How we all can serve the cause of freedom

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 09:58 PM

A while back, I made a new friend named Bill. Bill came to my Concealed Carry Certification class. His personality matched mine, he was new to shooting but we had other common interests. Bill is knowledgeable with computers, an area where I’m sadly lacking, and we began an exchange of expertise, him helping me with my computer skills while I teach him shooting. He told me he had someone he wanted me to meet and I thought little of it.
This week, on Christmas Eve, Bill came by and brought his friend. When his friend came around the corner behind him, I instantly recognized the face. Bill introduced me to Keith Harrison and, again, the name sounded familiar. Keith had served in the military spending four years in the 82nd Airborne as a medic. He then joined the North Carolina National Guard where he shot on the pistol team. He earned Excellence in Competition medals and shot under Bill Brown, one of the best shooters in the Guard and a High Point resident. He suffered an injury in Afghanistan in 2004 and is now retired.
When Keith mentioned how his history of shooting before joining the Army had facilitated him getting on the Guard team, I asked about his previous shooting experience, he told me he’d shot High Power rifle at Camp Lejuene and Cherry Point with a guy who worked with his dad, Buddy Harrison, at Thomasville Furniture.
I was trying to figure out who I knew besides me, who shot High Power and worked at TFI when Keith mentioned this guy ran the state rifle team. I’m dim, but eventually, the light came on. “Keith,” I said, “Keith, that was me!” I was amazed at the coincidence.
Keith starred at me. He blurted out, “But this guy had dark, curly hair!” As he said it, it registered how much time has passed. We smiled at each other and I gave him a hug. I told Bill that bringing Keith was the best Christmas present I could have gotten, and it was true, too.
In talking to Keith, we reconnected and, together, we pieced our time together, reinforcing each other’s memories. Based on Keith’s knowledge of when he joined the Army, and his memory of shooting a match with me at Cherry Point while he was on leave, we figured out he shot matches with me in 1985 just before I took over the team and then again about 1987 while he was in the 82nd and on leave.  He laughingly recalled that the Marines picked him up on a team because they were short a man. We reminisced about me showing him to use a sling and him practicing positions in my rec room.
After Keith left, I began to think about how life works. I’ve talked to several groups about how things we do for others often have effects that we don’t know about. I also thought about my involvement with Enduring Gratitude and how my dream was to help guys just like Keith who sacrifice and serve to preserve our freedoms. In Keith’s own words, the time I spent with him as a kid, put him on a path that lead to his shooting career in the National Guard. My compassion for guys like him, guys who feel the need and have the fortitude to put their lives on the line to protect our freedom, drove me to start Enduring Gratitude.
As a competitive shooter, I spent time on the range with Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force guys both active and Reserve and Guard. The patriotism of these men and the quality of their character was the inspiration for my desire to do something for this kind of person. While I enjoyed my friendship with these people, I regretted my decision to not serve. I felt guilty that so many had sacrificed for my freedom while I stayed at home.
Later on Christmas Eve, I thought of the guys I mentored on the shooting teams I ran who later served in one way or another. Greg Joyce spent eight years in the Army and is now a Detective for Forsyth County. David Walker served as a sniper in the Marines in Mogadishu and Afghanistan. Jon Galbraith, also a Marine, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brad Quesinberry is a civilian engineer who works on projects at Fort Bragg. Chris Starbuck went to nursing school and is now the Emergency Services Coordinator for Eastern North Carolina. David Wallace, a kid I worried about, is now an EMT in Eastern North Carolina. I wondered how many other young men who pulled a trigger with me served, like Keith, without my knowing what they did. I prayed none of my boys gave the ultimate sacrifice.
I suspect that, during the course of our lives, almost all of us have inspired a young person to do great things. I suspect we’ve all changed someone’s life without realizing it. When I think of Keith, Greg, David and David, Jon, and Chris, it dawns on me that the time I spent with them had something to do with how they turned out even though I had no idea when we were traveling and shooting together. This makes me proud.
It makes me realize… maybe I did serve after all. I just served in a different way. I suspect you’ve served this way as well. If you haven’t, maybe you should think about finding a way to do so.

Dick Jones is a freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as magazines. He’s currently involved in a project to show our appreciation for our returning veterans called Enduring Gratitude. You can find his website at enduringgratitude.org and contact him at offtheporch52@yahoo.com