When people ask me “why did you join the military?” I tell them a partial truth … I wanted to get the h3ll out of my momma’s house, and had no solid plans (or money) for college at the time.
What I don’t always tell them is that I was inspired by Ruben West and Robert Haynes. During my high school years, I was doing whatever I could to be like the coolest dudes I knew. (As we said in the ’80s, I was “bitin’ their style” … Hard. The way I dressed, my love for music. Everything. Except beat boxing. Despite what John Bryant and Ruben might say, everybody knows I was the original HPHS king of the beat box!)
I didn’t know what to think when I saw “Rob & Ruben” join the military. I was a year or two younger than they were, so the only thing I knew was that once they graduated, I would be losing friends as I was “stuck” in school while they did cool stuff in the Army.
But, when I saw them return from training and reporting to their reserve unit in uniform, I saw they had opened a new chapter of their lives … One that led to earning respect from others. (And, as a young Black man with no real direction at the time, I needed all of the respect and direction I could get.)
Part of the reason I joined the military is because I wanted to be like Ruben & Rob. (Of course, we were always trying to out-do each other, so I chose the Marine Corps instead of the Army … I had to show ’em up, ya know!) Still, if it were not for them providing me an example, I most certainly would NOT be where I am today.
Now, as I serve with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, part of my job includes speaking to community groups and inspiring other youth to serve. I look into the eyes of young kids who look just as confused as I looked back in my youth, and I hope they look to me the same way that I looked at Ruben. I don’t even care if the kids decide to join the military or not … I just hope they look at me and see an example … The same way I was inspired by Ruben.
I say “thank you for your service” to Ruben & Rob, but not just because I appreciate their sacrifice. I say “thank you” for a more selfish reason … Ruben’s decision to serve changed my life.
I’m sure he didn’t think about that when he raised his right hand. But that’s the thing about serving as an example … We don’t know HOW our good deeds will help others.
To ALL service members who have served to inspire others (knowingly or unknowingly,) thanks.