling the same way you felt sometime ago.
You may leave this job, but you cannot leave the people. The people remain. Whether from Vietnam, or any other conflicts we have been involved with, past, present, and future, the people remain. There is an invisible tie that binds us all.
Lastly, my father proudly told anyone and everyone who would listen to him, and even some he told more than one or two times that he served in the Air Force. He never retired, but he never really left either. Even with his passing away nearly 3 years ago, I often feel his presence when speaking to our military service men and women. Prior to his death, I spoke to him a few days before when he called me to check on us see that we were surviving some weather that had come through the area. He said, “I know you are strong and smart and I know that you will make it through the storm. But I will always check to make sure you are all right. That is what we learn to do in the military. Check on our battle buddies. We don’t leave until all are present or have been accounted for.” He died two days later and on Thanksgiving. I will always remember those words and others he provided me while growing up. When he last visited Fort Bragg he commented to my husband how safe he felt while he was on post. He mentioned that when he traveled with the Air Force, he always knew that he would feel better when he made it to the next installation or base he was traveling to. “I feel at home and a sense of security whenever I make it to another base. It is the in-between that makes me uneasy. But I know that whenever I arrive, whether to an Army installation, Naval Base, or an Air Force Base, I feel a sense of relief to be amongst my comrades.”
My father and the veteran in the store that I mentioned earlier continue to motivate me and remind me that although we may have left the job, we have not left the people. There must be accountability for all who serve and their families.
I hope that you will continue to be a member of the Braxton Bragg AUSA team. If you have not already become a member or if you know someone who has not joined, please consider becoming part of a team that needs your help to continue on the legacy for fighting for our soldiers and their families. Retire from the job, but not the people. Help us continue to do the accountability checks for all our buddies in harms way.
CSM William T. Mixon, US Army Retired
Courtesy of Ronald V. Hall Funeral Home