December 1982 had a huge impact on my life. I had worked for the Navy for almost six months and big changes were in the works.
A Navy intern program had brought me into civil service, and the program leader had decided that I needed to rotate out of Pensacola after 6 months of work; she decided that I would be transferring from the NROTC Program office to a training office in Millington, Tennessee (north of Memphis).
In mid-December, the intern program coordinator and I traveled to Tennessee to meet the team involved with my next assignment.
It was a terrible visit. The staff took me aside and warned me privately not to come there; they hated their jobs and, apparently, each other. The command climate was nothing like the camaraderie that I had experienced in Pensacola. The commanding officer was feared and the organization was having an internal war.
When the visit was over, I called my professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and asked him what graduate school opportunities might be in the Memphis area. We agreed that I could “do” 6 months more with the Navy, leave the organization and go to work on my doctorate which could be funded by me teaching at a great university. The university agreed to the deal and I had my back-up plan in place.
The unknown in all of this was Dr Vern Wedell. He had been my supervisor for my initial Navy assignment and I had learned so much from him. He was one of those “crusty” old civilians who stayed in the background, was a trusted agent by Navy leaders and who got stuff done without looking like he was involved. I liked him and he liked me.
Dr Wedell has moved me into his office after he had watched me work for about 3 months. He quizzed me often. For instance, when someone would leave our office, he would drill me about how to handle that task or that person. At the time, I didn’t realize how valuable it was to learn the art of civilian service in a military organization.
Just before I had headed to Tennessee to check out my next assignment, I had finished a project for Dr Wedell. When I handed him my final product, he was surprised at how I had attacked the work and provided much more than he had expected. For a guy that didn’t tip his hand very often, I could tell that he was impressed with how I had done the job. I remember thinking that I had just tried to anticipate every question he would ask, every issue he would raise. My strategy worked.
And, so, just after I had finished the project for Dr Wedell, I headed to Tennessee to learn about my next assignment. And, in response to what I learned, to develop the back-up plan for when I would quit 6 months later.
After we had finished in Tennessee, I returned to Pensacola just long enough to repack my bags and head to my parents’ home for Christmas. I tried to contact Dr Wedell to let him know of my transfer date, but he was in meetings and not available. I called him several times over Christmas to tell him that I would be leaving in early January but he was never available to take my call and he never returned my call. I got worried – what had I done that he would not talk to me? I asked the administrative assistant what was wrong – had he gotten my messages? She assured me that he had gotten my messages and requests for a return call; she didn’t know why he was not talking to me.
It was one of the worst Christmas’ of my life. It looked like I would have to move in a few weeks to go to work in a place where no one else wanted to me. The man I most respected wouldn’t talk to me and I wasn’t sure I was interested in teaching and starting a doctorate. It seemed like my career had been derailed.
I got back to Pensacola and went into the office that I shared with Dr Wedell. I had returned to work before he had and so I started to pack up my desk. The next day, he returned to the office and did his normal daily “stuff”, ignoring me until mid-morning. He then got up and closed the office door. He sat down at his desk and looked me square in the face and asked “Do you want to leave here?” I replied that I didn’t have a choice. He looked and me and asked me the exact same question, “Do you want to leave here?” I told him what I had seen in Tennessee and that I had decided that I would have to quit in 6 months but that I had a plan to go back to graduate school. He asked me a third time, “Do you want to leave here?” I looked at him and said, “No.” There was interesting work to do, I was learning so much from him and others and I really did want to stay. He replied, “OK” and got up and opened the office door. He then told me to stop packing my desk and to get back to work.
Later that week, the intern coordinator called me to her office. She told me what I could not stay in Pensacola; Dr Wedell was making promises that he could not keep. Her supervisor called me in and said the same thing. A fellow intern called and told me that I was going to be without a job if I didn’t move to Memphis.
Well, that six-months turned into a 30-year career – all in Pensacola.
Why did that happen? It all started with a leader who only made promises he could keep and with a young woman who trusted him.
I will never know all that Dr Wedell did for me. I have my suspicions but I do not know.
Like me, you may have people in your life whose promises are rock solid. They are the hard working people with shoes that are worn and who often shy away from being the one in the limelight. But, you know who and what they are. They are the ones who have prayed for us into the early morning. They are the ones who were there with cash when we were broke. They are the ones who listened when we thought we had missed all of our opportunities.
Our challenge is to keep on trusting even when the phone call isn’t returned or the text answered. Rest easy, they may be busy, putting the pieces in place to make your dreams come true.
Jill (just one of God’s kids)