Patience pays off

“I’m a very patient person,” I often say. “I just hate waiting.”

For five days last week I wore my ACUs for the first time since September. For you civilian folks, the ACU is the Army Combat Uniform. I’m 23 pounds lighter than when I last wore them, so they fit better than ever. I took pride in my look as I reported to my new Army Reserve unit at Ft. Gillem, GA near Atlanta.

I showed up the first day about 15 minutes early. There’s that old Army saying about showing up 15 minutes early or you’re late. I’ve never been a fan of that. I just like to be there on time. So, on the second day, I showed up 15 minutes late. I just wanted to balance things out.

The first day was spent filling out paperwork. They must’ve cut down three trees just to have enough paper to collect my information. The paperwork was followed by more registration online, but I could do only so much due to the expired certificates on my common access card. For you civilian folks, that’s my ID card, which is inserted into the computer for access.

I was unable to get very much accomplished due to the lack of the aforementioned access. I called to make an appointment to have a new ID card made, but they couldn’t see me until August 10. I just shook my head and wished I had a bracelet on my wrist with the letters WWPD. We’ve all seen the What Would Jesus Do bracelets, but mine would be What Would Patton Do. Seriously, how would one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history feel about our dependence upon computers?

All in all, it was a good first day, but it was a long first day. The unit pays for a hotel room during our drills or as they call them in the Reserves “Battle Assemblies.” I still call them drills, thank you very much. I got to the hotel room, and my room was not paid. I didn’t think to get any numbers from anyone in the unit during the day, so I was not a happy camper. I needed to go home to retrieve some paperwork anyway, so this was just the Good Lord giving me some guidance.

I still felt dejected. I was also starving to death, so I went to the Cracker Barrel across the street before heading home. Since I’d not been able to check into my hotel room, I was still in my uniform. My food took seemingly forever to cook. The manager came out twice to apologize for the delay. I showed my patience and put on a happy face but was still dejected. Once the food arrived, things got better.

A few minutes later, a rather large, bearded gentleman stepped over into my space and extended his hand. The first thing I noticed was the ball cap on his head. He was a Vietnam Veteran. In his other hand, he held the ticket for the meal I was eating. “Thank you for your service,” he said. “I got this.”

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I was down in the dumps for very minor setbacks throughout the day. I couldn’t help but think of all the terrible days he experienced in that land so far away. Although I served a total of 34 months in Iraq, nothing I did or saw will ever compare to his experiences.

The Vietnam Veterans were treated so unfairly upon their return and have every reason to be bitter for the unjust treatment; however, most of them bear no resentment towards their country. Their patience with our nation should serve as an example to each of us. I am extremely grateful for this gentleman and for all the other Vietnam Veterans who served this nation so admirably.

As for the remainder of the weekend, it had its ups and downs but ended on the highest of highs. On Sunday, my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law woke up at the crack of dawn so they could be in Atlanta at 9:00 to witness my promotion to Major. The best part is that I didn’t even tell them about it until early Saturday evening, yet they still did what they had to do to be there.

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Actually, the best part was having my wife pin on my oak leaf. In a perfect Army, I would’ve been promoted two years ago, but had that happened, I would’ve missed out on this amazing memory. My patience paid off.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. 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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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.

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.