Snakes have a bad rap

After graduating from college in 2001, I fell on hard times as I awaited orders for Officer Candidate School. The Army has a justifiable reputation for messing up paperwork, so it was almost a year before Uncle Sam finalized my departure date.

During those hard times, a buddy of allowed me to move into his trailer, which was located way out in the country. I was appreciative of it then, and I’m appreciative of it now.

One day, I was chasing a mouse around the living room trying to exterminate the little varmint when it decided to run behind the couch. I can proudly say that I had a confirmed kill that day, but that’s not the story.

What I saw next almost cured my stutter.

I saw what appeared to be about four feet of snake skin, so, naturally, I started packing my stuff up like Gene Chizik and his entire coaching staff after the 2012 football season.

I slept at a buddy’s house that night and never went back to that snake infested trailer again.

It’s not that I’m afraid of a snake; I just don’t care to live in the same dwelling as one, but that was over a decade ago. I would’ve handled it differently today.

I caught this little fella last year while cutting grass.

I caught this little fella last year while cutting grass.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve only killed one snake in my life and that is one too many.

This time of year, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see at least one photo of a dead snake on Facebook.

Much like seeing a Bama fan at Target, many of us, including yours truly, are startled when we first see one, but this is a natural reaction; however, it doesn’t constitute the killing of this amazing creature.

Some people just enjoy killing them as if it solidifies their manhood or something, whereas others legitimately suffer from ophidiophobia, which is the abnormal fear of snakes.

“It’s a shame that so many well-educated people have an irrational fear of snakes and refuse to acknowledge that they suffer from ophidiophobia and refuse to be treated for their psychological disorder, “ said my friend, geezer, and resident snake expert Dr. Bob Mount.

Some people claim they kill them because they might bite. Well, a koala bear might bite, too, but in 41 years on this earth, I’ve been bitten by neither.

Another guy says he kills them simply because he is bigger. Well, I encourage him to keep that in mind if he ever has an altercation with Shaq.

Then, of course, there’s the old saying “the only good snake is a dead snake” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Snakes are not the enemy. Snakes are our allies and serve such a vital role in the ecosystem.

Texas Indigo snake eating a Rattler (courtesy of the Texas Hill Country Facebook page)

Texas Indigo snake eating a Rattler
(courtesy of the Texas Hill Country Facebook page)

I don’t condone but I do understand the killing of venomous snakes, particularly if there are small children and outside pets present; however, I’m partial to relocating the critter myself.

That being said, if you come upon a venomous snake while out in the woods, let it be. Remember, you are the one encroaching upon its territory at this point.

When I was a kid, I remember riding down a country road with my baby sitter’s husband who was the proud owner of a late seventies model Camaro. We sped by a snake trying to cross the road. He saw it, slammed on the brakes, put the car in reverse, and ran over the snake.

At the time, I thought that was cool. Now I know better.

The other day at lunch, one of my best friends told me about a similar incident with him and his daughter; however, in this case, it was his seven year old daughter encouraging him to back up.

Apparently, it’s ingrained in the minds of children that snakes are inherently evil.

That very day, I caught a six foot long gray rat snake on my back porch. It was one of the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen, and this particular snake was as docile as a lapdog.

I caught this beautiful gray rat snake on my back porch. If you don’t want critters on your porch, keep it free of clutter.

I caught this beautiful gray rat snake on my back porch. If you don’t want critters on your porch, keep it free of clutter.

Snakes have a strong wrap. On the other hand, they have a bad rap.

According to the University of Florida, the chances of dying from a venomous snakebite in the United States is nearly zero, as only one in 50 million people will die from a snakebite. You are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die of a venomous snakebite.

I know a veteran with three tours in Vietnam who was bitten by a venomous snake and struck by lightning twice. For the record, he was an idiot and put himself in those predicaments. I loved him, but he was an idiot, nonetheless.

So for goodness sake, leave the snakes alone. Let them be, and above all else, when your wife tells you to stop welding and to come inside because a storm is approaching, put down the torch and heed her advice.

Update: I wrote this on Wednesday but am posting it today, Friday. I scolded my buddy for running over that snake the other day. He just texted me a picture of a very large rat snake in his yard and he let it live. In the past, he would’ve killed it. See, we if we truly believe in something, we can all make a difference, one person at a time.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Freedom isn’t free

Freedom isn’t free

Penland Wall edit

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

Memorial Day weekend is upon is. The kids are out of school. It’s time to fire up the grill. It’s time to head to the pool, lake, or beach. It’s time to party with family and friends. It’s the beginning of the summer. That’s what Memorial Day is all about, right?

Wrong.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday which occurs each year on the final Monday of May. It should not be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.

I took this pic at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.Not taking the time to reflect upon the fallen service member and his or her sacrifices on Memorial Day is akin to not taking the time to reflect upon Jesus Christ and his sacrifice at Easter.

Unlike other holidays, we don’t receive tangible gifts on Memorial Day; however, thanks to all of the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we do receive the intangible gift of freedom.

One of those brave warriors was Sergeant First Class (SFC) Raymond D. Penland.

Penland 2

I first learned about SFC Penland by way of his son and my dear friend, Opelika native and resident, Steve Penland.
Raymond D. Penland was born July 5, 1921, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Although he started his senior year of high school, he never finished, but that wouldn’t prevent him from living a remarkable life.

He enlisted in the Army on Feb 23, 1940, at the age of 19.

Unfortunately, SFC Penland’s service record is largely unknown.

On July 12, 1973, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center, located just outside of St. Louis, that destroyed 80% of the records for U.S. Army personnel discharged over a nearly 50 year span from 1912 to 1960. Additionally, 75% of the records for U.S. Air Force personnel discharged from 1947 to 1964 were also destroyed.

None of the records that were destroyed in the fire had duplicate copies made, nor had they been copied to microfilm.

Regrettably, up to 18 million service records were destroyed leaving veterans and families alike looking for answers.

The family has no record of where Penland attended basic training, but older son, Raymond (Ray) C. Penland, through due diligence alone, has been able to obtain some of his father’s records.

After completing basic training, Penland was assigned to 2nd Infantry Division (ID) as a rifleman from 1940-42, which is significant to me, because I, too, was assigned to 2ID, albeit 61 years later.

Over the next few years, Penland’s stellar performance would allow him to rise up the ranks of 10th Infantry Regiment holding such positions as squad leader, platoon guide, and platoon sergeant.

Penland was part of the greatest generation and saw action in the European theater during World War II. While serving with 10th Infantry, he was awarded his first of two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained along the Moselle River in Northern France.

In 1946, Penland was assigned to recruiting duty in, of all places, Opelika, Alabama. His time here would be very productive.

Raymond D. Penland married Opelika native Sara H. May in Troup County, Georgia, on March 1, 1947.

Over the next few years, Ray and Steve would come along, respectively.

Also, while in Opelika, Penland would go on to earn his GED.

In 1949, SFC Penland returned to 10th Infantry where he reassumed his role as Platoon Sergeant.

He departed Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Korea in July of 1950, just weeks after the outbreak of the Korean War.

Due to the fire of 1973, the family has little knowledge of his duties in Korea, although they do know he was assigned to Company L, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

According to a letter from CPT McCaffrey, his Commanding Officer, on December 16, 1950, Penland departed the Company Headquarters with the Executive Officer and a driver in order to go to the rear for ammunition. During their return, they were ambushed by a group of North Korean soldiers, and, sadly, Sergeant First Class Raymond D. Penland was killed in action by machine gun fire.

His XO and driver were wounded in the attack.

His unit was evacuated by sea just three days later.

He was just 29 years old. He would leave behind a young wife, the mother of his two sons.

For his leadership and valor, SFC Penland was awarded two Purple Hearts, the American Defense Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

He was most likely awarded additional medals including the Bronze Star. Unfortunately, that can’t be verified at this time due to the fire at the records center.

Records show that SFC Penland is buried in what is registered as United Nations Military Cemetery #2 in Hungnam, North Korea; however, there is no evidence of him actually being there. They were intentionally hidden so the enemy wouldn’t dig up the remains for their clothing. There are 48 other soldiers buried there with him. Furthermore, there are thousands of other U.S. servicemen still buried in North Korea.

In the early nineties, Ray, retired U.S. Navy, was stationed in Japan and went to Korea on assignment. His unit visited the U.N. base in P’anmunjom on the demilitarized zone. This is the closest any member of the Penland family has ever been to SFC Penland’s grave.

His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This Honolulu memorial is also known as “The Punchbowl.”

Penland Cemetery

I took these photos in Jan 2014.

Penland Wall edit

Korea has often been referred to as “The Forgotten War” because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war, but I can assure you that neither the Penland family nor the families of the more than 33,000 casualties from the Korean War have ever forgotten.

“I was 9 months old and my brother was almost 3 when my mother received the telegram. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and wish that one day he can be brought back home and given a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Steve.

Ray sums it up well, “Each memorial day I remind my friends that there are missing servicemen and women all over the world. They are in unmarked graves in cities, jungles, deserts, and at sea. As we celebrate our nation’s greatness, let us not forget those who gave their all for their country and may never come home again.”

So enjoy the freedom that this holiday allows. Enjoy the outdoor recreation, the barbeques, and the start of summer, but I encourage you to take a moment and reflect upon those men and women whose sacrifice paved the way for you to do so, because a true reflection of this sacred day clearly shows that freedom is not free.

kid with flag

This is what Memorial Day is really about.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Stuttering is Cool

I come from a long line of disabilities. I stutter, my father was blind, and my mother and brother are Alabama fans; however, since May 13-19 is National Stuttering Awareness week, I’ll st-st-stick to stuttering.

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When I was in the second grade, one of my classmates asked me why I stuttered. I told her that when I was a kid, I was eating a piece of meat and it got stuck in my throat, so whenever I tried to talk, it bounced up and down which caused me to stutter.

She bought it hook, line, and sinker.

I can’t recall whether she moved, transferred schools or what, but I didn’t see her again until we were in the seventh grade. After a brief conversation, she said, “Jody, it sounds like you still have that meat stuck in your throat.”

Indeed, I did.

Indeed, I do.

I’ve stuttered my entire life, although it was much more severe during my childhood.

There are varying degrees of stuttering, from mild to severe.

There are, perhaps, as many different patterns of stuttering as there are people who stutter. I’ve often said that a person’s stutter is as unique as fingerprints and snowflakes.

The exact cause of stuttering is not known.

Throughout history, some of the more laughable proposed “causes” of stuttering, per Wikipedia, have included tickling an infant too much, allowing an infant to look in the mirror, eating improperly during breastfeeding, cutting a child’s hair before the child spoke his or her first words, having too small a tongue, or, my favorite, the “work of the devil.”

People who stutter often experience physical tension and struggle in their speech muscles, as well as embarrassment, anxiety, and fear about speaking. Together, these symptoms can make it very difficult for people who stutter to say what they want to say and to communicate effectively with others.

I borrowed the previous paragraph from my friends at the National Stuttering Association.

The National Stuttering Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.

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For centuries “cures” such as drinking water from a snail shell, hitting a stutterer in the face when the weather was cloudy, strengthening the tongue as a muscle, and various herbal remedies were used.

These “cures” are equally as laughable as the “causes.” There is no cure for stuttering. Some of us may outgrow it or control it better than others, but once a stutterer, always a stutterer, and that’s okay. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be embraced.

Danny, one of my Canadian pals who also stutters, says stuttering is cool. I couldn’t agree more.

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(My Canadian pal, Danny, eh….at the 2011 NSA conference in Ft. Worth)

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

During Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, I was told by an officer from another company that I couldn’t be an officer because of my stutter. I wish I’d caught his name because I would’ve looked him up and sent him a message by now letting him know that upon arrival at my first assignment at Ft. Lewis, my bosses had enough confidence in my abilities to appoint me as the platoon leader of the third largest platoon in the Army.

Clear and concise communication is important; however, it is not the be all end all.

Only 1% of the adult population stutters but 4% of children do, which means 96% do not. If I had a nickel for every time I was made fun of, I could have retired at 12.

We all have perceived flaws. Yes, all of us. You, too. None of us are perfect.

We’re all unique in our own way and all have the ability to shine, regardless of the perceived flaw. At the risk of sounding arrogant, there was a time in my life where people made fun of me for the way I spoke, yet, today, people pay to hear me speak.

Due to, in large part, to stuttering, there was also a time in my life when I wanted to be any but me, yet, today, there’s no one else I’d rather be.

My advice to anyone who stutters is to truly accept it. I know that can be hard for some of us, but if you don’t accept it yourself, then how can you truly expect it from others?

Accept it, embrace it, and let it shine, because loving yourself really is cool, no doubt about it.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

National Stuttering Awareness Week

National Stuttering Awareness Week is May 12-18, 2014.

This is my blog from last year. Hope you enjoy. Hope you learn something. Hope you become more aware. Thanks for reading.

May 13-19 is Stuttering Awareness Week and is intended to bring attention to the challenges of stuttering.

For the first decade or so of my life, my older brother and I were the only two kids I knew who suffered from the speech disorder known as stuttering. Miraculously, around the age of 12, my brother’s stutter ceased to exist. I was very happy for him and equally as excited for my future. I was thinking “two more years.” Thirty years later, my stutter is still going strong and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We BOTH stuttered way back then…

We BOTH stuttered way back then…

If I had a nickel for every time I was made fun of, I could have potentially retired at 12. It’s not easy being a kid, and it’s especially difficult when you’re different. The biggest fear for most Americans is public speaking, so imagine being a stuttering child having to read aloud a paragraph from “Charlotte’s Web” as the whole class looks, listens, and laughs. It’s not easy. Imagine sitting at your desk with your palms sweating, pulse racing, and heart pounding like you’re about to testify against the mafia, when, in fact, you’re simply sitting there in anticipation of having to read a paragraph from “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Again, it’s not easy.

That all changed for me in the 8th grade when I decided to ease the anxiety by volunteering to read each and every time. My hand was always the first to go up and stayed up for most of the class. I chose to be in complete control of what and when to read. If kids laughed, they laughed. I’d usually have a witty one liner to shoot back at them which would ultimately shut them up. From that point on, I never again looked at my stuttering as a significant challenge.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m a comic, a speaker, and a soldier with 3 tours of duty in Iraq. I currently hold the rank of Captain in the Alabama National Guard. (Update, I’m now a Major in the IRR/Reserves)

Somewhere above the Atlantic en route to Iraq…

Somewhere above the Atlantic en route to Iraq…

When I initially started out in comedy, my goal was to simply make the audience laugh and nothing else. After each show or online video, I’d get feedback on how my comedy helped educate them with respect to their family and friends who also suffered from this speech disorder. I was blown away by this. Until seeing my routine, they’d never considered the challenges a person who stutters faces on a daily basis. Imagine the fear of talking on a telephone. Imagine the fear of ordering food at a restaurant. Imagine the fear of not being able to say your child’s name.

Jeff Foxworthy, me, Tim Hudson

Jeff Foxworthy, me, Tim Hudson

I also get random messages from young men and women who aspire to serve in the military but feel they are disqualified due to their speech disorder. Being able to inspire them to follow their dreams might be the highlight of what I do. Stuttering is no joke but having the ability to inspire and bring awareness to stuttering through humor has truly been a gift from God.

Stuttering is still one of the great unknowns. I’ve been stuttering for 40 years and still can’t explain it. I can probably do a better job of explaining the Pythagorean Theorem. I do know, however, that 4 out of 5 people who stutter are male and that only around 1% of the world’s population will ever know what it’s like to get “stuck” on the simplest of sounds. I, just like any person who stutters, have my good days and bad days and everything in between. Additionally, we don’t always get hung up on the same sounds, words, or sentences. And finally, the number one pet peeve for most of us is having people finish our words or sentences. We have something to say, so let us say it.

I’ve had the great fortune of attending the last two National Stuttering Association (NSA) annual conventions. The convention is not a pity party. It’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance & empowerment. Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been and adapt and overcome kind of guy but attending the NSA convention has even opened up my eyes to the difficulty many of my fellow stutterers face each and every day. I’ve even met people who do indeed stutter when they sing.

(Update, I’ve now been to the last three conferences and even have the extreme honor of giving the keynote at this year’s conference.)

The NSA convention is a four day conference but would likely be a two day conference for any other group; however, since they are usually held in very nice locations such as Florida and Arizona, four days work out just fine. In 2011, we had the writer for the Academy Award winning film “The King’s Speech” as the keynote speaker. I may be the only person who stutters who has not seen the film. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of a 40 year old guy from the south not having seen “Smokey and the Bandit.” I understand it’s a great film. (Update: My wife bought be “The King’s Speech” on DVD just last week. I still haven’t watched it…but I will.)

Another great film featuring a person who stutters is “Star Wars.” James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, endured severe stuttering during his childhood but has gone on to have one of the greatest voices of our time. He truly beat the odds. Of course he did have one slight advantage; he was a Jedi.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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The Teacher that Changed my Life…Forever

This week was Teacher Appreciation Week, so I want to share a story about the teacher who had the biggest impact on my life.

In the first grade, my bus was late on the very first day of school, so I got to class late.

1st grade

1st grade

The education of Jody Fuller was not off to a good start.

In the second grade, I played hooky for seven straight days. The nurse called my mother to ask if I was ok, and I was just fine when the nurse called; however, when my mother had to leave work to come home to get me, well, I was no longer fine.

I have three tours in Iraq and I am fine but I still get flashbacks from the beatdown I got that day.

I remember standing in the hallway at Jeter Primary telling Mrs. Floyd how sorry I was for skipping school. We were both crying. It would not be the last time I cried with a teacher.

I was runner-up in the spelling bee in the fifth grade at Pepperell. I misspelled the word goalie. I’ll never forget that. At the time, neither hockey nor soccer was big in Alabama, so I was clueless. My friend Adam was crowned the spelling bee champion by spelling the word goldbrick.

I never really enjoyed school the way I should have. In fact, I always missed the maximum number of days but somehow managed to maintain decent grades up until my sophomore year.

When I tried, I did fairly well. If I remember correctly, I had a 3.2 GPA going into my junior year. Unfortunately, the older I got, the less I tried. I was more concerned with having fun and doing whatever I could do to make people laugh.

My GPA dropped faster than Manti Te’o’s draft stock after the revelation of his fake girlfriend.

I had Mrs. Mount my sophomore year for biology and again my junior year for anatomy and physiology. She was such a great teacher. One quarter in biology, I had the second highest grade in the class. It was just one quarter but still…

I had so much respect for her that I still performed satisfactorily in her class my junior year.

During my senior year, I took chemistry. I never did grasp it and never learned the periodic table of elements. I knew salt and potassium but that was about it.

Class of 90

Class of 90

When final exams came around, I rolled up into class with a number 2 pencil and a pillow. I quickly filled out my Scantron form with the number 2 pencil by spelling out the words A BAD BAD CAB DAD three or four times before turning it in.

I thought I was cool. In hindsight, I was an idiot.

I then laid my head down on the aforementioned pillow. The plan was to sleep for the next couple of hours.
At least that was the plan but those plans quickly changed when Mrs. Mount entered the room by happenstance.

In the Army, we call that a FRAGO.

She noticed that all the other students were deeply engaged with their final exams while I was deeply engaged in dreamland.

After a quick chat with my teacher, Mrs. Mount snapped her fingers and instructed me to come with her. She walked me back to her classroom and then into her office in the back of the room. At least, I think it was an office.

She lit into me but did so in a caring and concerned manner. I told her I wasn’t overly concerned with school because I planned on staying with Kroger after high school or getting on at one of the local plants.

All those local plants are now closed. All of them.

She told me how smart I was and that I would be wasting so much potential if I followed through with that lackluster plan. She encouraged me to go to college and to chase my dreams.

Before it was over, we were both crying like we’d just watched a marathon of Little House on the Prairie.

I’ll never forget that day.

She didn’t have to do that. Technically, she wasn’t one of my teachers that year, but once a teacher, always a teacher.

I attended Opelika City Schools all the way through and was very fortunate to have been taught by so many wonderful and caring teachers. Dr. Hannah, Mrs. Davis, and Mrs. Leonard are three that immediately come to mind but there can only be one favorite and that was Mrs. Mount. More importantly, she was the most influential.

I did go on to graduate college and I continue to chase my dreams.

College graduation with wonderful and supportive friends (from L-R...Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea)

College graduation with wonderful and supportive friends (from L-R…Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea)

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I guess I’ll have to change that online security question.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all the educators out there. Thank you for what you have done and for what you will continue to do. You are making a difference each and every day.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Life isn’t Burger King…You don’t always get it your way.

When I was in junior high school, all my buddies had name brand BMX bicycles such as Haro, Mongoose, and Diamond Back. Many of these were purchased at The Bike Shop in Auburn.

I wanted nothing more than to get one of those “high dolla” bikes for Christmas.

When I walked into the living room on Christmas morning of 1984 and saw a red dirt bike from Sears next to the tree, I was less than enthused.

I was a good kid and deserved better, or so I thought.

I remember removing every Sears and Roebuck sticker I could find from the bicycle itself.

When school reconvened in early January, I proudly rode my bike to school and chained it up at the bike rack. I recall telling my buddies that it came from The Bike Shop in Auburn.

One of my more snobby acquaintances decided to inspect my ride, and in doing so, found an isolated Sears sticker that had somehow eluded me. I played it off and told them it indeed came from The Bike Shop, the bike shop at Sears in Auburn.

That dude moved a year or so later. No one liked him anyway.

Sometimes, we simply do not get what we want and that is a part of life. Life is not always fair. We have to adapt and overcome, which is oftentimes easier said than done.

A few weeks ago, I was passed over at my first look at being promoted to Major in the Alabama National Guard.

I'll have put this patrol cap away for another year...

I’ll have to put this patrol cap away for another year…

We’ve all had that feeling of getting kicked in the gut. Well, I felt as if I was kicked in my gut, head, shin, and hind side, followed by multiple slaps to the face and another kick to the gut.

I won’t go into detail because the last thing I want to do is burn any bridges. I’ve never been a bridge burner, but I always keep a can of kerosene in my garage just in case I need to do so at some point in the future.

During the War on Terror, our military was promoting soldiers, officer and enlisted, at unprecedented rates. In the National Guard, there were two officer promotion boards a year, but that was scaled back to just one a couple of years ago.

Unlike the Active and Reserve components of the US Army, there are only so many slots within the ranks of a state’s guard.

There were approximately 50 of us vying for less than a dozen of those slots, and I know that those selected were highly qualified and deserving.

Be that as it may, I’ll put my qualifications up against any of them. I was not a happy camper.

It appeared to me that most of those selected were able to do more push-ups and sit ups than me. They could run faster, too. Yes, that’s what I look for in a leader. Too bad there’s not a sarcasm font.

I contemplated transferring to the Reserves or to the Georgia National Guard. In a brief lapse of sanity, I even contemplated getting out. I didn’t feel they deserved me.

I speak to thousands of people a year and often talk about the great honor of serving in the Alabama National Guard. It doesn’t take a marketing major to see this as great marketing for the guard. By the way, I did major in marketing in college.

I was upset, disappointed, frustrated and hurt.

During many of my speeches, I harp on adapting to and overcoming the challenges we all face in life.

Many of us are very good at giving solid, sound advice to others but sometimes find it difficult to apply that advice to our own lives.

In the past couple of weeks, I have spoken to several high ranking officers, active and retired, who were also passed over at some point in their career but went on to get picked up at subsequent boards.

As we say in the Army, “This isn’t Burger King, so you don’t always get it your way.”

No matter how hard we work and no matter how deserving we may think we are, we don’t and won’t always get our way, but that doesn’t mean we should quit or give up. It means we keep fighting; we keep doing the right thing.

When Uniroyal was hiring in the late nineties, I put in my application. I was incredibly disappointed when they never called, but I didn’t give up on life because of that setback. I continued to work at Kroger and continued to go to school.

A few years later, Uniroyal was closed, while I was a college graduate and an officer in the United States Army.

I often thank God for unanswered prayers.

I’m not planning on leaving the Alabama National Guard anytime soon, because I take no greater pride than wearing our nation’s uniform and will continue to do so for the next three years, eight months, and nine days. But, who’s counting….

PS. Thank you for the bike, mama. I know how hard you worked to pay for it, and I can’t thank you enough.

UPDATE: Two months after writing this, I was picked up for Major by the Department of the Army, which opens the door to many opportunities, but for now, I’ll remain a Captain in the National Guard.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

The Power of Prayer…a Soldier’s Journey

The Power of Prayer…a Soldier’s Journey

In honor of this National Day of Prayer, I’d like to share with you the Power of Prayer.

I graduated from college in August 2001. A month later, the tragic events of 9/11 unfolded and changed my life forever.

Before attending college, I was an enlisted man in the Army. In the wake of such a catastrophic event, I felt the need to serve once again; however, that didn’t happen right away.

Foolishly, I’d quit my job at Kroger six months prior to graduation with the rationale that I’d have no trouble finding employment upon graduation. In fact, I anticipated having a job prior to graduation. Both were miscalculations on my part.

I’d saved enough money to make ends meet as long as no monkey wrenches entered the equation. Unfortunately, the monkey wrenches kicked in the door and brought baboon hammers with them.

To say times were tough is like saying Harvey Updyke likes Alabama.

I experienced everything from an eviction to a blown transmission to harassing phone calls from bill collectors to strained relationships with loved ones. If it was negative, there’s a good chance I experienced it.

My credit got so bad that I got turned down for a paper route. Times were tough.

Along this dark journey, I’d often find myself in prayer, simply asking the Lord to help me make it. At the time, I thought it meant I was asking Him to absolve me of the challenges in my life. In hindsight, He did exactly what I asked of Him. One day at a time, He helped me make it.

I reported to Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia, on September 11, 2002.

OCS

As my luck would have it, I was assigned to Alpha Company, notoriously known as “Alphatraz”, for a grueling 14 weeks of training.

I’m not exactly sure when, where, or how but sometime early on I injured my right knee. What initially began as mild discomfort would eventually become unbearably excruciating pain.

I was hesitant about going on sick call, because an extended profile, which restricts physical activity, would cause me to miss training and to likely be recycled to another company.

The culminating event of this ordeal took place in the wee hours of a chilly Fort Benning morning as we started what was to be a relatively short road march fully equipped with ruck sacks and training weapons known as rubber ducks.

Within a matter of minutes, I was using the rubber duck as a crutch as tears streamed down my face. I was forced to abandon the march and take refuge in the truck that was following our formation.

Make no mistake about it; the pain was immense but the tears had more to do with the trials and tribulations I’d experienced over the past year coming to a head combined with a real sense of hopelessness.

By the time I got to sick call that morning, my knee was about three times its normal size. I was given an initial 10-day profile and would indeed be recycled. I was devastated.

I prayed that night. I mean, I really prayed. I felt connected in a way in which I have only experienced on one other occasion. Perhaps one day, I’ll share that story.

As usual, the lights were abruptly turned on the next morning at “o dark 30.” Upon first call each day, we had only five minutes to be standing outside in formation ready to start the day.

As I readied myself to jump down from the top bunk, I grimaced while anticipating the agonizing pain that would soon follow, but much to my surprise, I stuck that landing like Mary Lou Retton at the ’84 Summer Olympics in LA. There was no pain. Zero. Nil. Nothing. The swelling had disappeared, too.

I was astonished by what appeared to be a miraculous healing but wasn’t completely convinced so I maintained my profile for the remainder of that day.

The next day, however, I returned to sick call and convinced the doctor to rescind my profile. Although there were other speed bumps along the way, none of them involved a bum knee.

I went on to graduate from Officer Candidate School and was sworn in as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army on January 10, 2003.

The pinning ceremony with my mother and my "grandpa."

The pinning ceremony with my mother and my “grandpa.”

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.

The day I raised my right hand and stated the oath of office is undoubtedly the proudest moment of my life, and without blinking an eye, I can say that it never would have happened without the power of prayer.

The power of prayer got me to and through OCS and has allowed me to serve admirably as a commissioned officer for the past decade, which includes three tours of duty in Iraq.

Prayer fuels me daily and is a whole lot cheaper than that stuff you pump into your vehicle.

Without it, I hate to think where I’d be.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.