It is a great day; what are you going to do with it?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rick Longnecker
  • 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.The names in this story have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, the locations and specific mission details have been omitted and some of the quotes have been cleaned up to better fit the potential audience, but this is a story I need to tell.

With 36 hours to go until my retirement ceremony, I am supposed to be writing my speech for this momentous day, and it is proving to be the hardest speech I have ever written. I finally settled on a theme, but every time I try to write, I keep coming back to the one story that I do not want to tell to a room full of people. The only way I am going to move on to what I want to say at my retirement is to tell the story in another way.

It began when I met George in a land far from home while on a deployment. We had been sent there to do what we had trained our entire careers to do. George was a noncommissioned officer in the Army assigned to the same task force as I was. We worked together very closely in some difficult situations and became close friends.

George was then seriously injured, and was medically evacuated and eventually transferred to a major military hospital in the U.S. There, he underwent several surgeries and months of rehabilitation.

When I returned to the U.S., I went to visit him, but he refused to see me. I then learned that he had cut himself off from his family, including his wife and two young children, and all of his friends. I tried to keep tabs on him but lost track of him after some time. The last report I had on him was that he was addicted to pain medications and had started drinking heavily, still cut off from his family and friends.

Fast forward to about three years later. I moved to a new duty station and left my family behind. After a few months, my wife and I started the divorce process. I was 900 miles away from my children with no social support network, and I was in a new location, doing a job that was not very rewarding.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but depression was setting in. I was having nightmares, which were making it difficult to sleep, so I started self-medicating. I found that if I drank enough, I could at least fall asleep. At the time, in that state of mind, it seemed like a logical solution. I also started making poor life decisions, and this downward spiral continued for several months.

One day, I was sitting outside the Army and Air Force Exchange Service near my house smoking a cigarette when along the sidewalk came a familiar face — George’s. I called out his name, and he recognized me after a moment. He wrapped me in a huge bear hug and asked what I was doing there. After no more than 30 seconds of conversation, he looked me up and down and said, “You look horrible; let’s go somewhere and talk.”

We went back to my tiny apartment to catch up, and I offered him a beer, but he opted for a “large glass of ice-cold H2O.” We had a long, emotional conversation where he forced me to face things that I had been ignoring for quite some time. He explained how he had hit rock bottom and then started the process to turn it around. He promised me that in the morning, he was going to take me to talk to someone who could help.

My phone rang the next morning at 5:30 a.m. It was George, and all he said was, “It is a great and glorious day; get yourself up and do something with it.” He picked me up later to take me to see the person who would become my counselor for the next several years. He helped me discover my triggers and ways to work through them. He helped me stop self-medicating and eventually start sleeping again. During the first three to four months of this, my phone rang every day at 5:30 a.m., and every day, I heard the same voice and the same words: “It’s a great and glorious day; get yourself out of bed and do something with it.”

Through all of this, I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to get married again. After a few years, this marriage failed as well, and I found myself in a similar mental and emotional state as before. The difference this time was that I was a full-time additional duty first sergeant, which was a challenging, but rewarding, job. I had a good network of friends and constructive things to do with my spare time. I was in shape and healthy, and I had developed a fulfilling spiritual relationship.

Even with all of that support, the nightmares returned and sleep was eluding me. There were mornings that getting out of bed was a struggle, but I found myself reverting back to one thing: Every morning when the alarm would go off, I would say to myself, “It is a great and glorious day; get yourself out of bed and do something with it.”

Sometimes, I would lie there and repeat it to myself over and over again until I could make it to the shower. Sometimes, I would make it to the parking lot at work and then sit there in my truck chanting it until I could face the day. Once I got to the office, things were usually better because I had purpose when I was at work. I continued to see my counselor, and I took anti-depressants for a period of time. Slowly, with a lot of help and hard work, things turned around, and I got back to a very good place in life.

I have little doubt that if it had not been for that chance meeting outside the AAFES and George’s dedication to being there for me, I would not be here today. I don’t know if I would have been one of the “22” that we hear so much about, but I would have most likely fallen victim to my poor decision making.

Ultimately, the message I have been trying to get into my retirement speech is this: care enough to be there for someone who needs you. Hopefully, that message, along with one more, will be received by those reading this: If you need help, get it!

If all else fails: It is a great and glorious day; get yourself out of bed and do something with it.

Editor’s note: Anyone who needs help should reach out to any of the following resources:

Military OneSource:
Please call 800-342-9647 for 24-hour service.

McConnell Air Force Base mental health clinic:
Please call 316-759-5095 or 316-759-5091.

McConnell AFB chapel:
During duty hours, please call 316-759-3562. After duty hours, please call the Command Post at 316-759-3251 and ask for the duty chaplain.

Military and Family Life Consultant Program:
Please call 316-295-6953.