I flew on Monday.
He was a talker. We discovered we were both in Training.
I’m not often speechless. But with Dennis I was all ears.
He’d been in training for 40 years and was heading home. It was his last trip he said. He was retiring from the game.
His big thing about training was the customers. Not the learners so much – but the customers of those learners. That’s what drove him. All his years of training was for them. It made sense.
Don’t get me wrong, he loved the learners too. He spent his life figuring out the best way to teach and shared that in the end, it was the work ethic of the students themselves and their willingness to practice that made all the difference in the world. That made sense too.
Testing was an obsession with him. In his training experience, knowing and certifying for absolutely sure that his charges understood the content and could prove it not just in class but in the field months later, was critical. Made perfect sense.
You see, we are both in training. So I get at the most basic level what that means, how important it can be and how hard it is to do.
But I train stuff that just helps people. Dennis trains stuff that saves lives.
Dennis was on his way back from another year in Afghanistan. He was a former military man now working for the Department of Defense and the Training leader of a bomb finding dog training school saving the lives of American soldiers with his Belgian and German Shepherds clearing roads by sniffing out IED’s.
While the odd commonalities of our training worlds struck me, it was of course the differences that made me speechless.
“It’s tough, one of my crew lost both of his legs three weeks ago in a remote detonation and his dog took a lot of shrapnel. They’ll both be OK…. ” He stopped, leaned forward and looked beyond me out the window.
“Oh my, look at the grass, look at the trees…” he said with a voice trailing a bit as we neared landing. His eyes were misting perhaps an understandable mixture of sadness and joy.
“Vietnam, Panama, Desert Storm, Desert Shield…and all that sand and all that nothingness….It is so good to be getting home.”
When we landed and I thanked him for all those years of service he just shook my hand, winked and smiled. It occurred to me that perhaps Dennis was not really that much of a talker after all and given the troops he trained – didn’t need to be. That today on this flight, maybe he just needed to talk.
Maybe I was just lucky enough to have the honor and the privilege of sitting next to an incredible trainer on a very special day of his invaluable life.
Thank you Dennis. Thank you.