The wind is roaring. Not quite as loud or strong as it was on the first day of the month, but definitely with power. When it catches the seams just right, the ball really moves and that is always fun to watch, even if it’s rather unexpected. Today’s game of catch was also quite unexpected.
Phil worked in the history department at Kickapoo High School and helped make the decision to start teaching the elective class of Baseball and History, which probably would have been my favorite class had it been offered during my Kickapoo days.
“I’ve been in education since I retired from the Army. From the beginning, we’ve been teaching young people to cooperate, collaborate, communicate, and think critically. But we don’t see much cooperation or collaboration happening in the real world, and certainly not in our politics.”
Phil was in the Army for 21 years and retired in 1992 as a Lieutenant Colonel and infantry officer. Phil was a Russian specialist for the Army.
I was blessed for the opportunity to spend time with Phil this morning, not only playing catch at the school where I was a student and he was a teacher, but also to hear his wisdom into the current world situation.
“Baseball is such a complicated sport and I can appreciate that. I was trained as an officer to always be looking ahead to the next battle. Managers can’t just be thinking about this at bat and this pitch, but also the innings to come. We live in a world where things are changing faster than anyone could imagine and young people need to be adaptable and flexible.”
I don’t usually write about politics because of its divisiveness and because my political convictions are ridiculously idealistic. I want countries to embrace diversity and learn from one another. I want countries to act mature and know that how you shake hands with the opponent after the game says a lot about your character. I want countries to realize that we’re all ridiculously blessed to share life on this amazing planet and that a little collaboration, cooperation, and healthy communication can help alleviate the pain of those who are currently suffering and make life better for all of us.
Because I trust Phil and with only four days remaining, I figured I’d jump in with both feet.
“The people of Russia are very friendly. They are an intensely proud and patriotic people. And they are used to sacrificing and suffering. They are proud of Russia’s assertiveness and truly desire for Russia to be a great power. But there are a lot of people suffering in Russia right now.”
The Army took Phil around the world and gave him a firsthand education few people can appreciate. He was trained to speak Russian and supported two division command post exercises in which his students from the US Army Russian Institute made decisions for Soviet forces attacking NATO forces in Europe. Phil served during the height of the Cold War years and sees many similarities in our current relationship with Russia.
“I was in West Germany when the US decided to build a new embassy in Moscow. The old embassy had a fire on the top floor, where the ambassador’s office and defense attache’s offices were. The Soviet fire department showed up before they were called.”
Phil and his partner were the first pair chosen to escort and ride with trucks from Finland that would carry the supplies for the building of the new embassy. A three-day, one-way drive on the “best” highway in Russia.
“Two lanes, no shoulders, no snowplows. Lots of surveillance. We probably made 14 round trips or more. But I really got to see Russia from a point of view a lot of tourists don’t. Russians would look at your shoes and knew you were a foreigner.”
He served through Gulf Wars and observed firsthand the strategies and tactics employed in that operation. Phil retired from the military in 1992, and then life got interesting.
He started a new job, bought a new house, and then his wife filed for divorce.
“I was with the job long enough to know it wasn’t for me and started seeing a counselor through the divorce process. I got to know myself better and know what I really wanted, which was a family and sons. Throughout my time in the Army, I was always working with and teaching young people, and that is what I was good at. That is what I really enjoyed.”
A graduate of Glendale High School in Springfield, Phil returned to Springfield to celebrate Easter in 1993 where he met his now wife. (She used to be my Sunday school teacher.) He went back to school so he could be certified to teach. He taught for two years at Pipkin when it transitioned from a junior high school to a middle school, and then taught at Kickapoo for 16 years.
“I had a blast working with the students. I taught World History Honors and AP European History and coached the academic team.”
Phil retired for a second time in 2012, but he is still teaching. This spring, he’ll be teaching a brand new class at Drury University combining geography and history. The 16 students are all in the education program, so he’ll be teaching teachers. Phil also supervises student teachers from Missouri State.
I kept asked questions I’m not usually comfortable asking.
“I’m not surprised at what Putin is doing. He’s exploiting our weaknesses. He’s just pursuing traditional Russian objectives. He wants respect and to be with the big dogs. The US and Russia can have a healthy relationship. The US spends far too much resources on defense. We can’t keep spending over 60% of national budget on the military stationed around the globe. That is impossible to sustain. We must act together with other nations to solve problems we can’t solve alone: Climate change. Drugs. Opioids. And our treatment of veterans is a national disgrace. Greed and avarice have taken over as guiding principles instead of national interest. Combining the corporate world with the political world has been the recipe for a self-serving government. We must take money out of politics. Politicians must be servants first and have the same benefits as the people. They need to work together. They need to set the example.”
Phil wore the colors of his grandkids for catch and I teased him about it. Of course, he’s a Cardinals fan too, but I figured I’d only poke fun of one team at a time.
“I haven’t thrown a baseball since I helped coach my brother’s little league team, back when I was in high school. I played softball all the time in the Army, but just playing catch…it’s been a while.”
Phil stressed the four pillars of cooperation, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. And I see a lot of those values embodied in a simple game of catch.
“You can’t do it by yourself. I’ve been blessed to have great parents, wonderful students, wonderful staff, and been entrusted with a lot of freedom. I’ve had the support of an incredible wife and been blessed with my church family. And I get to keep doing teaching. I have great faith in young people.”
Those taking Phil’s course will truly be blessed with a world-class education.