Honoring Veterans Campaign - Mayor Joe Buck
Veteran, U.S. Coast Guard
In high school I never contemplated the military as a post-graduation option simply because it was never a pathway presented. But following one year of college I knew I wanted two things: 1) to have a different experience and 2) to finance the rest of my education. I came to learn of the educational and other benefits of military service and saw the military as a way to accomplish those goals while also giving back in service to the country. Not knowing anyone in the military I was entirely naive as to what the training would be like. As soon as the bus arrived at the US Coast Guard training station in Cape May, New Jersey and a drill instructor greeted us with exceptionally gruff screaming à la Full Metal Jacket, I learned. The training itself was an experience I will not forget. It was not only physically challenging but extremely stressful mentally. The dedication and honor of those I served with continued throughout my experience. I also learned in basic training that the Coast Guard sends you where they want to send you which I learned could include a large ship that spends months out at sea. Somehow I had not contemplated that as an option. Panic set in. Instead of a ship, though, I was send to Clearwater, Florida to a small boat station on Sand Key. We performed a variety of search and rescue and maritime law enforcement functions. In between the “fun” work we did the job of running the station itself. I grew up in the kitchen and found my place preparing food for the crew, a job I loved.
The military was nothing like the life I knew prior. My very first day at Sand Key three of the others stationed there were punished for shenanigans not suitable for City content in an ad-hoc trial of sorts conducted in our eating area. Other members played the role of defense attorney and prosecutor. The three ended up being confined to the base, a station no larger than our downtown fire station, for a period of 30 days. The rest of us had to ensure they did not leave. It was a sharp introduction that life in the military would be unlike anything prior.
My Coast Guard roommate was a guy from rural Mississippi, a small town the polar opposite of Lake Oswego. It was a contrast that came to frame what I loved most about my time in the Coast Guard. I worked with folks from so many different walks of life, from so many backgrounds and regional cultures within the US so astronomically diverse. And everyone talks to the cook. The kitchen was a place of refuge, therapy and comfort for everyone on the team. We talked through interpersonal co-worker issues, workplace politics and difficult situations at home - all over a snack.
During my time in service, our country experienced 9/11, our team experienced loss of life amongst the crew and we witnessed horrific water accidents. It was a trying time as a country, and we had to come together as a unit through the challenges of life. But through those difficulties it was those many conversations and interactions I had that helped me prepare for my role now as Mayor. I learned to speak to people from all perspectives and to appreciate the awareness that these various perspectives existed. I saw the full range of leadership styles from the exemplary to the absurdly ineffective. I learned the value of a process. Not every mission had the intended result even after hours of arduous work, but there was value in trying, in giving the full effort, and in knowing what that work did to prepare us for the next mission. So much of that rings true to how we interact as a community, how we work together and how we give lots of effort while not always achieving the desired result. Yet all those interactions bring us closer, introduce us to new people and help us understand that there are often multiple answers to the questions we face.
I found my experience invaluable. And there are so many options within military service I could not have contemplated. Now decades out of my service, I still hold many of the lessons close - save for many of the cooking techniques, though, and that’s probably a good thing.