A Fun Visit to Charleston and a Big Announcement

Professor Tiffany Silverman with Monuments Men author, Robert Edsel, and several cadets at the VIP reception before the lecture
Professor Tiffany Silverman with Monuments Men author, Robert Edsel, and several cadets at the VIP reception before the lecture

Last week I traveled to Charleston for the Monuments Men event on campus. Several months ago Professor Tiffany Silverman asked me to serve on the advisory committee for the event. It was a great way to learn more about the Fine Arts program at The Citadel and to meet some fascinating people.

It was a big event weekend in Charleston and the hotel rates were super high. I am grateful to my good friends for letting me stay at their home in Johns Island. Having the free accommodations meant I could stay through the weekend for the celebratory gathering after the event on Saturday.

Actor and comedian, Bill Murray introduced Robert Edsel.
Actor and comedian, Bill Murray introduced Robert Edsel.

Like most visits to The Citadel my time was packed with activities. Top on my priority list after attending the Monuments Men lecture by the author, Robert Edsel, was to finally meet Duane Wittman, father of SGT Aaron X. Wittman who was killed last year in Afghanistan. Aaron was a Citadel graduate and soldier in the same battalion as my son. If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know I attended the burial for Aaron at Arlington National Cemetery last winter. Since that time I’ve been in touch with Aaron’s friends and Duane to help get word out about the scholarship set up in Aaron’s name. The Wittman’s gave Aaron’s ring to the Band of Gold program at The Citadel. His ring was melted down and is part of the rings the Class of 2014 wear. Finally getting to meet Duane and a couple of Aaron’s friends was a big highlight of my weekend. They were in town for the Cooper River Bridge Run. About 150 people ran or walked in Aaron’s memory this year.

Duane Wittman gave me one of the shirts that the group wore for the Cooper RIver Bridge Run. Also in teh photo are Andrew Barton, '07 and Robby Jackson, '07.
Duane Wittman gave me one of the shirts that the group wore for the Cooper RIver Bridge Run. Also in the photo are Andrew Barton, ’07 and Robby Jackson, ’07.

I managed to get some fun visits with cadets in as well. Some were planned an others were spontaneous meetings on campus. I was sure to get photos of cadets I know so I could share them with their moms. I also took a ton of photos of the parade Friday afternoon in the hope their family would catch a glimpse of their cadet. Friday evening I spent dinner with two knobs. It was fun to get to know these young men. After dinner and dropping them off on campus I gave rides to a few cadets who were heading to town. While they appreciate the ride, it is fun for me to meet these cadets and learn about them.

Saturday was a nice quiet day. The weather was great so I spent a few hours at Folly Beach writing before I had to get ready for the party. It was a terrific evening. We were hosted by the advisory committee chair at their home near the battery. I had a great time meeting the other guests including cadets from the Fine Arts program. I even had the chance to chat with Bill Murray. The basketball game was one so we talked basketball. I was thrilled to learn he knows of my alma mater, the University of Richmond Spiders. Unfortunately I think I was a bit too chatty and BIll soon made his excuses and headed for the food.

This beautiful lamp was on the front porch of the home where the party was held Saturday evening.
This beautiful lamp was on the front porch of the home where the party was held Saturday evening.

My traditional last stop before leaving Charleston is brunch at the Marina Variety Store. This trip was no different. I then go to campus for a rest stop and usually head home. This year a variation of my tradition included giving some knobs a ride into town and then three back to campus. It was a fitting end to a great weekend.

I am not sure when I will be able to visit Charleston again. Right before my trip last week I received a call that will change my life, and that of our family, for the next year. Back in January I interviewed for a residency position in the chaplains office of the VA hospital in Decatur, GA. When I interviewed they told me the funding should come through in February. Since it was April I had assumed they filled the four spots. It turned out they had not. The supervisor called last Wednesday morning and offered me one of the four residency positions. I will begin June 2. (that is, if I pass the physical and background check)

Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE is a program people go through for a variety of reasons. I’ve wanted to do this for years. It does take a lot of time and can be very demanding. Until now family obligations have kept me for applying. I’ve framed the support for Citadel parents as a type of chaplaincy. For years I’ve offered encouragement and support to journalists in much the same way as a chaplain would. This will be an opportunity to be in a group environment ┬áto learn and to grow. The VA is the only program I applied to. I felt the experience there, to work in an environment with veterans, will enhance the experiences I’ve had to date with members of the military.

I am feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I am excited for the opportunity and nervous because it will be a whole new experience. Ultimately I hope this experience will help me be a more informed and effective caring presence to the people I am in contact with in various roles.

Several Marine cadets received awards Thursday afternoon.
Several Marine cadets received awards Thursday afternoon.

 

I ran into Cadet David Connors and his friend on Friday. One of these days I  will finally meet David's mom, Laurie!
I ran into Cadet David Connors and his friend on Friday. One of these days I will finally meet David’s mom, Laurie!

 

I ran into Cadet Harrison Davis while showing a new family the mess formation for lunch.
I ran into Cadet Harrison Davis, from East Cobb, GA, while showing a new family the mess formation for lunch.

 

 

Christmas without our Soldier.

Christmas cards for the VA

It’s Christmas Eve and all is quiet around our house. We don’t normally do a lot this day, but this year it seems extra quiet.

My morning started with a message from our son in Afghanistan. I told him about the fund I started to supply needed items to the soldiers in his battalion. I have just about $1,000 in donations wither in hand or on their way here this week. He was thrilled to hear it. And when I say thrilled his comment was, “wow that is amazing.” High praise from a guy who hardly ever writes.

At noon I drove to the Veterans Administration hospital to drop off some Christmas cards to the  chaplains office. I left the cards a the office door after talking to another VA employee who was also hoping to find the chaplain in.

On my way to the elevator I saw a man with a cane at the information desk. He was asking if anyone was there. I walked over to let him know no one was at the desk and I told him I was a visitor but would try to help him if I could. He wanted to find a restroom. Fortunately a gentlemen approached who looked like he might work there and told us the direction to go in. After brief introductions we walked together down a long hallway with photos of members of the military who were killed in action lining the walls. Before too long we found the restrooms. He assured me he could find his way back down the hall.

My next stop was right before I left the building. Two employees of the VA were standing by a Christmas tree. I could tell they had a lively discussion going. The gentleman asked me to come over and join them. Apparently they were debated the cost of the tree and the ornaments. They wanted a neutral third-party to help settle their discussion. It was a fun little conversation about ornaments, the tree decorations and shopping for them.

I am home now. The afternoon mail brought with it a few more checks for the soldiers fund. I am floored by the generosity of people. Some of the money donated comes from long time friends. Much of it is coming from people I have never met. It looks like the donations may exceed $1,000 when all the checks come in. Just amazing.

This past week while I waited to get my hair cut I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman there waiting for his wife. We talked about family and Christmas. When I told him one of my children is in the Army and is deployed he told me he served in Korea. He then pulled out a $20 dollar bill and gave it to me. He asked me to send something to my son with the money. A lady who over heard the conversation came into the room and she gave me a $20 as well. After my hair cut the receptionist said she would like to help too and gave me a $10! With the cash they gave me I ordered 96 more rolls of Ultra Plush Quilted Northern for my sons platoon.

This Christmas is a bit different from all the others. It is hard to have a loved one away, but really tough when they are in a war zone. Knowing we are surrounded by caring people, even people we don’t really know, helps.

Merry Christmas!