That Wooden Flag
Sometimes I forget that this blog is for me, just that, a blog. A place that I can take my thoughts and share them with the world, or no one (depending on my readership). With that said this one is just a recap of the radical transformation from Soldier to Woodguy.
At the end of 2017 I was coming off a deployment as the Task Force CJFT-OIR First Sergeant. Like, the guy in charge of the health, morale, discipline, living conditions, yeah basically everything for a task force of over a thousand people in notably three countries. I was stressed. Very stressed, very worn out. Not to mention just being chosen for a position like that came from years of hard work.
My next assignment was supposed to be easier (and it was, but not much). It would be challenging and infuriating at the same time. I moved to Cleveland Ohio with my family to become a Senior ROTC Instructor at John Carroll University. This was to be a pipeline job, or a “broadening assignment” to prepare me for selection to Sergeant Major.
I did the job and decompressed from years of leading-edge positions. Truly, I enjoyed it. But… Their was this nagging feeling that all was not well, with me or the Army. I had a lot of physical issues. Defiantly aging. Dealing with injuries both sustained in combat and others just from a career of jumping out of planes and being an Infantryman.
One day I was notified that I was not selected for the Sergeants Major Academy. A true blow to the gut. I really thought I was golden and would be selected. It didn’t happen, and so things went on.
Eventually I just brushed it off and continued doing my thing. I did, in fact, always love teaching and moreover teaching the finer arts of leadership. Teaching someone to read a compass is easy, teaching them how to build a team and have that team naturally gravitate towards you as the leader is much much harder.
I did this job for another year, and another board came by; I wasn’t selected again. Another punch. My health got worse. Pain was all day every day; I was in pain constantly, and depressed. To add insult to real injury I started drinking, a bit more, to alleviate both.
Wake Up Call
I was sitting in my office around 1030 on just another day when WHAM, I was hit by a truck. You know what I am talking about. The good ol’ heart attack. Everything in my entire body was on fire with the pain level at a solid 10. My wife rushed to the ER and I got checked out.
It wasn’t a heart attack. Years of parachuting and being a grunt had done some real damage to the nerves of my back. It was a severely pinched a nerve. Because of the location I thought it was my heart. It radiated from the center of me out and down my arm. Classic symptom. Blessing one, was that I got my wakeup call.
This started me down this path of actually thinking about retiring. But the bigger dilemma was, what am I going to do? I knew move home to Texas. My plans always encompassed being way more active with my kids. But, what, am I actually going to do? Going Corporate Grey sounded like a death sentence. I would be wrapped right back in stress and long hours. Working for someone in a “normal” 9 to 5 wasn’t very appealing either. So, What?
COVID hit. How is that a blessing? Yeah, most everyone in the world will say now that it was in a way, because it afforded us all TIME. Time to think about our lives, to appreciate our loved ones, to realize what WAS NOT important. That’s what it did for me.
But… it also came with some boredom. I decided somewhere in those initial days of COVID that I wanted to make a wooden flag where the stars were carved. They were preferably to be hand carved by a chisel, but I knew people used Dremel’s and other tools like that. I would accept that.
I bought some pine from Lowes big enough for the “field of stars” and strips for the stripes. Then I meticulously did the math to make sure they would fit together accurately. How to place the stars? That was difficult. So I ended up on YouTube, watching everything about making flags. What I came up with was buying a template off Etsy that just happened to be the right size. I slapped that sucker on my field and traced each star on there.
A new idea.
Carving the stars was impossible. I had no skill with a chisel. Nor did even know how to sharpen one. I tried the Dremel and, it did work, but didn’t give the nice 3D profile I wanted. Back to YouTube. I ended up watching hundreds of video’s on flag making and in that, I learned about the CNC. Now, I knew what a CNC was, but always thought of it as a huge thing for making oil rig parts.
About this time I retired. More or less without a plan. My wife and I are survivors, and we knew we would make it. I had my retirement and with a Purple Heart we knew I would get some disability. It all nagged on me every day. I started working for my cousins with L7 Construction making mainly high end cabinets. Skills started to appear.
The wooden flag had long since be finished, but the thought of the process lingered. I thought back to that CNC thing and one day convinced my wife to buy one. It arrived and I jumped headlong into it. I learned bits, and programs, wood grains and clamps. A VERY painful process. But I did it.
That wooden flag changed my life, by stoking a desire that I didn’t even know was there. It smoldered long enough to catch and change my life. Today, I own my own business. Hill Country CNC & Woodworking LLC. Something I never thought I would do. I do it all now, CNC, Laser, traditional woodcraft, and I love it. And no, I am not rich from it, but we are making it and I have something worth more than money. Desire and Passion.
All from One Wooden Flag.
Have a great one!
Hill Country CNC & Woodwork
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