There were some nights as a sports writer I’d write eight stories in a matter of a few hours. There were other nights I’d have a lot of time on my hands after spinning out one feature story about a high school gymnast that I knew would be read by approximately 12 people – the immediate family and friends. It was nights like this when I began to think about what I’ve done for my country.
Sure, I’m an upstanding citizen with a clean criminal record (for the most part), a productive job, a college degree and I hate the New York Yankees. I think that makes me a good American.
But then I began to think about the other men in my family. My father was in Vietnam as part of the Air Force. I have an uncle in New York who was in the Navy. My brother-in-law spent 10 years with the Navy. My grandfather, on my father’s side, fought in the Pacific during World War II. My mother’s step father fought on the Eastern front. If this wasn’t enough service to the country in my family, I was then reminded that my grandfather on my mother’s side, who passed away when my mom was still a small child, fought in World War I.
When they served the United States of America they were young men in their early twenties. What was I doing then?, I thought. This is when a flood of chaotic laughter and beer washed through my brain with memories from my time at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I did well in college. I learned a lot. I graduated. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, it didn’t feel like a “service”. It was too easy.
I was sitting at that piece-of-shit, obsolete Mac at The Chippewa Herald offices when I first thought of the Peace Corps. The military has never interested me, but on that slow sports news night I tore myself away from www.startribune.com/twins and went to www.peacecorps.gov. I sent for some brochures and received them in a few weeks. I was living with my girlfriend at the time and she saw them before I did.
“You’re not going to run off and join the Peace Corps, are you?” she asked me.
To answer that question six years later, yes.
At the time I didn’t realize it was a two-year commitment until I received the packet in the mail. The idea still highly interested me, but I didn’t have two years to spare at the time.
In October of 2008 I was taking a class at UW-Eau Claire and attended the job fair only to talk with the returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV). I may have been the only person in the arena not seeking fortune. After speaking with Tina for a few minutes, I was sold. The next February I attended a private session at UW-Stout by another RPCV.
I filled out the many, many applications and jumped through all the Peace Corps hoops in the next month. I wrote the essays and even got fingerprinted at the Chippewa Falls police station.
Then I stalled. Do I really want to do this?, I thought. Can I do this?
I’d already talked with two RPCV, but I wanted more. I contacted a group in Madison (there’s a huge population of RPCV in Madison). I eventually found out there was one in Eau Claire. I met Shyre at the Acoustic Café in Eau Claire that March over a cup of coffee. She had nothing but good to say, as did every other RPCV, about her experience. I told her I met her, pretty much, to get the kick in the ass I needed to officially apply. “Do it,” she said with a smile filled with an excitement for my next two years. She knew how great it could be.
Thanks again, Shyre.
So here I am.
I also have to say I was inspired by President Obama and his call for Americans to help serve their country. He’s right. If we all chip in a little bit, a lot can get done. Before I left I was volunteering at a middle school library as well as helping ESL students learn to read English for Chippewa Literacy Volunteers (a great organization for those who’d like to help out in the Chippewa Valley). It felt great to know I was helping out.
It still does.
The main reason
I really didn’t have anything else to do.