Mr. Fuller goes to Washington

Last Monday, I had the incredible honor of attending retired Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins’ Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. Without hesitation, I can honestly say that it was and will always be one of the highlights of my life.

Bennie and me

The only drawback was that Lucy wasn’t able to go with me. She was planning on it, but Emily got sick and spiked a 105 degree temperature the morning we were to leave. Lucy did what military wives do. With very little fanfare, she took care of things at home while I went out and got all the glory. The next morning, Emily’s fever was broken. Chalk one up for mamma.

Although Lucy was unable to attend, I did spend a great deal of time with other friends during the trip. I think that it’s important to be able to share memories of such an important and monumental event with like-minded people. Having said that, neither Johnny nor Jay are as pretty as my wife.

Because of my lifelong stutter, I was hoping to meet Vice President Joe Biden, who is himself a stutterer. I wanted to give him an iStutter lapel that was created by one of my friends from the National Stuttering Association; however, the vice president was not in attendance.

The iStutter lapel was designed by my friend David Friedman to bring awareness to stuttering.

The iStutter lapel was designed by my friend David Friedman to bring awareness to stuttering.

Several of my friends were incredibly excited about drinking adult beverages in the White House. I can’t blame them. I was, too. We all took pictures and sent them back home. One father received major cool points from his two adult sons.

During the ceremony, I sat next to a two-star general from the United States Marine Corps. When I told him I was from Opelika, right next door to Auburn, he told me that he’d played football for Pat Dye at East Carolina.

MG O'Donnell played for Coach Pat Dye at East Carolina.

MG O’Donnell played for Coach Pat Dye at East Carolina.

The ceremony was absolutely incredible. President Barack Obama did a phenomenal job, and Bennie was as humble as ever.

Bennie POTUS

After the ceremony, we had another drink or two. Some of us found it so entertaining that we could put our drinks on the furniture without using coasters. The food was amazing, too. I took a couple of napkins home as souvenirs and may or may not have taken a plate. I’m from Opelika. I can’t help it.

I was talking to a friend when Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, walked by all alone. I started trying to say his name, but, as usual, was stuck on the letter S. “S-S-S-Secretary Hagel,” I yelled just before he rounded the corner. He returned and was very kind. After talking for a few minutes, I gave him the iStutter lapel and asked if he could pass it on to the vice president. He asked for my card and said he would but, due to his position, I had my doubts.

Me with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Me with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

I then told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, how I came to be in possession of a Christmas card sent to him from the commander of Ft. Drum. He found it humorous, but I’ll save that story for another day.

Me with the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey

Me with the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey

Monday night, I had a phone call from an unknown caller, so I didn’t answer it. If it was important, they’d leave a message. We were still celebrating.

In addition to my friend CSM Adkins, I met four other Medal of Honor recipients on this trip. Maj. Drew Dix, LTC Ron Ray, MSG Melvin Morris, and Col. Roger Donlon are all heroes of the highest regard, and it was truly an honor to meet each of them.

Major Drew Dix

Major Drew Dix

LTC Ron Ray

LTC Ron Ray

MSG Melvin Morris and COL Roger Donlon

MSG Melvin Morris and COL Roger Donlon

The next day, CSM Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor the previous day, were inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon by Secretary Hagel. It was another incredible ceremony, and I was just honored to be there.

CSM Adkins being inducted into the Hall of Heroes by SecDef Hagel,  Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Allyn and the Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler.

CSM Adkins being inducted into the Hall of Heroes by SecDef Hagel, Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Allyn and the Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler.

As I was driving back to Opelika on Wednesday morning, I decided to check the voicemail from the unknown caller. “Jody, this is Joe Biden, Vice President Biden,” he said. I almost had a wreck. I don’t care where one stands politically, it should always be an honor to receive a call from someone of his stature. He left a really nice voicemail and asked me to call him back. I did, but he wasn’t there at the time. His secretary said he’d return my call. I had my doubts.

On Monday of this week, he called me back. We had a great 18-minute conversation pertaining mostly to stuttering and service. Thankfully, he didn’t ask me about the plate.

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. 

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Thanks from a Veteran

Each year, I post this but always tweak it a bit. Please take a look. Thank you.

For Veterans Day, I’d like to thank each and every service member who has ever stepped foot on foreign soil. To keep in line with the original intent of Veterans Day, I’ll even go a step further and thank every service member who has ever had the honor and privilege of wearing the uniform.

Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military, be it in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, whereas Memorial Day is a day to honor those who died during battle or as a direct result of injuries sustained during battle.

I am a veteran and am very proud of my service, but the respect I have for those who came before me and my generation is immeasurable.

Basic Training (Aug 1992)

Basic Training (Aug 1992)

The origin of Veterans Day can be traced back to honoring the veterans of WWI. I’m proud to acknowledge that my grandfather, Herbert Lee Fuller, was one of those men who fought so bravely in WWI.

Paw Paw Fuller, sometime during WWI

Paw Paw Fuller, sitting down, sometime around WWI 

Those who served in WWII were truly the cream of the crop of “The Greatest Generation.”

I have great respect and admiration for those who served in the Korean War, which sadly is often referred to as “The Forgotten War.” No war should ever be forgotten.

The veterans of Vietnam deserve our respect, appreciation, and support now more than ever. The way they were treated upon their return from is a sad chapter in our nation’s great history, but there is sufficient time to correct that mistake.

welcomehome1

Lastly, I’ve had the honor of serving with many great warriors who valiantly served during the Gulf War and the current Global War on Terrorism. I can’t possibly name everyone I served with but I think they know how much love and respect I have for each of them.

I touched on each of the major conflicts of the past hundred years so that none of them will be forgotten. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who serve and no one’s service should ever be forgotten.

In 2011, Frank Buckles, the last surviving veteran of WWI passed away. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, WWII veterans are dying at the alarming rate of more than 1,000 a day. Quite simply, these great Americans are responsible for our very way of life. There is still time to go out of your way to pay respect for these immortal heroes. For most, a sincere “thank you” will suffice.

The next time you see a gentleman wearing a WWII, Korean War, or Vietnam War veteran hat, I highly encourage you to approach him and thank him for his service. Furthermore, if it’s a Vietnam veteran, welcome him home. It’ll make him feel good but it’ll do even more for you. I’ve been welcomed home from war on three different occasions. Each time, there was a variety of pomp and circumstance. Sadly, the Vietnam vets failed to receive such adoration.

Today, I spent the morning at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City, Alabama, with friends, family, and heroes of past wars. Unfortunately, many of those same heroes are now alone with few friends and little family, if any. It’s incumbent upon us to see that they are not alone, so I encourage you to visit your local veterans home from time to time. It shouldn’t be a chore to spend a little time with those who helped to provide the freedom you enjoy each and every day.

The most alarming issue facing veterans today is the suicide rate. Presently, a veteran is taking his or her own life approximately every 80 minutes. This rate is completely unacceptable and the identification and prevention of suicide has become a top priority of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Whether or not you support war is irrelevant; you have to support the troops. They serve voluntarily so you or your loved ones don’t have to serve involuntarily. This hasn’t always been the case.

On a personal level, there wasn’t a day that went by on my latest deployment that I didn’t receive a letter, a postcard, an email, or a package from a grateful American. Over the years, the support for the Global War on Terrorism has dwindled; however, the support for the troops has never been higher, so on behalf of each and every service member who has ever had the honor of wearing the uniform, I want to thank each and every one of YOU for your past, present, and future support. We couldn’t do what we do without it.

Thank you.

Jody Fuller is 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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Veterans Day: A Day of Celebration

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Last year, I took a character strengths survey for the Army. It is a 240 item, scientifically validated, questionnaire that provides a rank order of an adult’s 24 character strengths.

While the ranking of some of the character strengths left me baffled, the top character strength did not. Topping the list for me was gratitude.

Take your own survey now. You’ll find it interesting.

Gratefulness is November’s character trait for Opelika, a City of Character.

I have so much to be grateful for, but with Veterans Day upon us, I want to focus on our veterans, for whom I give thanks to every day.

Recently, I told a forty something year old friend of mine that had the U.S. not defeated the Axis powers in WWII, we’d all be speaking German. His reply was classic. “Not me. I can’t speak German.”

Last Sunday, I had the honor of attending the birthday party of 90 year old Husky Kirkwood, a Navy pilot during WWII. Not only was it an honor due to his rightful place in The Greatest Generation but also because according to him, it wasn’t a “phonebook crowd.” He didn’t just scroll through the phonebook looking for folks to invite; he only invited select personnel. Like I said, it was an honor.

Husky in his new birthday suit.

Husky in his new birthday suit. I wore a Navy shirt in his honor, which was tough for an Army guy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

As one can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” drives a lot of Buicks. I believe there were more Buicks at Husky’s house that day, per capita, than anywhere else in America.

Also, as you can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” consisted of many Veterans.

I know there were multiple WWII Veterans in attendance, as well as those from Vietnam. There was at least one from Desert Storm and even a couple of us from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s ironic that I didn’t mention the Korean War, which sadly is referred to as The Forgotten War; however, I didn’t forget about it and neither should you. I assume some of the guys served in Korea but it never came up in conversation. Perhaps they’ve tried to forget and for good reason. War is hell and Korea ranks right up there near the top.

While many people see Veterans Day as a sad day, I do not. I see it as a celebration for all who have served; those for whom deserve our unwavering gratitude.

It shouldn’t be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

I missed out on a well-paying Veterans Day speaking engagement in California this year, because I stood my ground. I told the event planner that I could speak about anything but to expect a few laughs along the way, because Veterans Day shouldn’t be a somber day; it should be a day of celebration. Apparently that was too much for him to handle, but I’m ok with that and that’s what ultimately counts. You got to stand for something.

But for many, the celebration will soon be ending. According to the VA, we are losing 800-1000 WWII veterans each and every day, so the time to show your gratitude is now.

In recent months, many of my friends from around the country have been showering veterans with birthday cards.

My friend from Fairhope told me about her uncle who fought in WWII. He is 91 years old and blind. His wife died 15 years ago and all he has left is my friend and her mom.

As of Monday, he’d received 26 birthday cards and was deeply moved and brought to tears by the love and gratitude sent his way. He feels special knowing that he is not forgetten.

Uncle Bill message

It doesn’t have to be a holiday for you to reach out to veterans.

We are also losing Korean War veterans at an alarming rate.

Vietnam veterans were loathed by many during their era, so the time to sincerely thank them for answering their nation’s call for a very unpopular war is now.

I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom three times, each time coming home to a bigger celebration. Sadly, the guys from Vietnam were spat upon and advised not to wear their uniform upon their return. The time to thank them and welcome them home is now.

I’m not forgetting about my generation of vets, I just ask that you focus on the older ones first. We plan on being around for a while, but if you see a younger veteran who is struggling, please reach out to him or her.

I encourage you to do something special this Veterans Day weekend. Make a phone call or two. Send a card. Drop by to see a friend. Visit your local veterans home. Bake some cookies. Who doesn’t like cookies?

I plan of taking a veteran or two to lunch on Monday. Heck, I might even drive them in style. Does anyone have a Buick I can borrow?

My "grandpa" is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He's not really my grandpa but that's what I call him.

My “grandpa” is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He’s not really my grandpa but that’s what I call him. He has a Buick.

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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