|The Noonan-Price family enjoyed a trip to Ireland a few years ago. From left, back row: Erin, Robin and Stephen. Front row, from left: Kelsey and Megan.
The coat was too small, and the pants were too big. It was an ugly color of green and the first uniform since grade school that I had worn. Like uniforms are supposed to do, it made me stand out. And I didn’t want to stand out. As an 18-year-old on my way to ROTC class, I would select a route off the main student sidewalks and around the backs of buildings, not so much out of embarrassment—although there was the occasional catcall of “Neidermeyer!” (the ROTC character in Animal House)—as out of an overwhelming desire to not be categorized. After all, this was my first year away from home. I was a Dickinson College freshman, class of 1981. I was making my mark, or so I intended. I needed time to determine who I was and who I wanted to become.
The uniform was pushing me prematurely into an identity, a set of rules and regulations that were more controlling than felt right to me. I heard a clear sucking sound that I instinctively knew had tremendous pulling power, if I allowed myself to get too close. I was sure that I would never let that happen. But I figured that I would stick out the semester of ROTC for my dad, out of respect for both his wishes and his wallet. After all, it was his hard work that was paying for my Dickinson education.
I stuck out the semester and more. The U.S. Army ultimately paid for the remainder of my college. And 25 years later, I look back on a military career that was marked by rewarding opportunities, rich relationships and more independence than I ever imagined when I first forced myself into that ill-fitting, restrictive coat of green.
The other day my wife, Robin Noonan-Price ’81, called from our home in Virginia and asked if I had any college pictures that she could send to our class representative in preparation for our 25th reunion. I took the call from behind the desk of the Staff Judge Advocate, Ft. Campbell, Ky., the home of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division, the Screaming Eagles, the Band of Brothers. I am that Staff Judge Advocate. Mobilized from my family, my home and my civilian job last September, I will be here through this September.
After I hung up the phone, unable to locate any 25-year-old pictures, I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud at the bookends formed by the two “soldiers”—the reluctant freshman and the SJA. They were at once identical and yet removed from one another. It occurs to me that this year of mobilization, while representing significant family hardship, is an opportunity for me to assess my journey, to review accomplishments and failures that have occurred along the way, so I may better determine how I may yet make my mark in the world. I expect that as many of my classmates approach the reunion, I am not alone in my retrospection. Perhaps my sudden departure from my familiar surroundings has allowed me to contemplate the past with greater clarity.
As a freshman at Dickinson I had high hopes and aspirations. I didn’t necessarily see professional glory and fame in my future, but neither did I discount the possibility. My only clear dreams involved my personal life. Since I was much younger I had known that I wanted a family like my own—close, loving, fun, sincere and dependable. I hoped to meet someone who would help me make that dream a reality. I believed in people and generally assumed their intentions were honorable. I felt certain that if I walked through my daily world treating people correctly and living up to the standards by which I had been raised, that my fate would be delivered as it was supposed to be, and that I would be happy.
But there was much I did not know. I didn’t know how often I would fail to live up to my own standards nor how often I would hold true to my course. I didn’t know how confrontational the world could be. I didn’t know that one’s life is charted in large part by the outcome of clashes between conflicting values, dogmas and ambitions. Nor did I realize that the choices I would make would often be rooted in guidance I received early on, at times when I knew very little, from people who cared very much.
Tomorrow I will put on my uniform and head to work, comfortably and without walking behind the buildings. My job offers neither glory nor fame. But it is a job I very much enjoy. I will approach others as I did at Dickinson, with a basic belief in their goodness. I continue to assume the best of others and am only occasionally disappointed.
At some point in the day I will speak with Robin and our girls. They remain my central focus in life and are ever on my mind and in my heart. As a family, we are all that I ever hoped for, and our closeness more than compensates for the physical distance imposed upon us this year. I may also call my parents to thank them for allowing me to enroll at Dickinson in the fall of 1977. I am a better, richer person as a result of those first decisions made and pursued at Dickinson College so many years ago. As the class of ’81 gathers in June to celebrate our 25th, I will not be the only one who feels that way.
Steve or Robin may be reached by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or Robin.Noonan@fcps.edu.