Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Other 1%

Friday evening, I co-officiated Katie and Austin’s wedding ceremony, at Whaley Place, in Columbia, South Carolina, with Katie’s grandmother, Jere Long. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

It would be odd for me to come to the city where my grandfather, who I am named for, served as the rabbi of the Tree of Life Congregation for 20 years, and not mention it. However, beyond that, I do believe there is a connection between that congregation’s longest serving rabbi, and Katie and Austin.

My grandfather’s life was defined by service, not just to his congregation, but to the larger community in South Carolina, both Jewish and non-Jewish. That is why he volunteered to serve as a civilian chaplain at Fort Jackson, the base that Katie’s mom served at, which caused Katie and Austin to celebrate their wedding in Columbia.

Katie and Austin’s life has also been defined by service, and like many of their comrades, they are very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Austin writes about how he met Katie, “When I was a junior in college, I met Katie through ROTC.” No big deal, right? And Katie’s, seemingly dry description also plays down any difference between how they met, and any other couple meeting through work, “I was a Platoon Sergeant and he was my First Sergeant, so we interacted daily.”

Of course, the lifestyle that Katie and Austin have chosen is very different, from other couples. They belong to what some call, “the other 1%,” in recognition of the fact, that so few of us, actually, serve in the military. There are good reasons behind this demographic fact. Those who command our modern armed forces rarely feel any nostalgia for the days of the draft. However, there are downsides to this, too. This is not only true in our lives as individuals, but in our lives as couples, too.

One of the greatest lessons you miss out on, if you do not serve, is one I cherish from my time serving, not in the U.S. Army, but in the Israel Defense Force. It is simple. Your success or failure is highly dependent on the success of your unit. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the success of the unit, and to make up for any individual weaknesses. Your life could, quite literally, depend on this.  

Now, I am not saying that that is why Austin, incorrigible romantic that he is, took Katie on their first date to (I am not making this up) a gun show. I certainly don’t think he got her into shooting, just so his partner could watch his back. However, it should be noted, that only after he got her into shooting, did they, actually, move in together. Just sayin…

Seriously, though, through the miracle of FaceTime, I have had the privilege of hanging out with these two, and having some deep discussions with them. And, I have had to remind myself of their age. There is a different more mature, quietly confident, air about them, that you don’t see in other American couples their age. There is a palpable sense that they embody what then Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno said, in 2012, when he was explaining the key word in the Army’s motto, “The pronoun ‘we’ reinforces our collective or team effort.”

You immediately understand from interacting with Katie and Austin, that they take this lesson to heart, not only in their professional lives, but in the relationship they have built. They understand the fallacy of the other, misguided, short lived motto of their employer, “Army of One,” for any relationship, particularly marriage.

You can see this in how they built this very ceremony and this entire wedding celebration, with an eye towards the happiness, enjoyment and good feeling of not only they, themselves, but their close and extended family too. You can see this in the tenderness and caring they exhibit towards each other, despite the daily, sometimes grueling, demands of their overseas posting.

The interesting thing you learn in living a life of service, like Katie and Austin do, is that, not surprisingly, it makes you a better individual. That is what the ideal marriage does for you too. Austin says this very well, in words you know reflect Katie’s outlook too, “I proposed to Katie because I truly believe she makes everything I do better… She just makes everything I already love more fun. She is amazing to be around, and she pushes me to be my best. I… truly found the person, that I want to be with… (to) continue to improve my life.” We should all be so lucky.

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