Saturday, August 28, 2010

Private Jenna Harper

On rare occasion, often when you least expect it, you get the opportunity to meet someone new who gives you hope for the human situation. This person might be struggling with a problem but displays courage or quiet dignity; or maybe honor and character shine through. Or perhaps he is simply trying his best to get along in his situation as best he knows how, not looking for a handout or a compliment, just quietly going about what he is supposed to do. Such people are rare these days. That is why meeting one is wonderful, particularly when the meeting is by chance.
Two weeks ago I was seated on a passenger jet trying to get from Seattle to Minneapolis. The departure was 2 hours late. The passengers were angry at the delay. The crew was frustrated at the length of time it was taking for the passengers, all 300 of us, to stow carry-on bags and be seated.
Next to me was a young lady that looked to be about 20 years old. She had short brown hair with a bit of blond in it. She was wearing Nike running shoes, nondescript black pants and a black T-shirt. On her lap was an Ipod with earphones, along with a cell phone. She wore little or no makeup and had tattoos of flowers wrapping around her right wrist. No watch or rings. No earrings.
As we waited for the boarding to finish, a passenger left her carry-on bag in the middle of the exit aisle. The flight attendant noticed it and said in a loud, irritated voice, "Whose bag is this?"
The passenger admitted that it was hers. The flight attendant then said, in that same irritated tone of voice, "Get it out of here. Put it in the overhead, under your seat or check it. Do it now!" Chastised, the passenger put it under her seat.
The young lady seated next to me said, "Who is that?"
"That is one of the flight attendants," I replied.
"She would get a lot more cooperation if she was not so rude. There is no reason to talk to people like that. She should know better."
"She is having a bad day. And the flight is overbooked. It is probably going to get worse."
I then introduced myself. The young lady told me her name was Jenna Harper. I asked Jenna where she was going. She told me she was trying to get to her hometown about 50 miles north of Minneapolis. I asked Jenna where she had come from and she told me she had been flying for almost 30 hours from Korea. She said she had two weeks leave from the U. S. Army.
I asked Jenna how long she had been in the Army. She told me she had been in for a little over a year. She had been trained to dispatch Blackhawk helicopters that were supporting an infantry regiment. She had been in Korea for seven months with five months left to go. After Korea, she was going to Ramstein, Germany for two years.
I asked Jenna why she had joined the Army. She said, "I did not want to end up like my friends at home. All they thought about was partying and finding some guy to marry, so they wouldn't have to work. That's not for me."
I commented that joining the army seemed kind of extreme, given what she had told me. Jenna then said, "There wasn't money to go on in school and I wasn't interested in school, either. School would have been a waste for me. I am not ready for that. I wanted a job and there were no jobs in my town. I had to do something. The only thing I could think of was to join the Army."
"Well, how do you like the Army?" I asked.
"I really like it! You know we get to stay in this big building with four of us in a room…it is like a dormitory, only they call it a …what's that word…oh, yeah…a barracks. All my friends live there and there is always something going on or someone is doing something. Almost all of us work 9 to 5 and we get most weekends off. It's fun."
I asked how she liked her work. "Well, for what I do, I am way overpaid. I am just a private, you know. But I really like my work and I am good at it. I try really hard to do things right and do a little extra. I think I am going to get promoted because I do a good job."
"I am sure you do," I said. "What else do you like about the Army?"
"The thing I like best about it is that I just got evaluated in my job. I got a really good report because I do my job and try to do a little bit extra. And the best part is I got evaluated on who I am and how I do my job. It doesn't make any difference if I am a girl or who I know. I got a good report based on what I did, no one else. I really like that. I think you can go about as far as you want to go in the Army. It is pretty cool."
I told her I thought that she was on the right track.
She then said, "You know another thing I like about the Army? I am supporting myself. I am making my own way. I am just a private, but I am responsible for myself and other people, too, when I send out a helicopter. I try not to make any mistakes, but once in awhile I do. I take responsibility for my mistakes. I don't try and blame someone else. What's the point? Do your job as good as you can! That's what I do."
Then she said, "I am not ever going to get in a position in my life where I am dependant on a man. I might get married someday, but I am always going to have a job. My husband will have to get used to that. I am independent now and I always am going to be independent. I like being responsible for myself."

You go, girl! If I had a job to offer young Private Jenna Harper, I would offer it to her. There is hope for the future with young women like Jenna. You would always be assured that the job would get done with her working. What a delight she was, a responsible young women willing to take responsibility for herself and others.
As for the delayed flight, oh well…..
Mike out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this narrative, Mike!

    I am deeply touched by Jenna's story. And, I am greatly encouraged by the attitude she has adopted.

    Our military has helped many people like Jenna to "find themselves" in a very solid and significant way.