When I first met him, he was nothing more than a seventeen year old kid. He came from Franklin County, going through Louisiana.
Just out of high school. Skinny as a rail, lucky to weigh 100 pounds. Even then, he had piercing blue eyes that had already seen a lot more than most seventeen year olds. He had a handshake you could not forget.
Life had been hard for him. His parents split when he was a kid. A lot of time living with his grandparents. He knew where he was, what roads he had already traveled. He had seen disaster come to life when there’s too much alcohol, too many drugs, not enough trust, barely enough love.
He didn’t want to stay in the same rut. He wanted better. He knew better was out there somewhere. He just didn’t know how to find it, how to make it happen.
College. Not in this world.
Trade school. Not even a thought.
He came by the house. He was a good friend of one of my sons. They are the same age.
He thought the only option was to join the military. They would pay him. They would clothe him, give him three hot meals a day and a place to sleep at night. Maybe they would teach him something he could do later. One step at a time.
We talked, mostly I listened. He had a game plan. All he wanted was to escape one hellhole and find a place to land.
He joined the Coast Guard. Four years for certain, maybe two more, if he liked it.
They took him in.
Yes, he got everything he asked for, everything he needed. They shipped him off to see some of the country, sent him to school. Gave him responsibilities most nineteen year olds can’t fathom. More responsibilities, more duties, as the years slipped by.
They helped him grow. Sent him to a University. Made him an intelligence specialist. Top Secret Clearance.
Time passed, a wife and then children. He liked the uniform. He liked serving his country.
He made rank. Moved up, climbing their ladder. A hash mark on his sleeve and stripes on his shoulder.
More responsibilities. He found an assignment closer to home, realizing he had built his own home, above the mess he had left.
Now, he was closing in on that fifth hash mark. Four years, then some. Now it’s twenty years. When he joined up, he was looking for a job, some sort of stability in an unstable world.
Today, he’s got people calling him, looking for someone with a Top Secret Clearance and a twenty year record of protecting and serving our country.
Those who know him will call him Chief for the rest of his life. He retired from the Coast Guard Saturday.
What I really want to say is Thank You Chief Petty Officer. You’ve done well for yourself young man. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.
Please feel free to share. I welcome your comments and thoughts. Contact Mike Windham at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may follow me at mikewindham.com.