FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — In the summer of 2002, my wife Denise taught me the true meaning of service before self.
We had just been stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where I started teaching technical training school. We moved into a house on base, we met our neighbors and I started working … a lot!
Wake up, go to the track, run physical training, teach class, type reports … rinse and repeat. I had no idea that our neighbor, a technical sergeant with two special needs children, was going through a divorce. Denise knew; she spoke with her often after her husband had left them.
As you might know, being a single parent in the military is extremely difficult; there isn’t enough time in the day. One of the things that fell out of our neighbor’s priority list was yard work. Lackland AFB is the ‘Gateway to the Air Force;’ they take yard standards very seriously. Denise noticed that she had been written up multiple times; evidenced by the large pink sticker stuck to her front door.
As I continued to work and be oblivious to the entire situation, Denise took action. My wife has a green thumb; she loves and has a passion for all things growing out of dirt. She decided that when she mowed, weeded, watered and planted flowers at our house, she would just do the same for our neighbor. This wasn’t once, it was twice a week for over the entire summer.
Finally, later in the fall, I was home in the evening sitting on the couch watching TV when the doorbell rang. It was our neighbor; she was holding a glass dish with a chocolate cake inside. She asked if she could speak to my wife. Denise came to the door and I stepped away, but not too far.
I listened intently as our neighbor uttered a few tearful and broken words to her, “I can’t thank you enough for everything that you have done for me. After my husband left I didn’t think I could keep it together.”
Denise rushed in and gave her a big hug and told her it was no big deal. They said a few more things and then she returned home. Denise brought the cake in and set it on the counter. She proceeded to fill me in on the details of her summer. As the story unfolded, I separated myself from that moment and immediately thought, ‘I married the right person.’
From that moment and until today, I still reflect on that often. I think of how Denise didn’t have a performance report or a quarterly awards package due. She saw a person in need, she had a means to help and make a difference and she took action. She didn’t brag to me about her work, she didn’t mention it once. It motivates me to this day. So think of what you might have to offer — time, effort or skill. If there is something you are passionate about, harness it, support someone in need and make a difference; keep the spirit of service before self, alive.