Hard Times & Character

“The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world brother.” Charles Dickens

In the mid-nineties, I was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for a couple of years.

It was by far the worst assignment of my military career, which includes multiple tours in Iraq, and had no positive impact on my life whatsoever. It was a worthless stop along my military career.

Or was it?

Two weeks ago, while teaching a resilience class in Mobile to my fellow guardsmen, I was contacted by a member of the Opelika Character Council about serving on their committee.

Naturally, I thought they’d contacted the wrong Jody Fuller, but upon further review, they had the right guy.

The City of Opelika became an official “City of Character” on April 3, 2007, when the Opelika City Council unanimously adopted the resolution, because city leaders in both the private and public sector decided that character building was an important piece of our community’s development.

Opelika: A City of Character

There is a different character trait each month and the intent is for each of us to promote the monthly trait amongst our family, friends, and workplace.

Character traits for 2013 have included civility, integrity, and courage, while punctuality, discernment, gratefulness, and joyfulness will close out the year.

Endurance, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity, is the character trait for the month of August, which brings me back to Ft. Sill.

Although it seemed like a couple of years, I was actually only stationed there for 15 months.

Prior to this assignment, I was a medic stationed at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center, the largest U.S. hospital in Europe. We provided care for soldiers, their dependents, and retirees. We also had real world missions where we took care of patients ranging from the Army Rangers from Somalia to civilians injured in a mortar explosion in Sarajevo.

My promotion to Private First Class while stationed at Landstuhl, Germany.

It was high-speed stuff. I was making a difference. Life was good.

Upon arrival at Ft. Sill, I was assigned to a field artillery unit and immediately knew that life was no longer good, although I did get really good at picking up trash, cutting grass, and handing out ear plugs and foot powder.

We spent a lot of time in the field where the extremes of hot and cold resulted in misery. The relentless wind only made it worse.

I once pulled KP for 39 straight hours while in the field.

In April 1995, we, the medics, were on call to provide assistance at the Murrah Federal Building, site of the Oklahoma City bombing, but were never called upon.

Later that summer, my battalion was on tap to deploy to Guantanamo Bay as part of a humanitarian mission to support more than 20,000 Cuban refugees; however, that mission was aborted for the battalion, as only one battery was needed.

Two medics deployed with the battery, but neither of them was named Fuller; he was assigned to baggage detail.

I always did my job and remained hopeful, but it just seemed like a complete waste of time.

I could go on and on about the hard times at Ft. Sill but will cut it short just as my time there was. Fortunately, my commander authorized a 90-day early out for me after I was accepted into college.

Finally, there was good fortune.

On Sunday, I drove onto post for the first time since May 24, 1996, and have been here all week.

As I stroll down memory lane, I realize that this place wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.

I served with some great guys who I’m still friends with today.

With some of my fellow medics at Ft. Sill, circa 1995. (L-R, Corey, Banks, me, JP (RIP), Bobby, and Devo.

I really liked my First Sergeant, too. He would give me a hard time about my stuttering but it wasn’t mean spirited. I’ve always had trouble with words beginning with the letters “F” and “S”, so if he knew I was alone at the aid station, he’d call me on the phone just to hear me answer, “First and Seventeenth Field Artillery, this is Specialist Fuller. How may I help you, sir or ma’am?” As if I didn’t have enough trouble with, “Hello.”

“I’m just messing with you, brother,” he’d say in the midst of laughter.

In hindsight, I can tell you that my time here was not a waste of time, because endurance builds character. In fact, it is one of the 23 traits of character in Army leadership.

Romans 5: 3-4 says it best: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

And with hope, all things are possible.

That’s what I’m talking about, brother.

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

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Embracing Uniqueness

As children across America head back to school, I find myself empathizing with those students who may be a little different from their peers.

My grandfather stuttered, as did my uncle. My brother did, too, and at 41 years young, I still stutter.

It wasn’t too terribly difficult the first couple of years of school. In fact, I don’t recall being made fun of at all, although there was a great deal of curiosity about my abnormal speech.

In the second grade, a classmate asked me why I talked funny. With a straight face, I told her I had a piece of meat stuck in my throat which caused my words to get stuck.

Poor, bad hair, and meat stuck in my throat…..this was 2nd grade for me.

Poor, bad hair, and meat stuck in my throat…..this was 2nd grade for me.

Years later, with a straight face, she asked if I still had that meat stuck in my throat. She was serious.

To this day, stuttering can be difficult, in more ways than one, to explain.

Kids love recess, naps, and show and tell, and I was no different. Recess and naps came easy, and in spite of my speech disorder, I still took part in show and tell just like all the other kids. I just did a whole lot more showing than I did telling.

It’s never easy being a kid, but it’s especially tough when you’re different.

I had trouble saying my name and would often give fake names when meeting new people. It was not uncommon for me to be Jason or Mike, Chris or Kevin, or Calvin. Yes, one time I was Calvin. I don’t really look like a Calvin but that’s what came out.

Most little boys are shy when talking to girls, but I was downright terrified. I can probably count the number of times on one hand that I talked to a girl in elementary school. Years later, many of those same girls told me they thought my stuttering was cute. I wish I’d known that then.

As I got older, some kids started getting meaner and the mocking ensued. Unfortunately, I let it bother me. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I put more stock in what they had to say rather than being thankful for the overwhelming majority of kids who treated me with kindness, respect and compassion. In hindsight, I know that it was a reflection of them and not me. Again, I wish I’d known that then.

My 4th grade picture…with a hair like this, not to mention the sweater vest and collars, I would have made fun of me, too!

My 4th grade picture…with a hair like this, not to mention the sweater vest and collars, I would have made fun of me, too!

It was not uncommon for me to know the answers to questions during class, but it was quite common for me to remain silent out of fear of being ridiculed.

Reading aloud in class was pure torture. The buildup and anticipation of being called upon created more stress and anxiety than I am able to put into words, which resulted in frequent tension headaches.

When it was my time to read, I would lower my head, focus, and stop breathing. I would instinctively hit my thigh with my fist over and over to literally beat the words out of me, whereas other times, I would hit the underside of my desktop.

Giving an oral presentation in front of the class was the ultimate challenge, which usually resulted in ultimate shame. There was nowhere to hide. All eyes were fixed upon me as the secondary effects of stuttering stole the show. My eyes closed and my face contorted as I struggled to get out each word. There was no desk to pound and beating my leg in front the whole class was incredibly awkward.

Kids were mean and I let that bother me. There were very few days this future soldier didn’t find himself crying by the end of the day. I didn’t like who I was and didn’t want to be me.

The funny thing, though, was that it wasn’t the stuttering that caused any of the negative feelings I had, and it wasn’t the bullies, either. It was my reaction to both the stuttering and the bullying.

I let it bother me, but it didn’t have to be like that.

Sometime in the eighth grade, my attitude changed. I don’t recall exactly when, where, how, or why, but I turned what I’d always perceived as a negative into a positive.

I wasn’t an athlete and I wasn’t a genius. I wasn’t in the band and I certainly couldn’t sing, but everyone still knew me, because I stood out, and that was a good thing. I was different and I finally embraced that difference and ran with it.

Instead of waiting in fear for the teacher to call my name, I raised my hand when I knew the answer to a question. I always volunteered to read and even used oral presentations as an opportunity to showcase my comedic talents.

I was in control and would not allow the anxiety or insecurity to control my feelings, attitude, or behavior.

In subsequent years, I’d go on to speak in front of the entire student body on multiple occasions.

Being in control eased most of the tension; inevitably, there were less headaches, secondary effects, and, to a degree, stuttering.

Self-acceptance is crucial to happiness and success in and out of the classroom. It doesn’t mean we can’t strive to improve upon our so-called flaws, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love ourselves and embrace our uniqueness either.

Individuality should be celebrated, not suppressed and certainly not mocked.

I went from a stuttering kid who seldom spoke a word to a stuttering man who now speaks for a living.

The Speaker

The Speaker

It’s never easy being a kid, but it’s especially tough when you’re different, but it doesn’t have to be.

The time to embrace your uniqueness is now.

Signed, Calvin.

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

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Friends or Fleas…back to school advice for kids

“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” President George Washington

As Bubba drove me to Honolulu International Airport, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I was to have so many wonderful friends in my life, many of them, in fact, named Bubba.

He and I have been friends for around 30 years. He lived in the “mill village’ for the first few years of his life but later moved to my neighborhood where we quickly became friends.

We had a great neighborhood filled with so many kids. There wasn’t a day that went by when we weren’t out playing football, basketball, stickball, kickball, wiffleball, or dodgeball. If it could be played, chances are we did it and did it well in West Side Subdivision. For the record, we saved volleyball for the beach and tetherball for school.

If we weren’t outside playing, riding our bikes, or down at the creek catching crawdads, chances are we were at someone’s house trading baseball cards.

At one point, I probably had 25,000 cards. One of my favorites was a 1954 Tommy Lasorda rookie card. It was the only card Topps ever made of the future Hall of Fame manager as a player. My mother gave it to me one year for my birthday.

There was about a five year stretch where baseball cards consumed much of my spare time, so one day I traded them all to another neighborhood friend, Michael, for a gold chain. It was the eighties, after all.

I simply wanted to wipe my hands of them, although I did keep a few Bo Jackson cards.

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One day, from 4,500 miles away, Bubba and I were reminiscing, about the good old days in the neighborhood. He even recalled the day when I made the questionable decision to trade the cards for the aforementioned roped gold of coolness.

Of the thousands of baseball cards that changed hands in the transaction, Bubba brought up the Tommy Lasorda rookie card and did so without being enticed to do so. I told him that I wish I’d kept that card and why.

I’ve been friends with my best friends for over 30 years. Anyone is incredibly blessed to have one really good friend who they can count on through thick and through thin. I’m truly blessed to have a handful of them.

People with stable friends are more likely to live a stable life. Although making new friends is also a wonderful blessing, particularly when present company is somewhat sketchy, I’d hate to know where I’d be without the core group of friends in my life.

Ten days in Hawaii was not enough. Not only was I leaving paradise, I was also leaving some really great people.

As we approached the unloading zone at the airport, the chit chat came to a halt. I secured my luggage, and then we shook hands, gave each other a quick hug, and said our goodbyes.

I’d taken no more than three steps when Bubba called my name. “Oh, there’s just one more thing,” he said, no doubt doing his best Columbo impression. He then extended his hand for what appeared to be one more handshake, but I noticed something in his hand and that something in his hand turned out to be the very same 1954 Tommy Lasorda rookie card that I had all but given away a quarter of a century earlier.

Bubba lived just two houses down from Michael. The trading never stopped. Neither did the friendships.

Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I will show you your future!”

There’s a lot of wisdom in those few words.

Finally, never forget what your grandpa said; “If you lie with the dogs, you will get up with fleas.”

Look around. Who are your friends?

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

Get your grind on…Back to school.

“LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD” the orange sign with black letters read.

Upon reaching the one-lane construction zone, my car was seemingly moving at a snail’s pace.

It was about that time I started experiencing the flashbacks. No, they weren’t flashbacks to Iraq or the last two Iron Bowls; they were flashbacks to my college days.

The construction was taking place on I-85 between Auburn and Montgomery. I’d probably made this trip a thousand times in my life but the bulk of those took place from 2000 to 2001 while in school at Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM).

Before transferring to AUM, I was a career student at Southern Union State Community College. In fact, one of the wings is named after me. Well, not really, but it should be.

I crept through Southern Union like a car going through a one-lane construction zone.

I actually attended Southern Union after high school but that only last one pathetic, measly, miserable quarter.

As many of you may know, I am a fan of professional wrestling. Don’t blame me; blame my grandparents. They loved it. At least I don’t dip snuff, but I digress.

I took three classes that first quarter, and when the quarter had come to a close, I’d withdrawn from the first two and failed the other, resulting in the grades of WWF.

Hulkamania might have been running wild but my education was not.

My photo ID from the WWF days.

(My photo ID from the WWF days.)

This was my lone attempt at college prior to joining the Army.

Within a year of the WWF, I raised my right hand, stated an oath, and my life changed forever.

After four years in the Army, I returned home and reenrolled at Southern Union. I was highly motivated and was dedicated to completing my degree.

I’d earned the Montgomery GI Bill and was going to use it.

Fortunately, I had a boss that allowed me to work full time and then some. I had bills to pay but the extra work didn’t jive with my education.

The grind was wearing on me.

I was burnt out, so I put my application in at the local tire plant, but, by the grace of God, my services apparently weren’t needed. The plant has since closed its doors.

I could’ve stayed at Southern Union and taken a few more classes but a change of scenery was necessary.

Although the main campus at Auburn was my first choice, I settled on AUM because it was more conducive to the non-traditional student. Besides, my money still went to and my grades came from Samford Hall. I was still an Auburn man.

Early on, I was reinvigorated, but it didn’t take long for the grind to catch up with me.

There is nothing fun about driving 100 miles round trip to school in a Jeep with a busted window held up with duct tape, allowing in cold air, making it difficult to hear the radio, much less stay warm. Some quarters, later semesters, saw me doing this four days a week. I’d often leave at 7 AM and not get home until 10 at night.

I was still working full-time, too.

The grind had caught me, and I was ready to quit.

That is until the blistering hot day I saw an orange sign with black letters that read, “LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD.”

As I crept through the construction zone at a snail’s pace, I couldn’t help but feel for the road crew as they worked in the sweltering heat. I know they work hard and some make good money. I have great respect for what they do, but I knew that’s not where I wanted to be.

I had no idea where life would take me, but I certainly hoped it would include air conditioning.

That was it. That’s all it took. After that, I never looked back. I was a man on a mission.

My Jeep Wrangler died on me, but, thanks to my brother, it was quickly replaced by a Jeep Cherokee, making the drive and midday naps much more bearable.

I was so motivated to complete my degree, that I took seven classes, the equivalent of 35 hours, that final summer mini-semester.

I graduated on August 3, 2001.

The fellas supporting me at graduatuon...from L to R...Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea

(The fellas supporting me at graduatuon…from L to R…Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea.)

I hate to think where I’d be had I not completed my degree. Education can often be a grind, but in the end, there are very few things as valuable.

Whether you’re entering first grade, high school, trade school or college, don’t ever give up, because education is essential.

If you never quite completed that degree, the time get your grind on is now, because with an education, life’s possibilities are endless.

It took me to Iraq three times, and most of the time, I had air conditioning.

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 .

A Reason to Celebrate

The hotel lobby was visible from the second floor, as was the loading and unloading zone outside.

As I got off the elevator, I stood there in awe as I watched a gentleman I’d met earlier in the day get on a small shuttle bus. He proudly stood on the wheelchair lift with the aid of a set of crutches with arm braces.

Leaning on the guard rail, I watched with admiration as he struggled to make his way onto and through the bus. To say it was a slow process is an understatement.

Why wouldn’t he just use a wheelchair? It would be less taxing, not to mention less time consuming. I can be lazy, so I know how I would’ve rolled.

This gentleman was challenged by the simplest of tasks that most of us often take for granted, yet instead of taking the easier way out, he faced his challenge head on and accomplished his mission.

It was quite inspiring to watch.

Patiently awaiting the return of the lift, a young lady in a wheelchair was fully engaged in conversation with the bus driver and displayed a beautiful smile in doing so.

She wasn’t sighing. She wasn’t rolling her eyes. She wasn’t looking at her watch. She was waiting, patiently.

You see, I was there to serve as the host of a celebration for the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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This was my second year emceeing the celebration, which is hosted by the Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast each year in Ft. Myers, Florida.

The event was attended by a wide range of people, including those with physical and mental disabilities. There was even an Alabama fan present.

The center’s mission is to empower people with disabilities. They help them acquire skills, find services, housing, transportation, employment and physical access to public and private facilities as a means to increase their quality of life.

Upon my arrival, many remembered me from last year, so handshakes and hugs were in order.

The event empowered me to do something that I never do. I left my comfort zone along the wall and stepped out onto the dance floor. It wasn’t Kool & the Gang or the Village People who inspired me to do so; it was the folks at the celebration who were there celebrating opportunity and life and encouraging others to do the same.

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There were many highlights for me throughout the day, but one of them stands out for obvious reasons.

A lady, who identified herself as a teacher, said she’d never thought of stuttering as a disability until hearing my presentation. I explained to her that for people like me, it’s not; however, for others it most certainly is.

I love having the opportunity to educate people on stuttering.

In my opinion, it depends on the severity. For example, does someone with a slight limp have a disability or does he or she just have a slight limp? At this point in my life, I only have a slight limp.

But I digress; there were other highlights.

The gentleman who set his walker aside in order to play the air guitar to the sweet sounds of AC/DC was a highlight, as was the federal judge who’s been in a wheelchair since 1989. He didn’t go to law school until after his accident.

My friend is in air guitar heaven. This is a must see.

Then there was the race car driver who lost his vision after an accident. He was such an interesting man. I know they don’t want pity, but, be that as it may, I sincerely felt pity for him, but not because of his visual impairment. Nope, it’s because he was a graduate of the University of Alabama.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my new friends and can’t wait to celebrate with them again next year.

I’ll probably even do a little more dancing, because whether it’s activities, food, or people, life is much more interesting and rewarding when you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, and for me, that’s reason to celebrate.

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.