The year is quickly winding down – not quickly enough in some respects, this has been as nutty a last couple of weeks as I can remember! Anyway, before most of you pack it in for the summer I wanted to express my thanks and share some thoughts.
In January of 1991 my national guard unit was called up to serve in Desert Storm. We processed into the active duty ranks and shipped quickly to Germany. Our orders read “for 360 days unless later shortened or extended.” I was part of a combat engineer battalion, and while the basic and advanced training for a combat engineer is only a summer long (making it an attractive job for college students who don’t want to miss a semester), the average lifespan of a combat engineer in action is a matter of weeks (making it somewhat less attractive in the event of a deployment). As most of you will recall, the “ground war” itself was over in less than two months. In those eight or so weeks, all we did was sit on our duffle bags in barracks next to an airstrip, awaiting direction to board our plane. It was more than unsettling. Interestingly (in retrospect), the unnerving ambiguity really came when the war ended and the wait began for orders to return home. Finally, after an additional four months, in June we flew to Ft. Lewis, Washington for out-processing and a few days later flew back home to Utah. As the jet was taxiing towards our families at the national guard hanger, the “fasten seatbelt” sign notwithstanding, all of us were on our feet pressing towards the exits. In fact, persons who were never identified opened the emergency exit doors on the plane as it taxied so we could see better while we were standing. I don’t know what regulations were violated…
I share this story for a couple of reasons. First of all, as the end was coming into view, we did some things that were perhaps imprudent but reflected our emotional exhaustion. Secondly, as we got off the plane, hugged our families and drove home, we were not in a hurry to put the uniform on again. In fact, while our unit typically met monthly, I think we weren’t called back for a weekend drill for several months. Frankly, there were quite a few folks I didn’t want to see for a while, preferably a long while. By fall, after a long break, we were ready to get back together, sharing pictures (remember, this was back when film had to be developed) and stories. We were ready to go back to work – which we would not have imagined possible in June.
There may be some similarities to the ending of a school year. I truly believe that we can be proud of the ground that’s been covered and of the great work that’s been done this year. I brag about us every chance I get. I mean that absolutely sincerely. That having been said, I’m also conscious of the unnerving ambiguity of so many things going on in our profession, and I’m keenly aware of emotional exhaustion and stress fractures that many of us feel particularly as the year comes to an end. I can also sympathize with the feeling that there are some folks you might not want to see for a while. But I also truly believe that the work in which we’re engaged, regardless of a specific job title, is the greatest of all works. We help kids form a foundation that they will rely and build upon for their entire lives and for their families’ lives. Because it is such a great work, it is also a hard work and I want to personally and sincerely thank each of you for doing your part.
I’m also conscious of some friends for whom this year is the last. Some crazy part of me wishes the year would slow down because I will miss you dearly. All of us need to give a special thanks to those colleagues who, after years and sometimes decades of shoulder-to-shoulder work, are retiring.
Please, go home in a few days (it would be best if you’d wait until Friday afternoon!) and rest. You’ve earned it and deserve it. Take time to recharge with your friends and loved ones.
We’ll see you in the fall; bring pictures and stories to share!
Thanks for all you do – I mean it,