On making a difference
A mentor once told me that bars are the best places for a journalist to hang out. He said that you meet the most interesting people in bars, and they tend to be a little less inhibited. And he was right. Over the years I have written many columns and stories from notes scribbled onto bar napkins.
So, when I learned that a connecting flight was going to be delayed for a few hours due to a mechanical problem, I did my journalistic duty and headed for the airport’s bar. (OK, I’ll admit that it also had something to do with the Sunday night baseball game that was just about to start on the giant platinum TV — and the fact I like beer.)
After a while, a young man grabbed the seat next to mine. He was in fantastic shape — his arms were as thick as my neck. The bartender checked his ID and after learning that he was active military, bought him the first beer. That seemed like a dandy idea, so I bought his second beer. A conversation ensued. I asked him why he enlisted. He said money had something to do with it — apparently the military still is offering fantastic incentives to enlistees — as did the breakup of a relationship. But he also told me that just about everyone in his family had served in the military at one time or another — both grandfathers, both grandmothers, his mother and his brother, everyone but his father. It was in his blood, he said, and the sense of duty was too overwhelming.
He told me that he had been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan during his tour. I asked him which he preferred, and without hesitation he said “Afghanistan.” I asked why. He said, “Because I’d rather get shot at than blown up.” He then explained about the problem the Army is having in Iraq with insurgents using all sorts of wireless devices — including garage-door openers — to trigger roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
I told him that MRT recently published an article on this topic (“Army’s jamming strategy blows up,” March). I explained to him that the Army first had tried to eliminate the threat by jamming the insurgents’ triggering devices, but found that the tactic was causing interference to its own devices. I told him the article explained that the Army now is moving in new directions to solve the problem, which included designating “spectrum manager” as a military occupational specialty, which will ensure that such specialists are more quickly deployed to where they are needed. The Army also introduced an 11-week course on electronic warfare practices.
He thought about that for a moment. Then he said he thought the situation had improved, but still wasn’t good. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I simply nodded. A few minutes later, it was time to catch my flight. I wished him Godspeed. He thanked me for the beer.
When we’re young and full of hope and energy, we passionately want to change the world. As the years unfold and hope gives way to reality and the energy fades, our mindset changes and we settle for the goal of making a difference while we’re in this life, leaving the world a little better than how we found it.
Without question, my bar mate is making a difference. I like to think we at MRT are making a difference. I like to think that the information we provide and the insights we offer trigger something in our readers that leads to a technological or strategic breakthrough that will keep first responders and military personnel a little safer.
I suppose I’ll never really know whether we are making a difference. But I do know this: it is soldiers like the one I met in the bar who will keep me trying.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.