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Airman Munoz?

There are always things lurking around the edges of our lives to cause us worry. Sometimes they may be smack in the middle of it and worthy of complaint.  A few that immediately come to mind are health or family issues, various wars, the current state of our economy, corrupt public officials, or our country’s debt issue.  But in spite of the problems our country is facing, there seems to be less grumbling in some quarters. In a Wall Street Journal article of a couple of years ago, Jeffrey Zaslow suggested that our troubled times may be reducing the urge to complain. He says that grumbling may be on "hiatus," and that we may be seeing a return to Depression-era stoicism and an appreciation of simpler things. People who still have jobs are finding reasons to be appreciative. It may be that it feels unseemly to complain about not getting a raise when your neighbor is unemployed. Likewise, though no one is happy that their home value has fallen, at least most can say that they have avoided foreclosure. Zaslow goes on to note that there is a growing "noncomplaining" movement that suggests that whining doesn't work as a strategy, and that happiness can be enhanced through rituals such as writing in "gratitude journals." He suggested that we write down three things we're grateful for every day -- no matter how simple they may be. The theory is that if we are focusing on things for which we are grateful, we are less likely to engage in non-productive exercises such as complaining. Of course this article set me to contemplating the various things/events in my life for which I am thankful.

I decided that I wanted to list three things that would be unique to me. This requirement would mean that my list would not include such things as my family, (all whom I adore), my health, my friends, my home, my church, or even the fact that I am a child of God, because others can easily list those items. Thus, with this ground rule in place, I came up with three things for which I will always be grateful. I am not only grateful for these things, they pretty much determined the trajectory of my life.

I. I am grateful that I was born to Douglas and Dorothy Ryan, and that we lived on a little farm outside of Martin, Tennessee. Before their deaths, I shared with them how very grateful I was that I had the opportunity to grow up on a farm. Being reared on a farm meant that I got to see firsthand the results of "the sweat of one's brow." When we planted corn seeds in the spring we got to harvest corn in the fall. I saw firsthand the impact of the cycles of the seasons and came to better appreciate the cycle of life. I got to learn to drive a tractor, milk cows, castrate pigs, pick cotton by hand, gather the eggs from the henhouse, mend fences, and countless other things that the youth of today would hardly comprehend. We had cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, cows, and pigs, and they all had to be tended to. All of this helped me to learn about responsibility and dependability. Although I never envisioned being a farmer, I am convinced that I grew up in the best of all possible environments, and I will be forever grateful for that fact.

II. I am grateful that I encountered Airman First Class Munoz at just the right time. Airman Munoz worked as a technician at the base medical clinic at Grissom Air Force Base, Kokomo, Indiana, during the summer of 1970 when I attended ROTC summer camp there. Airman Munoz stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall and spoke with a very pronounced Puerto Rican accent. He operated the vision and hearing testing equipment when I was taking my first physical exam to determine if I was physically qualified to enter Air Force pilot training. After administering the eye exam to me, I noticed that he had recorded on a form affixed to a clipboard, in pencil, that the vision in my left eye was 20/30. At that time the Air Force had a very strict rule that everyone entering flight training had to have 20/20 vision in both eyes, so I decided to discuss this issue with him and asked him why he was recording my vision in such a fashion. He replied, "Hey man, that is what the machine said; you are 20/30 in your left eye. I then told Airman Munoz, "Do you know that if you leave that form as it is, I will never get to Air Force pilot training?" Airman Munoz replied, " Hey man, I am just doing my job, okay? The machine says you 20/30, you're 20/30." I asked him, "Do you realize that you are going to deny me my dream? Do you realize that you are about to change the whole course of my life? Does it really matter to you if I get to fly airplanes for the Air Force?" "No, man, I don't care if you fly airplanes or not." This is when I said, "Well, why don't you erase that 20/30 and put 20/20; it doesn't matter to you." Airman Munoz then picked up the clipboard, changed 20/30 to 20/20, smiled at me and said, "You still have to see the optometrist; you'll never get by him." Airman Munoz was right in that I then had to go see the optometrist. I was just settling into his exam chair, wondering how I was going to get by this exam with my 20/20 intact, when he told me that he had arrived on base only two weeks prior. He said that he wasn't even sure which hand to use for a salute yet. He was fresh out of optometry school and not really that well versed in all things military at that point. He had just put the drops into my eyes that would dilate them and starting to use his equipment to look into my eyes when the door to his office exploded open, banging the wall behind it. Standing there was an older sergeant with lot of stripes running down his sleeves. As the doc turned to look at him the sergeant yelled, "ORI! Get to your station!" The optometrist, in a confused voice replied, "What does ORI mean?" The sergeant nearly had a spasm and screamed, "What does ORI mean; what does ORI mean! It means that you jump through your asshole! Now get to your station!" Foolishly the optometrist said, "But I just got this cadet in my chair for an exam." The sergeant had had just about all he could take and screamed, "Well get his ass out of here and get to your station!" He then turned and ran out of the office. The doctor turned to me and asked, "Do you know what ORI means, and I replied that I did not. Then he asked, "Do you want to fly airplanes?" and I replied that I did very much. At this he said, "I can already tell that you are not 20/20, but get out of here; go fly airplanes; I've got to go find out what ORI means." With that, I was on my way to Air Force pilot training. Thank you Airman Munoz. Oh yeah, ORI stood for Operational Readiness Inspection. At that time in the Air Force, a group of inspectors, from the Inspector General's office would fly into a base, unannounced and with no prior notice, and test the base's readiness for their wartime duties. In effect they would announce to the base commander that the United States had just declared war against some enemy, and the base was expected to assume (simulated) war time footing. An ORI inspection was just about the biggest thing a base could face next to an actual war, and the timing of that one was especially fortuitous for me.

III. Finally, I am thankful that the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) decided to strike during August, 1981. I do regret that many of them lost their positions following that strike when they were fired (and rightly so) by President Reagan, but their strike resulted in my family moving to the Nashville area where we were nearer to the rest of our family. At the time we were living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as I had only recently been hired by USAirways. Just prior to the PATCO strike we had started looking for a house in the area, planning to make Pittsburgh our home. When PATCO walked out, however, things changed very quickly. Those of us flying for USAirways who were in our first year with the company were furloughed. At that point we knew only a few folks in Pittsburgh, and it had never felt like home, so we moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Although commuting to first Pittsburgh for over twenty-two years, and then to Charlotte, NC for nearly eight years was a considerable inconvenience, I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I cannot imagine not having the many friends we have here, not having our church, or living our lives somewhere as cold as Pittsburgh can be. Besides, there are very few Vol fans there.

Obviously there are many other things for which I am very grateful, but these things always come to my mind because they played such important roles in shaping mine and Stephanie's lives. Our lives would be very different had these events not occurred when, and as, they did. So, what are you thankful for? What has shaped your life? Do you know an Airman Munoz? Be watching for him!


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