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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Stuttering in DC

This past week, close to a thousand of my fellow stutterers and their families descended upon Washington DC for the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. It’s been decades since our nation’s capital experienced such clear and concise communication.

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When I got into the taxi at Reagan National Airport, I gave the driver the address to my hotel. “999 9th Street,” I said. By the way, I wasn’t stuttering. That was the actual address. I knew from that point on, that this would be my most memorable conference yet.

We have a lot of fun each year at the conference, and it’s always in a great city. It’s not a pity party, although some tears are likely to flow. On the contrary, it’s education, empowerment, enlightenment, entertainment, and loads of fun.

Hoping to make the most out of it, I went up a few days earlier than usual. Be that as it may, the week just whizzed by. By attending the last four conferences, I’ve met many amazing people, and one week is simply not enough time, not only because they are simply that amazing but also because we stutter. Our conversations are seldom of the quick type.

Although we may not agree on everything, we are tighter and more cohesive than any military unit I’ve ever served with. In many cases, we are tighter than family. Lucy, my wife, arrived midweek and was welcomed with open arms. They loved her, and she loved them. Over lunch one day, she was brought to the brink of tears as she reflected upon her experiences throughout the week and how she could relate to the challenges of stuttering in her own way. It was her first time attending, but it will definitely not be her last.

Photo courtesy of Steven Kaufman

Photo courtesy of Steven Kaufman

Dinner with my lovely wife at the banquet. Photo courtesy of my lovely wife :)

Dinner with my lovely wife at the banquet. Photo courtesy of my lovely wife 🙂

We, along with our friend David, toured the monuments along the National Mall one night. David, a person who stutters, is an avid photographer. As Lucy and I sat on a step reflecting upon the National World War II Memorial, David walked up and sat down next to us.

“I s-s-s-set the t-t-t-timer on the c-c-c-camera for it to t-t-t-take a p-p-p-picture…Dang! It’s too late,” said David, as we all laughed.

Humor is all around us. We can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. That gets us nowhere.

One of the highlights this year was being able to lead a workshop called “Connecting with Humor” with a room full of young children ages 6-12. It was my first time as a presenter, and I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. I told them stories from my childhood in a humorous manner, and then allowed them to do the same. Although they quickly got off topic, knowing they had the courage to stand and stutter in front of a group of people gave me all the satisfaction I needed.

I had another role at this year’s conference, too. I, along with Rohan Murphy and Parker Mantell, had the incredible honor of being one of the keynote speakers. Murphy lost his legs at birth but went on to wrestle at Penn State. He was also featured in Nike’s “No Excuses” campaign. As you may recall, Mantell is the young man who stuttered his way through his commencement speech at Indiana University earlier this year. Both men were incredibly inspiring and are true testaments of what one can accomplish in spite of their perceived flaws.

Photo courtesy of Christine Dits

Photo courtesy of Christine Dits

I even met a gentleman from Huntsville who works for NASA, and, get this; he graduated from the University of Alabama. If that’s not proof that one, in spite of their perceived flaws, can achieve greatness through hard work, dedication, and self-confidence, I don’t know what is.

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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Enjoy the ride!

Devil's Tower National Monument in Northeast Wyoming in May 2003.

Devil’s Tower National Monument in Northeast Wyoming in May 2003.

A few weeks ago, I went to Las Vegas for a gig. I was there for 3 nights before flying back for another one in Montgomery. I flew because I had places to be and was in a hurry.

But I prefer to drive. In fact, I insist on driving when time is not an issue.

I enjoy the alone time. I enjoy having time to think. I enjoy blasting my radio to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash, although, sometimes it’s Anne Murray, Carly Simon, and The Carpenters. It’s just me, so no one will ever know.

Oops…

carpenters

One of my favorite movies is National Lampoon’s Vacation starring Chevy Chase as the incomparable Clark W. Griswold. When asked by his children why they weren’t flying to the fictitious theme park, Walley World, Clark replied, “Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”

I know that.

When I was in the seventh grade, we traveled in the family car to Washington DC for Spring Break. The family car was a 1980 Pinto with a spoiler.

THE 1980 Pinto with the spoiler!

THE 1980 Pinto with the spoiler!

While my mother and brother shared driving duties up front, I rode in the hatchback alongside the ham sandwiches and Piggly Wiggly sacks.

Had we flown, we would’ve missed America’s splendor along the Blue Ridge Parkway and throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

We likely would've missed a picture with the bowl-mullet, pies, and fake Members Only jacket, too.

We likely would’ve missed a picture with the bowl-mullet, pies, and fake Members Only jacket, too.

Oh, we also would’ve missed a chance encounter at a Shoney’s located 308 miles away from Opelika in Asheville, North Carolina, with our eighth grade home economics teacher, Miss Boothe.

There is just so much to see, do, and eat along the highways of America.

Another classic line from Vacation is when Clark says, “Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes… or perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?”

While I have yet to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, I have seen the world’s largest bottle of catsup in Collinsville, Illinois.

The world's largest bottle of catsup in 2003.

The world’s largest bottle of catsup in 2003.

Upon graduation from my Officer Basic Course at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, I was assigned to Ft. Lewis, Washington, which is a journey of 2,900. I know some people that would’ve made the trip in three or four days, but why?

I took 28 days of leave and embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I drove close to 8,000 miles and saw Yellowstone, Yosemite, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Canyon, and, yes, the world’s largest bottle of catsup.

I recently drove to Arizona for the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. The drive out there and back added to the overall experience of the trip.

As this young man went west, I spent the first night with friends in New Orleans. We enjoyed an amazing meal at NOLA, one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in the French Quarter. Bam!

The second night I had a great meal and conversation with a friend in San Antonio, before trekking through the seemingly endless West Texas at 80 MPH the next day. I stopped for barbeque, twice.

I also experienced a monsoon in rural Southern Arizona and a sandstorm in Tucson that came with tumbleweed and all. It was fabulous!

As always, I experienced a magical time at our stuttering association’s conference but knew the trip back would be the proverbial icing on the cake to what was already a wonderful trip.

On the way back, I stopped at Saguaro National Park in Southern Arizona, home to the nation’s largest cacti, before having dinner in Tombstone at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, located near the legendary O.K. Corral.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson.

The next day, I was able to put a checkmark on my bucket list when I went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Throughout the years, I’ve been to many caverns but none quite as spectacular as these. Pictures and words simply do not do the “8th Wonder of the World” justice. I felt as if I was on another planet. I was overwhelmed. It was truly awesome.

Likewise, it was AUsome hearing a “War Eagle” from the depths of the caverns, too. Although lighting is limited throughout the cave, my orange Auburn shirt clearly stood out.

The next day saw a stop at the Botanical Gardens in Ft. Worth, as well as lunch with an Opelika buddy featuring barbeque goat.

The last day of the trip included crawfish étouffée in Shreveport, a stop at the Duck Dynasty headquarters in West Monroe, followed by a sunset at Vicksburg National Military Park along the banks of the Mississippi River before embarking on the final lonesome stretch of highway through Mississippi and Alabama.

I could’ve flown, but why?

There’s just so much to do, see, and eat along the way, but we are often in such a hurry to reach our destination that we don’t take the time to truly enjoy the ride.

Besides, getting there is half the fun. You know that.

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