Memorial Day: Honoring the fallen

When the military releases their names, it’s just ink on a page.

Two Army Rangers, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, of Kettering, Ohio, were killed while conducting a night raid against an ISIS-led group in eastern Afghanistan in late April.

You continue reading and the names start to have more meaning. You look at their ages and see that Rodgers was 22, Thomas 23. You find out that the two Rangers, who had each served three deployments overseas were struck possibly by friendly fire in the opening minutes of a three-hour firefight in the Achin district of the Nangahar province. The district is a primary base of operations for ISIS in Afghanistan and has been the site of multiple joint counterterrorism missions.

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You pick up another story and you learn that both men joined the Army shortly after graduating high school in 2013. Rodgers’ former track and assistant football coach said he talked often in high school of his dream of becoming a Ranger. They both quickly progressed up the ranks, earning numerous decorations, and were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based in Fort Benning, Georgia.

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The dreaded group project

I hated two words in high school.

It wasn’t test day, SATs, detention or demerit. Everyone hated the thought of exams or getting in trouble, but I hated something else completely. What could be worse? I hated group projects.

“I need you to find a partner,” the teacher would say. Every part of my being would start to panic and dread the work. I panicked for a variety of reasons:

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Operating on fumes

The minute I step outside the door the crisp air hits me with the force of jackhammer drilling into my sidewalk. It’s hard, it’s with a jolt, and it’s with definitive force and power. I wrap my overcoat tighter around my body and walk briskly to my car.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been rushing into work in the middle of the night to help train my European coworkers via video conference on a new piece of technology. It hasn’t exactly been the middle of the night and I’ve burnt a bigger chunk of the candle in other stages of my life, but the late nights and early morning hours have still taken a toll.  

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Uncharted territory: Taking a leap of faith

A coworker ran up to me in the parking lot in a panic. I’ve been helping her prepare for a job interview for a new position with our company. She wanted my advice on how to approach a sensitive question.

A friend I worked with years ago has been considering a career switch. He’s unhappy in his job and is close to quitting and going into business for himself. Fortunately he’s in the financial position to make the move, but wants to be sure before he makes the jump. Another friend is struggling with what to do with a sick parent, whether a visiting nurse will be enough or if she should consider admitting her to a nursing home.

To top it off, my 17-year-old son and many of his friends are thinking about their options next year. He’s applied and been accepted to several colleges, but also is thinking about serving in the armed forces.

It must be that time of year. I feel like everyone I’ve come across lately is burdened down by a challenging decision related to career, college or the future.

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Selfish play

I’m not much of a betting man. When I was 8, I traded away a 1975 Roberto Clemente baseball card, now valued anywhere from $20 to $700, and I learned the hard way that betting and bartering have consequences.

However, I’ll bet a small fortune that come Sunday in Super Bowl LI one fortunate wide receiver or running back for either the Atlanta Falcons or New England Patriots will run a short corner route and leap up and make the game winning touchdown catch. He’ll thump his chest like he just beat the other team all on his own. He’ll strut and gloat over top of the defensive back on the ground, play some more to the camera, and then finally spike the ball.

It could be a star player or a player you’ve never heard of in your life. It won’t matter.

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Who put me in charge of these kids?

My son placed his report card on the table underneath a pile of papers, routine, run-of-the-mill stuff that you find each day in your kid’s backpack. I think he hoped that the report card would skip our attention and disappear in a pile of minutia, never to be seen or discussed again.

His disappearing magic act worked. 

My wife and I completely forgot that report cards were coming home that night. It worked another night and another night.

Finally four days later, we mentioned that we were surprised our son’s teacher didn’t say anything about report cards being late. When we questioned him, he stuttered and stammered and came clean that he had put the report card on the table.

Busted.

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When thank you is enough

The husband and wife couldn’t have been more grateful. The woman asked if we wanted something to drink or eat. I told her that I was fine and got right to work. A large group of coworkers and I were helping out a local organization that helps senior citizens with basic chores to help keep them mobile and in their own homes.

The couple’s house was a little rough around the edges and you could see signs that it needed work, but it was generally in a good condition. We were asked to clean up boxes in a detached garage and rake up fallen leaves. I remember thinking that it was all pretty simple stuff, the kind of chores I’d get to in the evening after coming home from work or maybe on a cool Saturday morning before kicking back and watching some college football.

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Yikes, I messed up: The power of failure

I failed. Failed. Failed with a capital F.

I looked the woman in the eye. I knew I her from high school, but I still asked her to spell out her name. She said it fast, but I got what I needed. I meticulously wrote down her comment and raced back to the newsroom.

When it came time to quote her for my story, her name escaped me. I skipped to next sentence in my story and then to the next and to the next. The minutes were ticking off. I was on a deadline. I had to get the story to my editor.

Later when my editor asked for the name, I completely butchered it. Some would call it a brain cramp, a mistake, an error. Whatever the word, I messed up the cardinal rule of Journalism: get the names right, get the details right.

I had failed.

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Passing the ball: Celebrating everyday sacrifices for the good of the team

We as a society celebrate athletic excellence: the last second shot, the game winning touchdown. We rarely celebrate the hard work and the behind-the-scenes steps leading up to the game-winning act.

The day after the Villanova University Wildcats won the NCAA National Championship over Goliath-like University of North Carolina, The New York Times detailed how Ryan Arcidiacono raced up the side of the court with less than five seconds with a plan in mind.

“He dribbled up the court thinking, ‘I’m going to shoot this!’ Then he took the ball — and passed it.”

Arcidiacono found teammate Kris Jenkins off by himself and passed the ball. Jenkins caught the ball and then let the ball fly in a perfect arch, swishing it through the net. Jenkins and the Wildcat faithful went wild, celebrating their first National Championship since 1985.

Most people rightfully so touted Jenkins game-winning shot. If Jenkins put up an air-ball or clanked it off the side, the Philadelphia media, social media, and all the people talking about the game at work and at the gym would be talking about something altogether different. Jenkins should be celebrated.

However, I must admit that I’m a bigger fan of the smaller almost insignificant moves that led up to Jenkin’s shot, most importantly that Arcidiacono gave up his own chance for immortality, instead opting to pass the ball.

In short, I’m a fan of the team player: The player who finds the open shot, rather than shoots himself; the football player who gives himself up to block, opening up a whole for a teammate to score the winning touchdown; the baseball player who puts down a sacrifice bunt, moving up a runner into scoring position.

I’m a bigger fan these workmanlike moves in normal, everyday life: The coworker who skips lunch to offer feedback on a draft presentation so that you can look your best in front of your boss; the friend who gives up their own free time to take you out to lunch and lets you vent over work or the kids; the mother who gets up early every Saturday morning to cart one son to play practice and another to track practice so that they can participate in an afterschool activity, let off some steam, and improve themselves.

I find these actions fascinating. In this day and age, where me is more important than we, where athletes seem to care more about the name on the back, then the name on the front, I love reading about these unselfish acts.

When asked about the pass after the game, Arcidiacono said, “I saw Kris was open and I just did what we do.”

I’m sure that most people will forget all about Arcidiacono’s pass in day or two. I won’t be one of them.