As I rounded the track the third time, my sweat filled my eyes, my knees seared with pain under my repetitive thud, and I could just make out two figures; Drill Seargent James, and Drill Seargent Pride. They yelled and cheered, their voices filled the pre-dawn stadium with echoes. I lunged one last time and finished what had just sixteen weeks earlier seemed impossible. Two-mile runs did not come easily to boys who entered the Army a hundred pounds overweight, but I had with these two men accomplished the feat.
I had begun basic training at Fort Knox terrified of failure. Upon arrival, every fiber of my being had tried to convince me this had been a mistake. From the beginning, my weight had made me a target. I was fat, and no amount of mild language could change it, but I was also desperate. My home life had been strange and terrible, and I wanted a new life. The military fit for the dramatic change I needed and I had signed up and even convinced the recruiter to fudge the numbers to get me in. Once I stepped off the bus and the hat wearing Drill Seargents began calling out weights from identification cards I knew I was in for it.
For the following weeks, I ran more, ate less, and worked out more than any other recruit in my unit, and not by choice. Any extra work fell toward me, I suffered and strained under the conditioning. I wanted to quit more times than anyone I knew and even considered going Absent Without Leave (AWOL) once because I wanted a cheeseburger "so bad." How did I survive? The guidance, belief, and support of my teacher buttressed me.
I was a tough kid. My mother had been an alcoholic and my father had last seen me from a jail cell. I needed to become a different person, and I deep down knew it would involve sacrifice, and hard work. However, I was ill-equipped to manage the work and sacrifice on my own.
Drill Seargent James was not typical. He worked in an uneasy alliance with the soldiers he trained, and his methods reflected the thick cold steel that he had seen so much of as a Tank Commander. Drill pushed, and when you needed a pull, just as likely he pushed you back in. He noticed me day one. As I rounded my third circuit running around my marching platoon with my weapon over my head and my hundred pound pack on my back, he grimaced to see my wooden frame, my face filled with tears. He ran up beside me and asked me one simple question, "You want it bad enough?"
In my life, I had teachers push me. My band director, still to this day a dear friend, pushed me. My English teacher, Bill Caywood, inspired and pushed me. none had ever asked me how far I was willing to go until Drill. Teachers had encouraged me to read, influenced me to value learning, and now as an adult, I was learning in a new way, from a one-to-one leader. An instructor that invested in my success as much as I.
Throughout the rest of my life, I would meet teachers like these in the places I went. The jobs I took, the organizations I joined always supplied these teachers when I needed them. They were my life-long network of educators, and they became the source of my growth as an adult. Each with their sage wisdom, practical guidance, and stern admonitions served to create new pathways that turned me into the man I am today.
Teachers taught me valuable lessons I want to pass on to my students. When they leave my class I want them to remember, "teachers surround us in everything we do". Learning has to be life-long in this world culture. We strive to keep up with changing technologies and interact with so many varied world citizens that we are constantly learning, adapting. The future of civilization is why we need life-long learners. This lesson starts in school, and I want to be the teacher that teaches my students to love learning. I want to be the teacher that teachers the skills that are required to master self-determination. I want to be the encourager, as Drill Seargent James was, of a new brighter and stronger future. Thanks to those who taught me, I am now right where I belong.