Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Back Pat

Just a few days ago, my alma mater, The University of Tennessee, announced that legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt was stepping down. You've probably heard all about it--since being diagnosed with Alzheimer's-type early onset dementia, it was just a matter of time until the realities of her condition made it impossible for her to deal with the complexities of managing what is quite probably the biggest brand in women's college athletics. Her record of 1,098 victories, eight national titles, and the foregone conclusion of a high seed in the NCAA tournament place her in the rare company of Wooden, Smith, and Rupp. When the Pride of the Southland Marching Band lined up to march to the football games outside the old UT Music Building (now demolished as a new facility is under construction), they lined up on Pat Head Summitt Street. The basketball court at Thomson-Boling Arena is now officially recognized as "The Summitt." She has not only done the job better than just about everyone else, she did it in such a way that she revolutionized her own sport, and it could be said that not only women's basketball but women's college athletics and professional athletics have prospered as a result. Fans would often speculate that she would be offered the men's basketball coaching job--not just because of the often abysmal state of men's basketball at UT, but because she was just that good.

 I remember a couple of personal interactions with Coach Summitt during my time in college. One is in March of 1998 when the Lady Vols were in Kansas City for the Final Four, which they won to cement an undefeated season. I remember some of us in the pep band chasing her then-young son Tyler around while we waited for the luggage to be unloaded from the charter flight, and while Coach Summitt was in a good mood, she was clearly all business. But my strongest memory comes from my sophomore year football home opener against UCLA. (We won the game behind our junior quarterback Peyton Manning.) After the halftime show, I was walking through one of the concourses at Neyland Stadium. Coach Summitt happened to be walking by, and seeing me in my band uniform, walked over and said something to the effect of, "I just wanted to tell you that I thought y'all did a great job out there, and I always enjoy watching band!" She then went on her way, while I stood there, probably drooling on my shoes while trying to comprehend having just been personally complimented by Pat Summitt.

 While it is certainly sad to see such a legend step down, the victims of dementia and other mental illnesses and their families have gained one of the strongest, most inspiring advocates they could ever hope to have. Unfortunately, this is the type of thing that one doesn't defeat. However, those of us who have seen her at work know just how Coach, now Coach Emeritus Summitt, will face the challenge--like a champion.

Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm Back

Well, I'm back. Back in the USA. Back to blogging. Back in the state of Georgia.

I left Afghanistan with the last remaining members of the 10th Mountain Division Band the final week of September. We actually left a day late due to there being no airplane available on the first attempt, despite a whole lot of us getting up before dawn and waiting in line, inside and outside, going through security, waiting in the terminal, and waiting on the tarmac. We weren't very happy about that.

But the next evening, we departed Afghanistan and began the process of slowly making our way back home to Ft. Drum, NY. The flights out of Afghanistan aren't direct to the US, but I'll refrain from specifics for the sake of security.

We returned to Ft. Drum on October 1st, 2011 and I was fortunate to have much of my family waiting for me. Even though I was eager to move to my next assignment in six months, being back in my home country was a wonderful feeling. I have many friends in the North Country, and I'm glad I got to spend time with them over the next several months. Their hospitality and warmth is the most positive thing I'll remember about my time in upstate New York. I am also honored to have served a full year in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, and to share that bond with my fellow Soldiers both in the Band and in the other units that served in Regional Command-South and throughout the country. In a future installment I'll discuss my thoughts on what we accomplished over there and what I can take away from the experience. I was able to conduct the band for some ceremonial occasions during my final months at Drum, and I should thank the Band leadership for allowing me to have those opportunities.

Last month, I moved to my next assignment, the Signal Corps Band at Ft. Gordon, Georgia near the town of Augusta, most famous probably for hosting the Masters golf tournament every spring. I suppose I now have no excuse not to use those left-handed golf clubs my great-uncle gave me. (My great-uncle served in World War II, so we're both war vets now, and it's cool having that in common with him.)

So now that I've had time to get acclimated to life in the US and at my new job, closer to home, family, and many friends, it's time to start blogging again. I have a lot of stuff to write about and writing much more frequently is one of my goals for the near future. (Frequent readers will note that I've updated the look of the blog page.) Stay tuned!