Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Attention on Deck!

After over 120 posts, we feel the following is the most important yet… due in no small part to the fact that we had nothing to do with it. The subject of the post is a friend of guest-blogger The Substitute who sent this out to family and friends and who gave us permission to re-print here. (Apologies for the somewhat campy image but we did not have a picture of Teresa)

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Teresa Neally, USN…

Today, October 15, 2007, was Teresa Nealley's first day in Afghanistan. Her military transport plane would have landed, possibly at Bhagram AFB, around 3 p.m. local time after flying from Kansas Sunday afternoon. She will be there for 12 months. Due to security, not even Teresa is exactly sure where she is going to be. After her initial landing in Afghanistan, she will be a part of a 13 hour caravan across Afghanistan to her final base -- a trip she must repeat whenever she goes on leave and when she finally leaves at this time next year.

I met and had the absolute honor of getting to spend time with Teresa early this last summer. I have never met somebody so happy with life, and so eager to do good by people. She grew up rather poor. While you and I think of excuses of why not to give the change from our car seat cushions to the scraggly guy holding the cardboard sign at the street corner, Teresa on several occasions while I was with her reached in for whatever folding money she had. She would yell out my car window to say hello to the white-sleeved Mormon missionaries riding their bikes, and they would yell back their hellos in stunned disbelief, not being used to such a warm reception I suppose. She likes shooting stars. Evelyn Wood would be astonished at how fast she can read, giving me back 375 page books a day and a half after I lent them to her (When I tested her on content, she would not miss a beat). She heard the first sentence of a presidential candidate's response to a question during a debate, and furiously ordered me to turn off the TV -- replacing the canned response of the candidate with a response of her own so inspired that my jaw would not close. She would not hesitate to speak her mind on any topic, and confided to me that her knack for doing so even went so far as to press the officers when she thought it warranted it. "Their full of it!", she said on many an occasion. A day with Teresa could most easily described in one word: Chaos. You never new what was going to happen, or where you were going to end up.

Teresa wanted to fit it all in before she left for her Afghanistan training in Kansas. I took her hiking at Torrey Pines, and thought she might enjoy seeing the parasailers at the Glider Port. Next thing I knew, she was off gliding over the towering cliffs herself. The instructor hit on her during the flight. That experience lead her to an even higher altitude craving: jumping out of a plane. Her skydiving video is attached below. I taught her how to surf one day off Mission Beach. I taught her the basics of baseball, and took her to her first ever MLB game: Padres v. Orioles. Thinking she would naturally root for the local Padres, she instead took to the O's when she found out their current woeful situation. I think she even sang "root for the Orioles" during "Take Me Out to The Ballgame", which I think is the only time she's ever got to sing it.

What she loved more than anything was playing me in chess. She let me win the first game. But day after day from then on, she would literally toy with me and even get mad when I wasn't paying attention and made an obviously dumb move. I believe her winning streak with me currently stands around 17 games. I tried to get her to switch to Backgammon, but she found it boring and beat me anyway. Monopoly was an equally one-sided venture.

When something is funny to her, she has a laugh that is deep, loud, and genuine. Camera shy, she won't smile for a picture unless you literally tickle her. But when she smiles, there is not a brighter smile on the planet. Both are on somewhat of a display in the skydiving video.

Teresa had mixed emotions about going to Afghanistan. She loved the idea of helping the people over there, but her 4 year old daughter, Sierra, staying with her parents in Arizona for the duration, is constantly on her mind. She was able to spend 5 days in Arizona with Sierra two weeks ago, bringing her a little stuffed pink bear that sings the song, "I Hope You Dance".

Teresa takes her mission in Afghanistan very seriously. Due to the Afghani culture, an all-male American patrol treating or even talking to an Afghani woman without another woman present would lead to that woman being shunned, ostracized, and probably dead. Teresa's mission for the next 12 months is to go out on patrol with an American unit to act as the liaison. She is the unit's medic. She will be doing this in Kandahar, a province that borders Pakistan's active region of regrouping Taliban and hard-core Al Qaeda. It is perhaps the most dangerous place in the world for an American to be. She is excited to go. And scared. She poured over books on the various Afghani languages during her stay in Kansas, and was fascinated by the cultures. She is especially drawn to the Sufi sect of the Muslim religion. When she gets back, her dream is to attend Stanford for medical school.

This is being shared with you because I think today, too often, we see on the TV news our guys getting taking off from port on an aircraft carrier group, or flying back into the U.S. with Welcome Back signs and kisses from spouses... and that's it. They go on to the story about the city council, or next Tuesday's storm, or how the NFC East is shaping up. And we don't have to deal with the rest of it. We never have to touch it. No more attachment to it than we do characters on TV sitcoms or reality show contestants. Many of us were watching football on Sunday as Teresa's plane was loading. I wanted you to read about, and see below, that amazing people are going out and defending your freedom. Your freedom to think. Your freedom to study. Your freedom to speak. Use it. And when you have the opportunity, thank Teresa. Or just thank that serviceman, active or retired, down at the end of the bar or on the sidewalk with a pat on the back. Teresa will know it. She's that amazing.


There is a popular rhetorical refrain from a radio show that expresses the amazement, gratitude and humility when reflecting on the quality of the individual that this country produces that certainly applies here: “Where do we keep finding these people?”


Road Dawg said...

Is a link to the skydiving video available?

B-Daddy said...

Wow. I echo your sentiments Dean, where does America get such great young people. For all my whining and complaining, it's refreshing to be reminded of what a great country this is. Thanks for the post, and pass my thanks to Mike and Teresa.

Dean said...

B-Daddy, will do.

And 'Dawg, I would post the video but then Mrs. 'Dawg would have a contract out on my ass as I know the vid would cause you to be banging on the Army recruiting office door at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning. AIRBORNE!!!

Road Dawg said...

Are you kidding me? Dodging bullets in the Anbar province has got to be less stress than raising 3 teenage boys with angst! Just kidding, though. Bevie Riggs sent me an email also requesting the same. Mrs. Dawg has a contract out on everyones ass that I am already associated with, so.... beware!
(also kidding, I am actually a very blessed and fortunate man to have such a parter) and for the record, she is not involved in the site, she's got her Menifee political agenda to attend. You should check out that wicked blog site. Our congress has nothing on the local Menifee scene.

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