03 October, 2014


When it comes to my job, and my employer, I have responsibilities.  As the mechanics are concerned in our shop I'm #2 as far as seniority is concerned.  Probably #5 overall.  That doesn't mean I'm the second-most talented mechanic, it just means I've been around longer than every mechanic except one.  Number one in seniority is nothing to speak of.  He's one helluva guy in general but he's the most piss-poor mechanic I've ever seen.  Over twenty five years in the trade and he's still bumming common tools from other people.  And he's just not smart enough for this line of work.  And he's a slob.  And the company owner's brother.  Enough said.  The saying around the shop is that if the "Slob's" name wasn't the same as the owner, none of us would have ever met him because he would have been fired long, long ago.  On the flip side, he's the hardest working guy I've ever met.  He'll do anything for you.  "Hey, sorry to wake you at 3:00 a.m., but would you bring the wrecker out to me?"  He would be there.  Professionally, he needs to be gone.  Like 10 years ago.  Personally, I'm glad he's around.  Talk about conflict.  I digress.

Having become one of the "old guys" at our shop, and somehow finding myself saddled with the "night foreman" position (not for much longer, thankfully), I'm responsible for breaking in new mechanics.  Since I've acquired my current "foreskin" status, I've had to train six guys.  I've held the hands of many more, but I'm focusing on the mechanics that I've dealt with since I've been "promoted", temporarily, to foreman.  So far only one of them (thankfully he's still around) has been worth the effort.  I've had one complete dumbass (more muscle than brains), one who wouldn't admit lack of skill (a "know-it-all" who didn't), one raging alcoholic (he lasted three days), one former union guy who thinks he's still in a union (good luck with that mentality, dude!) and now I have yet another new guy.   This newest guy is new territory for me.  He's a veteran of the Iraq-istan war.  I don't know very much, but I know he's seen combat and has PTSD.  I've seen his eyes do that "thing".  It has me worried.  Not about him, but about me.  I've been educating myself about PTSD.  My experience with veterans at the courier company gave me some foundation, but I didn't know any particulars.  I'm not sure what to do.

I want to see the veteran succeed, I want to help him put one foot in front of the other.  But I don't want to be the "Civilian who doesn't know jack."  There is no possible way for me to ever understand what this guy has been through.  I can only comprehend him as he is now.  A combat veteran with PTSD who is trying to move forward in his life.  Do I act as things are just as they would be during a normal day at the shop?  That might be considered as ignoring reality.  Do I recognize his disorder?  That may come across as giving special treatment.  Do I ignore it completely because it's only a professional situation?  That would be heartless.  To any veteran reading this, I know this next statement will sound quite vain but I do have some understanding of what you've been through.  Yeah, I know.  I'm full of shit.  But please, let me explain my position.

My fourth (and fifth) grade teacher was a Vietnam veteran.  A Marine machine gunner.  When I was in fifth grade (roughly, my memory isn't that great these days) he went to visit the recently opened Vietnam War Memorial.  When I had him in fourth grade he hadn't quite come to terms with Vietnam.  A year later, after visiting the memorial, he was noticeably different.  I remember him sitting us down, as a class, after his return from the memorial, and having a brief Q&A session with us.  A bunch of fifth graders.  Only one question can I remember.  Stacy (she had a speech impediment, nice girl just the same) asked my teacher "S...s...sssooooo, did you shoot anybody?"  The first thing in my head was "NOOOOOOOO!!!!"  As a fifth grader, completely ignorant to the ways of the real world, I knew that the question Stacy asked was totally inappropriate.  My teacher, winning even more of my respect, politely declined to answer that question and moved on.  He told us about the trouble he had adjusting back to the "real world", couldn't sleep on a bed for months, loud noises made him duck etc.  Heck, he even showed me how to roll up the sleeves on my shirts in proper Marine fashion.  I will never forget him as a teacher, as a man, as a veteran and as a role model.  I'm extremely fortunate to have had him as a teacher for not just one year, but two!  My understanding of what war does to people started at those moments.  My Dad and his Brother were in the USN from '55 to '59, my Uncle Bob was a WWII Marine veteran, Uncle Mike served in the medical Corps during Vietnam (became a successful pathologist post-war), 'Ol Rob from the courier company was a vet of the USAF and USN, the courier company was full of Korean, Vietnam and Gulf war vets.  One of my close friends from my school days did a few tours in Iraq-istan.  The books I prefer to read are soldiers' memoirs.  The big picture doesn't interest me.  I want to know more of what the individual goes through.  I've know from an early age that war isn't a game.  My time in the fife and drum corps placed me at more Memorial Day services than most people (aside from the vets themselves) could imagine. It left a big impression on me.  I suppose the Fife and Drum Corps putting me in such close contact with so many veterans during my early years gave me a better appreciation of those people than most folks would get.

How would I convey this information to the newest of my coworkers?  How do I convey that I have some inkling as to what he's dealing with without coming across as some "armchair general" type of dick?  How do I express my gratitude for what he has done for me and my country without sounding like some "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the 'ol oak tree" kind of chump?  How do I take everything I've already mentioned into consideration while still trying to seem "normal" and help him succeed with his career?  I'm faced with a challenge that I don't know how to address.  Frankly speaking, I'm scared.

With every new mechanic that has come into the shop after me, I've tried to do my best to help them succeed.  I feel that it's every "old timer's" duty to take the new guys under their wings and help them move forward.  But, this vet is unfamiliar territory to me.  I'll do my best to help him along.  I just hope I don't fail.

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