I trust that Beatles fans will be forgiving when I utilize the song that was released in 1970 to illustrate my road to the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
After living the first 10 years of my life in New York (mid-Hudson valley region) and attending high school in Florida, I entered the military for the first time in 1981.
I was initially assigned to Pease Air Force Base (AFB) on the New Hampshire seacoast. Now Pease International Tradeport, in the 1980s it was still under the Strategic Air Command (SAC). There were FB-111s (a type of tactical attack aircraft) staged for counter strike if a worst case scenario should ever develop; this was still during the Cold War.
I recall flying in to Logan Airport for the first time in April of 1982; myself and my buddies caught the C and J limo to Pease. (This was the predecessor to C and J Bus service.) We were dropped off right at the gate to Pease; in our Class A uniforms and low quarter shoes, we were sliding all over the place as the Seacoast had just been pounded by a spring snowstorm. What a first impression!
I came to love the air base, and the region. My work at Pease involved security police duties of the airfield and weapons storage areas; over the next year and a half I went to see the Red Sox for the first time (no kidding - they played the Indians at Fenway and I saw Carl Yastrzemski hit a double in his final season in 1983), also the Celtics of the Bird-McHale-Parish fame in March of 1983 (the wonders of the internet - I pulled up the box score which detailed a 114-102 win for the Celtics over the Atlanta Hawks - and can actually watch the game on YouTube!)
I visited the UNH campus in Durham for the first time, in the summer of 1982.
We had a day off at the base, and all piled into a friend’s pickup truck to come over to Durham for “clubbing.” After our ringleader said or did something to offend the management of one of the Main Street establishments, we were invited to leave. Anyway, a short first visit and no college girls met on that trip!
After Pease AFB I was stationed in Guam, in the Marianas islands. I was at Anderson AFB for 15 months, and did similar USAF Security police duties at that SAC base. I finished my USAF time at Plattsburg in upstate New York.
If I am jumping around in my narrative, it is because, quite frankly, that has been what my life has been like. Exciting, but with a lot of moving parts. I haven’t even gotten to the really good parts yet; however, I will illustrate how UNH Durham is, to me, an anchor in a travel-weary life.
After my Air Force time I attended a commercial diving school - for underwater work - in City Island, New York.
I worked briefly for a Jacksonville dive company in summer of 1986. I decided to re-enter the military again (this time with the Army), and from 1987-1990 I was a Military policeman and served in Korea, Fort Hood (Texas), Panama, and Saint Croix. I finished my Army enlistment in 1990 and moved back to New Hampshire as a civilian.
I actually got into diving again; in the summer of 1990. A local diver was helping to clear anchorage space just across the Memorial Bridge on Badger Island. Working on scuba, it was the most fun 15.00/hr. job I ever had.
I was glad to be done with the Army, however Operation Desert Shield (2 August 1990 - 17 January 1991) pushed itself into everyone’s consciousness thanks to CNN. I contemplated joining up again, and simply waited too long. I was actually at a Celtics game, in the old Boston Garden, with a friend, when there was an announcement at the arena that the initial conflict to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait had begun (Jan. 16, 1991), with an aerial and naval bombardments. “Are you joining up again?” my friend asked. I was still prevaricating, unwilling to give a solid answer. My inner hope was that things would resolve quickly with no coalition casualties. (The official ending date for the Gulf War was 28 February 1991).
Sometime in January or early February, I was working a retail job and living in Newmarket. I went to historic Marelli's market on Main Street to buy some soup. While I waited to check out, an older gentleman was raving about how young people were not willing to serve anymore. His rant followed me home to a fitful sleep.
All through the 1990s, as I worked retail and hotel jobs to get by, I wondered if I should have joined up again. I also wanted to attend UNH in Durham, but did not have the money.
Finally, on the morning of 9/11, I said, “F--k it, that’s it.” I reenlisted at the Portland, Maine MEPS Center, and joined an Army Reserve unit in Saco while I waited for my security clearance to allow me to be a Military policeman again.
In November of 2001, I went to New York and connected with my cousins for Thanksgiving, taking a bus to Manhattan to observe Ground Zero firsthand.
Getting out at the Port Authority in Midtown, the first thing I noticed was the flood of banners. There was an announcement at the arena (many were handwritten) asking for help locating victims of the terrorist attacks. The pieces of paper said things like: “My sister worked on the X Floor of the South Tower; please call this number if you know her whereabouts.” Unfamiliar with the buses in the city, I took subways and mostly walked down to Lower Manhattan. At Ground Zero there was hurricane fencing all around the remains of the Twin Towers and other buildings. Even after two and a half months there were identifiable pieces of buildings that were systematically being hauled away and hosed off to safeguard against contamination.
The scene there reinforced my desire to serve again, and after waiting a year for my security clearance to come through, I picked up a unit in St Petersburg, Florida, that was headed for Iraq.
This was the first of three deployments there (2003/4, 2008/9 and 2010/11), finishing with my current unit in Londonderry. The deployments involved detainee operations, police transition teams and security for officers working with Iraqi police and their army.
Finally, in an incredibly roundabout way, I ended up at UNH Durham in 2009. I did my third deployment and returned here again in 2011. My time here has been well worth the wait. The GI Bill was a huge help; my anthropology classes included on-campus archaeology. I have taken journalism classes such as sports writing and reporting the news. Writing for Main Street Magazine and The New Hampshire has given me an opportunity to look closely at the UNH sports teams. I was thrilled when the women’s crew team won two gold medals in three years at the Head of the Charles Regatta, a club team competing against bigger programs. I graduated in 2016 and am now in the English Writing MFA here on the Durham campus. Whether it is breakfast at Holloway Commons, studying at Dimond Library, socializing at the Memorial Union Building or participating in anthropology club activities or working alongside journalism students, I am surrounded every day by great young people who care about the world around them.
Sometimes I will pause in front of Thompson Hall, by the flagpole, and reflect on how many years I had to wait to become part of this great Wildcat community. It was truly a long and winding road that brought me here, and well worth the wait.