Pay the Price

While dropping my daughter off to school the other day, we got into a deep discussion about life situations.  My daughter was sharing some of her frustrations of how some of her fellow teammates carry themselves.  I know she felt discouraged and as a loving father I wanted to encourage her to stay positive and focus.  A story popped into my head that I thought was so fitting for the moment.  I thought if it encourages her, maybe it would encourage the world.  So, I'm sharing a story from my times of serving in the U.S. Army.

Going back some time, back to when I was 19 years old and serving in the Army.  At the time, I was a specialist in the Army serving in a aviation unit.  My unit ,or company, was conducting a field exercise (a simulated war situation.)  I was one of the lucky ones along with my First Sergeant to be able to lead the Convoy.  For those you may not know what the First Sergeant rank in the military means, a First Sergeant is like a Vice President in a corporate company.  Usually a First Sergeant has a boss called a president, but in army terms we called them a captain, so First Sergeant is a pretty high rank on the totem pole.  A convoy is when a military unit/company strategically moves it resources from one location to another; we stagger vehicles and put certain resources in certain areas of the Convoyn.  In a Convoy you could have hundreds or more of vehicles and millions of dollars of equipment.  Well I'm 19 years old leading the convoy and riding in the passenger seat is my very own First Sergeant.  I started to notice that my First Sergeant was struggling with a map because she was turning the map sideways, upside down and all kinds of different angles.  It did not take me long to figure out she did not know how to read a map, reading a map in the Army is one of the basic skills you absolutely must have to progress in the military.  It is like a car mechanic understanding how to use a wrench for his job.  So the First Sergeant asked me, "Do you know how to read a map?" and I said yes, she told me, "Good cause I need help".  I was thinking "What!?"  I then asked her, "How many years have you been in the Military?"  She told me 23 years and I said to her, "You don't know how to read a map?"  She said no, still in shock, I asked, "Are you serious?"  She said yes I'm serious.  Now I'm starting to feel pressure because I have millions of dollars of equipment and 40 plus vehicles that we are suppose to lead into a wartime field exercise.  "Can you help me?", she asked?  So I said, "What I'm supposed to do I'm driving First Sergeant?"  So I had to pull over our vehicle many times which stopped the entire convoy to read the map.  Our soonly frustrated Captain got fed up and drove beside us and asked us what the hell was going on.  Of course First Sergeant blamed me for our situation and told Captain that I didn't know how to read a map.  Our captain was heated and drove to the front of the Convoy and took charge.  I could remember riding behind the Captain thinking, "How in the hell did my First Sergeant making it this far without having the basic skills to be a soldier?"

Well, I would later come to understand that the military had pressure to fill quotas of promotion with certain genders and nationalities.  Now, I don't know for sure if that is the reason why she got promoted, but certainly there were important elements for her to have been promoted to such a prestigious ranking.  Well times had moved on, and so did my First Sergeant.  She was eventually replaced with another First Sergeant; I did not know where she went, but it is not uncommon for soldiers to be shuffled to different units/companies while serving in the military.  Although to my surprise, I would meet back up with my first Sergeant just two years later.

I had just finished a softball game and I was heading to my buddy's house to feed his two rottweilers while he was on vacation.  He lived near Burger King and I was hungry, so I stopped to order a Whopper Meal with no mayo.  I placed my order with the fast food clerk and all of the sudden I hear, "Specialist Vazquez?"  I look around and I hear Specialist Vazquez again.  Where is this coming from, who knows me here?   I look down the row of cash registers and it was coming from the fast food clerk who took my order, she said, "It's me, it is your old First Sergeant."  "WHAT?!", I yelled in shock, "What are doing working here?"  "Well times are tough and I have kids to feed", she said.  I said, "Aren't you in the Army still?"  She told me no, that she had to get out after so many years since because she was not selected to make the next rank which is Sergeant Major.  I stood in line in shock thinking how the hell did my First Sergeant go from from running a company to taking orders as a fast food restaurant?  Then the arrogant 21 year old in me realized that I was now her boss and I told her to make sure there was no mayo on my burger.

I got in my car and started reflecting on how a lady making $70,000 plus as a First Sergeant in the Army went to making $7.00 an hour taking orders at Burger King.  Then I thought about her not knowing how to read a map when it is such an important skill to be a soldier in the army.  I also thought about how she had 23 years to learn how to read a map and chose otherwise.  I learned a valuable lesson that day, if you don't pay the price now it will eventually catch up to you.  You may be able to skate for a week, for a few months, even 23 years, but eventually it will catch up to you.  I finished my story by telling my daughter that she is paying the price to earn a softball scholarship to the college of her choice and that if she takes any short cuts now it will catch up to her later.


kouros123's picture

One of the most valuable life lessons is to thine own self be true. As you said in your story, you can fool people for a while, but it eventually catches up to you. Do what you're geared for, and then try to learn more.