When I was a youngster, I had the most fortunate experience of my dad being transferred to Bentwaters/Woodbridge twin air bases near Ipswich, England. I was a 6th grader, highly impressionable and terribly concerned about being accepted by others. Like any military brat, I was learning how to move away from everyone and everything I knew and start fresh again. I always viewed it as a blessing that would teach me how to get along with anyone and give me an opportunity to reinvent myself again and again should the need arise. (Stateside kids never had it so good!)
Shortly after we arrived, I noticed there was something different about this place. Everyone seemed to get along. There were no apparent color lines or class distinctions. There were no cool kids vs. nerds, jocks vs. scholars, loners vs. socialites! We were just all there, all together and all loving every minute of it. In my later years I often tried to figure out what made the place so special. Was it because almost of our dads had the same employer? Was it because there was an absence in disparity of pay? Was it because we all seemed to occupy the same base housing? Was it because we were all mostly Americans living in a foreign land together, where the foreigners actually spoke our language?
Whatever it was, and I have some deeper thoughts, the effect produced by the place was almost universal. I thought I was the only one that loved Woodbridge so dearly, before I stumbled upon MySpace and Facebook. But then, to my surprise, almost every person who lived there had a similar experience. I mean folks who were there when I was; folks who lived there before me and folks who arrived after me. How many of my dearest friends have told me that it was still the best experience of their lives? How many of our parents said the same thing? How many wished they could have lived there forever? How many? Now I know why I wept so heavily when it was time for reassignment… One of my earliest memories of talking to God was me telling Him tearfully, well it’s just me and You again…
I look back with great fondness at walking through the woods to get to school. I remember what seemed to be the greatest teachers on earth. I practically lived at the AYA, playing ping-pong and foosball everyday. And wow, what about the dances? What about the music at the dances? God, how I looked forward to those dances! I remember me and Matt Howell putting on our super clean threads, stacks and heavy doses of Hai Karate aftershave. I remember playing truth or dare on the busses to other base dances and french kissing a girl named Terry for the first time amidst a game of spin the bottle. If it wasn’t Boone’s Farm on the bus ride it was MD 20-20 in the woods. I’m still proud of playing on the soccer team wearing our England National Team jerseys via Coach Booty. I played baseball for the Eagles and went from being an also ran right fielder to the starting first baseman for the All-Star team traveling to Germany. I hit a thousand balls on those tennis courts. I gave the pinball machine at the bowling alley every quarter I ever got! I dribbled that basketball at the gym and was in awe of Darrell Stacey and Big O! I was inducted into the stud-club by Dino Moya and then met Rico and Darren(2) and Ricky Love. Tony Lombardo was also in the club. I had girlfriends, whose names I will leave off for all the right reasons. Man, what a childhood!
So now, many years later in adult retrospect, I still ponder what it was that made that place so wonderful. It couldn’t be that I was only in my formative years because my parents felt the same way. It wasn’t the love era, but love was very present there. It couldn’t have been living in a foreign country because almost all my friends were American. So what was it? I believe it was God. I think He sent me to a haven where I could learn to love people and be protected from the things that jade other folks. I believe He taught me love and tenderness there that would be the precursor of the man I am today. He showed me a little slice of the Earth where your color, your money, your status didn’t matter. He showed me how life really should be with people living together, loving each other and seeking the best from each other.
You may disagree with my conclusions and that is certainly your right, but how many of my fellow Warriors for Life love God? Maybe some don’t, but they still were blessed to live in the haven!
Words probably cannot express how thankful I am for having grown up there. That place changed me in ways I can’t even describe. And since then, I’ve never lived in a place so sweet. Don’t get me wrong, my experience there wasn’t my best until this day, because that God I whispered to many years ago, introduced Himself to me in the most profound and lasting ways. I found the perfect wife and have the best family ever. I’m living a dream life! But good ol’ Woodbridge certainly ranks as my number one place to grow up!
Thank you God for allowing me to grow up as a Woodbridge Warrior!
A Warrior for Life