Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran’s Day Salute

November 11th is a day devoted to recognizing our veterans who have served in our armed forces. I am proud to say I am a veteran. I am indebted to my military experience during the Vietnam era because it gave me my career as a higher educator and my first big break with the University of South Carolina, where I began my work on the first year, and still continue some of that work today.

I graduated from college in 1965, and for able bodied, young, college degree holding, men like me there were only these options:

1. Volunteer to serve in the armed forces

2. Allow yourself to be “drafted” in the armed forces

3. Gain a draft deferment through marriage

4. Or obtain a deferment by work for a defense industry employer

5. Or obtain a deferment by going to seminary

6. Or by going to graduate school.

7. Flee to some other country with non extradition treaty for draft avoidance.

Upon my graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew I didn’t want to go to Canada, much as I loved that country from living there five years as a child. And I didn’t want to be drafted. And I knew I wasn’t mature enough for marriage, although I had several possible candidates. And I had no interest in seminary. So I chose graduate school. And off I went. But, Uncle Sam had other plans for me. I came from a draft board region of the country where they ran out of non college grads to draft and so they started drafting college grads, including me. So I volunteered for the Air Force, which made me an instant psychiatric social worker, based on my MA in American Studies!

After OTS and basic training I was sent to South Carolina to the 363rd Tactical Hospital at Shaw AFB, Sumter. My squadron commander called me in and told me that his review of my record suggested I had more education than anyone in the squadron except the physicians, and that therefore he wanted me to do some college teaching. I had never before thought of being a college teacher, even though I had been an outstanding undergraduate student, once beyond my first year. None of my professors had ever suggested I emulate them. Amazing. What a poor job they did of recruiting their successors.

But the Air Force was much more intrusive! Two days later I was sent to the University of South Carolina for a review of my credentials, and emerged having been approved to teach six adjunct courses. And, I started teaching my first college course, two weeks later, a couple of days before my 23rd birthday, looking much younger than many of my students, particularly because I lacked much hair. My first teaching was at an open admissions, two-year, non residential campus of the University, very much like a community college, in Lancaster, S.C.

I eventually learned in later work at USC how much the Air Force had taught me (the subject of another blog!) about how to teach people to survive and “transition” into an important new educational experience. I am so glad I am a veteran. For me, it was truly life transforming, and new life giving.

John N. Gardner

1 comment:

  1. John, This is a day when all Americans should take their hats off to the legions of men and women who have served in the US military. Today in the McCarl Center at the University of Pittsburgh we are decorated in red, white and blue and having an afternoon party for all the veteran's on campus!!! Also, we have a special project -- Pitt's Packed With Patriotism -- we are collecting items to send to the 316th Army Reserve Detachment from Pittsburgh, PA, who are now serving in Afghanistan at Camp Leatherneck. Thank you for recognizing this special day!!