Rock stars, actors and Hall of Famers. I’ve met plenty of them.
Back while I was masquerading as a rock-’n’-roller, the band got to warm up the stage for national-touring acts.
I’ve interviewed such living legends as Chris Chelios and Walter Ray Williams III. (Don’t laugh; when you’re the best there ever was, it doesn’t matter if it’s “just” bowling.)
It’s even easy to get caught in the awe of the moment while interviewing a teenager who just won a state title.
During all of my brushes with greatness, I’ve done a pretty nice job of avoiding being star-struck.
But when I recently sat down to chat with Lt. Col. Breck Woodard, a Sterling native who spearheaded the withdrawal of 31,000 personnel and 610,000 pieces of equipment from Afghanistan last year, there’s little doubt there were stars in my eyes.
(Click here to listen to the conversation with Lt. Col. Woodard, the latest episode of the People's Voice podcast; right click and "save as" to download the mp3)
I’m a civilian, through and through, and thankful there is no longer a military draft. I’m not wired for combat, something I have no qualms admitting. While I consider myself quasi-athletic, I’m a lover, not a fighter. A pencil-pusher, not someone who gets his hands dirty in the trenches.
But I have utter admiration for those who protect our freedoms, and I could never repay the debt I owe the heroes of our nation.
I was incredibly eager to meet Breck, because I felt humbled by his sacrifices.
Then he arrived at the office, shook my hand (his enormous right meathook pretty much swallowed my right paw whole), and asked how my day was going.
That humble entry into conversation wasn’t an aberration. Breck might be the nicest rock star anyone will ever meet.
It was comforting. And it illustrated why he’s such an incredible leader of men. A few days later, I sat down in his parents’ living room for a chat. Once again, I was super-excited to meet them, too. I wanted to get to know the people who raised such an incredible guy.
They didn’t disappoint, and his father, Terry, gushed about how Breck has always been such a great guy, from the time he was a kid, always thinking of others first.
Later yet, I chatted on the phone with Breck’s wife of 13 years, Gina. Again, I immediately recognized her genuine kindness and appreciation for my writing about Breck and the family.
And, boy, did she share some great stories. About how they met at a birthday party, Gina arriving late and being forced to sit across from what would be the love of her life.
About how Breck gave the opening remarks at the ceremony when she joined his rank of lieutenant colonel April 30, 2012, at – what better place – their son’s elementary school, in front of the flagpole.
About how they used technology to keep Dad home, even when they were deployed around the globe. He’d chat with his two boys, Tyler, 8, and Ryan, 5, on Skype. But what warmed this relatively new dad’s heart was that they recorded him reading books, so that even while he was engaging the enemy in Afghanistan, he could help Tyler get to sleep at night.
She told me about the extraordinary reception Breck received when he arrived back home in D.C. from his latest deployment, the droves of adoring countrymen, the banners, the outpouring of love for Lt. Col. Woodard.
I can’t replicate that. But I can use my limited reach to say thank you. To Breck, to his amazing family, and to all of those who continue to inspire civilians like me every day.