Military service, the U.S. Air Force, was my way out of Brooklyn. It was my ticket out, along with countless others who didn’t have the options of college or sports as an escape from the city and circumstances that lead to no happy endings. Ironically, I had a scholarship to Morgan State University and an acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but mom could not wrap her mind around the idea of a free education. She still imagined bills arriving in the mail for room, board, clothing, and books– things we could not afford. To her credit, she had already sent my older sister and brother off to college. One more would be more than she could manage as a single mom. I get it! Poor has layers to it– it’s not as simple as missing meals.
I left for basic training in February of 1976. The recruiter rang the bell to our third-floor apartment early on the morning of the 18th and off I went to a new life, a new world. I don’t think my mom believed I would actually leave home, although I think she needed me to go. I lived at home while I attended Brooklyn College and there were no family discussions about enlistment. I enlisted on my own in early November of ‘75 and once I celebrated my 18th birthday, I was of age, and on my way to basic training a few months later.
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, the family discussions had been about relocating me to Syracuse to live with dad while attending Syracuse University. That might have actually worked out but for one major hitch– dad wasn’t having it. He was entirely against the idea. Feeling rejected by both parents, I looked for the quickest way out. Who wants to feel unwanted… like a burden? Not me! I wanted out, so off I went, angry at the world around me. Angry at my family, I was determined to show them that I didn’t need them. That’s youthful hubris. Problems seem simple to adolescents– they don’t love me. For the adolescent, solutions tend to escalate to the extreme… they don’t love me, so I’ll just leave, split, bounce.
Hubris of the young… that was me! Homelife was confusing. I was too young to appreciate or understand that mom was justifiably exhausted from raising three kids by herself in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. I couldn’t grasp how overwhelmed she must have been as a human being, struggling and persevering day after day. Not only did she send my older siblings off to college, sister graduating from Boston University, brother graduating from Drexel, but she provided me with orthodontic braces and violin lessons. To the adult me, mom was heroic.
I hated most of my five years in the military and I’m so glad I enlisted. I grew, I matured, I traveled the world, and learned to see the world through eyes that have helped me navigate through the ups and downs of grown folks’ life challenges. My time in the Air Force gave me time to build an inner-core and outer-armor that allows me to sustain through challenges I encounter every day in the music business.
I have no doubt that I’m the man I am for having experienced the world in uniform. Whenever I visit a VA hospital or clinic, I know I’m part of a tradition, an American history, an African history, a world history, a Biblical history of soldiers. I’m also part of a family legacy. My son was an Army Captain. My daughter is a member of a military sorority. Search the heart and soul of a veteran, young or old, male or female, and you’ll find the essence, the prevailing spirit… is service.
That’s what’s on my mind!