Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Memories

I've seen variations of this picture a lot today:
Grabbed from Tom N Kim Chroniger on Facebook

I have been thinking a lot of the real reason for Memorial Day a lot lately, largely because this week is also the anniversary of my brother's last week of life -- and to top it off, my brother was Army. He is buried at Ft. Benning now and I will be going down next weekend to visit his grave with his wife and daughters and other family members. But this weekend, I'm going to try to make it about all of the men and women who have served or are serving our country.

One of my friends posted a link on Facebook earlier to the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and I think I'm going to head down there at some point this weekend. Looking at that video reminded me of when I volunteered for an organization called No Greater Love. The organization was created in 1971 by an amazing spitfire of a woman named Carmella La Spada, and its mission is to support the families of men and women who serve our country. I heard about the organization by reading an article in the Parade magazine insert during Operation Desert Shield in 1990.

I, like many other people, was unemployed at the time, but going to Computer Learning Center (Springfield, VA) and working part-time at Erol's Video store in Rockville, MD. Some people would think that unemployment is the most depressing thing in the world, but it gave me such confidence in myself! I had gotten a pretty decent severence package when I got laid off in May, so I decided to use it to go to school "full-time" - which meant I wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits. But, I ended up getting a piece of paper that helped me get my foot in the door to change careers *and* a lot of transferrable credits toward a Bachelor's degree. I worked as many hours at Erol's as possible without being full-time (so they didn't have to give me benefits), had a boyfriend, and was doing very well in school, and was generally able to make ends meet, but... something was missing.

Meanwhile, in August that year, a bozo in Baghdad decided to invade the rich little country next door. Needless to say, the US government and governments around the world, were NOT happy about that. So, they started Desert Shield about five days after the invasion of Kuwait. I was dating a former Marine (I know, there's no such thing - "former active duty Marine" then?) and my brother was Army so I knew that this was a huge deal for everyone in the military. This was the first major military mission since Vietnam, and every active duty troop I knew was anxious to be sent over there to get combat duty. Needless to say, all of their families were anxious that their loved ones were NOT sent over to the desert!

So I read about No Greater Love and how they supported family members and realized that was what I had been looking for. Maybe it's my missionary kid upbringing, but I thinik I have a "helping people" gene. And this mission just spoke to me, straight to my heart. I didn't have any money to donate so I called them up and was invited to come down and help out. At first, I spent about five or six hours a week in the office, either answering calls from women whose husbands were in Kuwait or parents of sons and daughters, or typing up thank-you letters and donation requests in WordPerfect. Being who I am, I started fiddling with their mail merge and made it a lot more efficient, and then turned my process improvement eye to other things that could be done better. Carmella took notice and asked me if I could work more hours. I explained to her that I was full-time unemployed so I really had to work as many hours as possible to keep afloat - so she offered me a job! She paid me in cash to work additional hours at NGL, and she put the word out to her network of friends and benefactors that I needed work.

Because of those contacts, I was able to get more part-time jobs like being a bookkeeper for a psychiatrist and working in a Norwegian café in Georgetown called Café Ibsen -- in addition to working at NGL and Erol's *and* going to school full-time! I look back on those days and think, "Who was that masked girl?" because I'm FAR too lazy for it to have been me! LOL But, boy, were they fun!