Recently on one of the various Facebook Encinitas gripe pages, someone posted inaccurate and gross comments about me. This individual said, “this guy brags about being out of work and staying home while his wife pays the bills. Real loser.” Interesting fact, a retired veteran starts receiving their pension and benefits the day you retire, no matter how old you are.
I’ve never knowingly met this person in my life, and I will not get involved in a contest of insults. As parents and concerned citizens we need to set the example for our children and discuss our disagreements like adults. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m proud to introduce myself to you and set the record straight.
I grew up in St. Louis, MO in a time when schools were just beginning to become desegregated in Missouri. I was raised in a single parent household where respect, hard work and discipline were emphasized. My family was poor, we didn’t have many luxuries; but mother worked her tail off to ensure that we had everything we needed, the first 10 years of my life we lived in public housing or multifamily units. The living conditions were often cramped and there was very little privacy, but being the youngest of six, I was loved and taken care of.
Like all kids, we would play on the playground, play baseball and on the weekend go to the 12th and Park Community Center to roller skate. Totally oblivious to the world around us and our socioeconomic condition, we lived life to its fullest. My Mom didn’t own a car at the time, so we relied on public transportation. We rarely travelled outside of downtown St. Louis. Primarily because we were not welcomed in many of the surrounding suburbs. Prior to Civil Rights laws being passed, many of the predominantly white enclaves that made up the suburban communities in St. Louis County were sundown towns. The chances of getting hassled by unwelcoming residents or the police simply wasn’t worth it.
From kindergarten to third grade I went to schools near downtown St. Louis. The classrooms were crowded, the books and desks were old and every face in the school was black. Prior to the start of the 4th grade we moved to University City. A suburb right outside of downtown St. Louis. It’s always been a vibrant and eclectic college town that sits on what’s called the Delmar Divide. One side of the street, suburbia, the other side of the street urban ruin. University City is home to Washington University, Chuck Berry and Nelly. Yep, Chuck Berry used to perform at Blueberry Hill regularly until he passed away. (insert Blueberry Hill photo) University City is the place that molded me into the person that I am today.
Many of the teachers that I would have from 4th – 12th grade were hippies or activists. One guy even briefly played drums for Frank Zappa. I attended University Forest Elementary School for the 4th grade. That was my first social exposure to white children. There weren’t too many at University Forest, the school was nestled in the part of town where the vast majority of University City’s black families lived. That school closed down at the end of that year. For 5th grade I went to Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary School. The demographics were about 50% white 50% black. My numbers may be off, but I know that prior to that, the only place I’d seen so many white faces were at Cardinal baseball games at Busch Stadium.
In the beginning many of the black kids from University Forest stuck together. By the end of the first semester, most of us seamlessly blended into the school. My Mom moved back into the city prior to 7th grade, but she kept me in the University City district because I’d become completely comfortable with my surroundings. She didn’t want to disrupt that. Despite having to wake up early in the morning to make a 45 minute public transit commute to school, I was blessed and thankful because I knew that I could academically compete with these kids and most importantly, I began to form friendships that are still in place today.
During high school I was a solid 3.0 student. I was never placed in AP classes and my guidance counselors never talked to me about college or scholarships the way they talked to many of my friends. However, the guidance counselors made sure to talk to me and many of the other black students about the military. Being relatively poor, I never thought college was an option financially. I knew I wanted to leave St. Louis as soon as possible because trouble seems to find you there. Two of my brothers served in the Army, one in the Marine Corps. I decided to follow their lead. The summer prior to the start of my senior year, I signed a contract to enlist in the Navy on the delayed entry program.
Two weeks after graduating I took my first plane ride. Destination, Orlando, FL for boot camp. I would then spend a year in Pensacola, FL learning how to become a cryptologist. My first duty station was in Misawa, Japan. From Misawa I transferred to Edzell, Scotland. In 1995 I arrived in San Diego for assignment to the admiral’s staff onboard USS CORONADO. CORONADO was my first ship and for the first two years I thought it would be my last ship. I got seasick every single time that old rust bucket got underway. The last year onboard I finally figured out the proper timing for taking Dramamine and I began to embrace life as a sea going Sailor. Over the remainder of my career, I would go on to ride ships off and on for another 8 years. Spending time onboard USS BENFOLD, USS BUNKER HILL and many other surface combatants homeported out of San Diego.
Five years after arriving in San Diego and three months before my longest stretch of deployments I was introduced to my wife to be on a blind date. We had lunch at Joe’s Crab Shack and hung out at my apartment with my roommates the rest of the evening. One of my friends called me at about 7pm to see if I was going to come over to watch WrestleMania. I politely declined. 20 years later, we are still going strong, and I haven’t been invited to a WrestleMania party since.
A few months after meeting Beth, I would begin the first of my three deployments in a four-year stretch. Most deployments last between 6 and 9 months. It really tested our marriage, but it made us appreciate what each of us brought to our relationship and it made us stronger.
On BENFOLD we deployed weeks after our sister ship the USS COLE was bombed by Al Qaeda in Yemen. We had a crazy Executive Officer that wanted to arm every Sailor with a 9mm. Thankfully he was denied his wish; he was also denied his request to have every Sailor onboard armed with a taser. Thankfully that deployment was relatively drama free, or so we thought.
We spent more than 90 consecutive days at sea because most of our port visits were canceled because of security concerns. On the way home we did eventually get to visit Australia and Singapore. A month after returning home from that deployment, 9/11 happened.
Years later I was asked by NCIS to review some documents and provide an interview about a Sailor onboard BENFOLD. I was told that this Sailor had secretly shared our ships movements and schedule with an Al Qaeda cell abroad. I was shocked and angry that my life and the crew had been placed in harm’s way.
USS BUNKER HILL was probably the most challenging and rewarding assignment of my career. I deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and played a critical role in the launch of the first salvo of missiles to start Operation Iraqi Freedom. Leading up to that moment, I had great concerns about the readiness of my team. During the training they routinely made mistakes and didn’t show the seriousness that I wanted to see. However, the night we received the order to launch missiles, they were focused, prepared and worked flawlessly as a unit. I could not have been prouder of that group.
Other Naval assignments included serving as an instructor and curriculum developer in San Diego. Two years in Victoria, Canada as part of exchange program between the United States and Canada. My final assignment was with the Admiral’s staff at Third Fleet in San Diego. I managed the training, equipment, staffing and provided operational guidance for cryptologic capable ships operating in the Pacific Ocean.
In 2010, I retired from the Navy after serving for 20 years. During my time, I am proud to say that I served with some of the finest men and women this country has to offer. Men and women from every corner of America. I saw up close and personal the power of diversity and inclusivity. Respecting the differences that we all bring to the table made us stronger as a unit. This is why I stress the importance to understanding diversity, inclusion and openness.
About a year or so after retiring, I began my toughest and most rewarding assignment. I left my job as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and became a full time stay at home dad. At the time Lores was 4 and Isla was 6 months old. I had no idea what I was in for. Diapers, bottles, laundry, cooking and taking care of sick children along with everything else that comes with being a stay at home parent.
After changing diapers and managing playdates during the day, I attended classes at night to finish my MBA. As the girls got older, I returned to the workplace. I worked as a financial analyst for the government and I did marketing for a local startup. I wasn’t very passionate about either position. We decided that me being home with the girls was best for our family.
Now we are here, at this moment in time. This has been one of the most difficult years in recent memory. The pandemic has caused havoc on our economy and many families across our community have been impacted by it. We’ve seen the unrest across the country after the George Floyd murder. Those events have brought me a level of clarity that I’ve never had before. I will proudly proclaim that BLACK LIVES MATTER, because the lives of my daughters, friends and family members matter to me. In fact, the lives of every single person matter to me! Even the people that don’t know me that have made personal attacks against me simply because they don’t agree with my platform.
So, to that individual and anyone that supports his line of thinking. Yes, I am VERY proud to have the ability to be at home and spend quality time with my children. I am VERY proud that my wife is a strong and confident woman that has charted her own path in life. I am VERY proud to be an active member in our community in a time when leadership, character and courage is needed most.
And yes, I will proudly brag about how great my family and my life are. And if that makes me a loser, I don’t want to win.