I want to introduce you to someone. He doesn’t know that I’m reposting his post from Facebook, I’ll deal with that later. Unfortunately for most he is unique. He is not the man you want on your team. He’s the man you NEED on your team. He will challenge your thinking because your thinking NEEDS to be challenged. He will challenge your leadership because your leadership NEEDS to be challenged. He is one of the few truly courageous people I have ever met. He believes strongly and stands strongly on his beliefs. This is a man I am astoundingly, amazingly, and humbly proud to call my friend. I want you to meet Terry Welch.
Twenty years ago today, after drinking my way through a couple of years at Kansas State and piddling around back in my hometown for nearly another, I arrived at NTC Great Lakes to begin Navy boot camp. I did return to Kansas State to finish my bachelor’s and added a master’s later, but I must say that, aside from my family, nothing has affected my life as deeply as my choice to join the Navy. Because of the Big Blue Mommy and her Big Green Sister (I’ve worn the Army uniform, too, as a reservist), I learned the skills which became my current career; visited three other continents; flew over a sinking Icelandic ship, hanging from monkey straps, while Air Force PJs slid down to save the crew; wrestled a Guatemalan goat while a veterinarian struggled to vaccinate it; drank Scotch with Navy SEALS from a RIB boat in Macrahanish Bay, with dolphins swimming all around us; watched the northern lights roll above me, while I lay in hot spring water, surrounded by snow; rode in a plane being shot at by an Afghan with a Chinese MANPAD; performed an impromptu rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” with Polish and Spanish college kids on the streets of Nice, France; watched phosphorescent algae being churned up by the USS Abraham Lincoln, leaving a glowing comet trail in the darkness; sat backstage drinking free beer between Ice-T and Gwen Stefani at Endfest ’96; rode on the top of a van through a massive Herati political rally; drunkenly peed in the Danube with my temporary gang of Budapestians; ate Christmas Eve tamales at midnight with Guatemalan paratrooper students; danced with Filipino transvestites in Chitose, Japan; crossed the Arctic Circle; planted rose bushes in the name of my sons at Camp McGovern, Bosnia-Herzegovina; met some of the best men and women I will ever know (and some of the worst, too); ate rotten shark and washed it down with Brennivin, a thick black liguor the Icelanders (quite appropriately) refer to as svarti dauði (“black death”); ate goat in a room nicknamed the “Rick James Lounge” in Wazi Kwah, Afghanistan; stood on the very spot from which Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria; crashed a party for the US Soccer Team at the home of the American ambassador to Iceland; crossed the English Channel on a ferry filled with French people watching their nation win the World Cup; got invited to the White House to meet (or, at least, shake hands with) President Clinton; and, as the saying goes, so much more. And those are only the things I’ve done. I learned so much more.
When I joined the Navy, it was pretty much out of desperation. I clearly saw the path of my life stretching out before me and thought the Navy, at least, would change that. In the end, I served 13 years (give or take) and was planning on more before finding out my kidneys were deserting me and couldn’t accept my commission. Not everyone had the experiences I’ve had, not everyone left the service with marketable skills, not everyone enjoyed their time in the military and not everyone survived their enlistment or commissioning. Those who died weren’t lost because they failed or were weak or made mistakes, but disappeared as randomly as if they’d been rolling dice to see who would go. They just didn’t make it and it just as easily could have been me. I was lucky, I know that. So this is not a recommendation for military service. This is just, I guess, a commemoration of sorts.
Twenty years ago today, my life changed course, leading me to the place I am now, with two smart, handsome sons, an already precocious two-year-old daughter and my beautiful, inexplicably patient wife, Michelle. I would not be here today without the Navy and I likely would not have seen and done so many amazing things. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Deadeye Dick” that his main objection to life was that “It’s too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.” I’ve made many, though the decisions that turned out to be mistakes seemed simple at the time. I hope you’ll forgive this rambling, self-indulgent wreck of a post, but, by God, it’s worth noting the good decisions sometimes too.