My entire life it seems to me, I have have always been underestimated. In some ways this frustrates me, because I feel as though I have been capable of great things. But the truth of the matter is people often desire for you to fail.
When you fail, it makes people comfortable with the choices they have made that may not have been the most positive.
But our lives are not meant to cater to those who don’t wish us well. We need to press forward, we need to continue to work hard in the face of obstacles. We should always do our best, even if those around us may not wish us to do so.
I saw a video this week of two women boxers. There is one woman boxer who is about one and a half feet shorter than the other. From the start of the fight, I am anxious about what might happen, and what does happen in the video is something I didn’t expect.
As a courtesy, there is punching in this video if you do not wish to watch. I will discuss what happens, but if you are game, check it out.
Here it is.
So at the last few moments of the video, female boxer Ann Wolfe, who is 5'9’ fights the female boxing World Champion Vonda Ward who is 6’6”. I thought for sure Ward was going to win the match, but Wolfe takes her out with one punch.
This is synonymous with me living as a Native Nerd.
Here are some thoughts I have to share on my own life’s experiences.
My Peanut’s Science Book
When I was about 10-years-old, I had a Peanut’s science book that gave a lot of science information matched up with comics of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and more. In one particular comic, Lucy walks up to Linus and pushes down on his head. She never wants Linus to get taller than her, so she supposedly does this every day.
The science book told me that no matter how hard or often Lucy does this, it will never affect Linus’ ability to grow taller than her if this is where he is destined to grow.
My life has seemingly always been this way. In my quest to work hard, and eventually become a journalist for Indian Country Today and even the Associate Editor, many people have been naysayers along the way. I have had hurtful comments on social media, or people have told me I could never accomplish these things. Yet, I didn’t listen and still worked as hard as I could, even though no one seemed to be watching. Yet here I am.
And the truth of the matter is I do not plan to stop working hard anytime soon. I made my luck. It has turned out great, and I thank the Creator every day.
The Quest To Become An Army Lieutenant
I served in the U.S. Army for three years as an enlisted Combat Medic as well as a Medical Lab Technician at Letterman Army Medical Center at the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. I got out of the army and re-enlisted as a cadet in the National Guard to become a Lieutenant in Field Artillery.
At one point during my cadet officer training, I was targeted by the Drill Instructor TAC (Teach Advise Counsel) Officers and called out as a sloppy absent-minded cadet. This was their job, and it could have been anyone, but it was my turn. Right at the height of the targeting, there was a vote on cadets, and I was voted the worst cadet that week. Because I came up on their radar, they threatened to kick me out of the school.
They had me in their office, drilling me on everything they could to get me to crack. Then they looked at my overall test scores. I was one of the highest scoring cadets. In a moment of fear, I agreed to resign.
Shortly after saying I would resign, I changed my mind, I realized they are supposed to make you crack. I came back the next drill and stood at the front of the formation. A TAC Officer saw me and made a beeline toward me.
“What are YOU doing here Cadet Schilling?” He asked. I looked at the TAC Officer. “I changed my mind sir, I am not going to quit.” He looked at me and before he walked away, he said, “We’ll see about that.”
As it so happened, the dropout rate at the military academy was about 75% percent, and I had decided to stay. There were not a lot of leftover cadets, so they combined the two company’s Alpha and Bravo. I was part of Bravo Company.
As part of the combining of companies, we were having a physical training competency test. Among the PT test was the two-mile run. One cadet from Alpha Company was walking around challenging everyone, because he was known as the fastest runner. “Is someone going to beat me?” He kept repeating. I said nothing.
As the two-mile run began with a starter pistol, about 100 cadets started the race. I easily stayed in front. My Native American blood was showing.
As we neared the end of the race and the finish line was in sight, I was running neck and neck with the cadet with Alpha Company. I turned to him and said (in a hopeful gesture of unity) ‘Hey man, let’s join arms and cross the finish line at the same time, unifying our two companies!”
He looked at me and grunted disapproval and waved me away. I looked back at him and was surprised, why wouldn’t he want to be in solidarity? “Fine,” I thought to myself, then also knew this dude had screwed up, because I hadn’t even started my last running stretch kick. I tore off like Billy Mills. (yes, he is a true hero of mine, and I hope he doesn’t mind the comparison, but it feels great to do so.)
And when I say kick, I mean KICK. I tore off so far ahead of the other guy I was literally able to run off the course, and I grabbed my Bravo Company’s flag. I pulled the flag out of the ground and crossed the finish line about 10 seconds sooner than the second fastest guy that had dismissed me.
As I crossed the finish line, my Bravo Company soldiers went nuts, even the TAC officers were cheering for me. The TAC officers from Alpha Company were also cheering and one of the TAC Officers eventually walked up to the other guy who came in second to ask what happened. He said, “I got beat sir.”
The celebration wasn’t over, the Battalion Commander - a four-star general walked up to me and congratulated me personally for being the best. It is a moment I will never forget.
And those TAC officers that had asked me to quit the previous month? They also issued me a congratulations. They then asked me, the Cadet Schilling, who had once been voted the lowest ranking cadet and now was the highest, to lead the entire battalion back to the barracks and sing the cadence songs.
I was one decision away from never having experienced one of the greatest days of my life. They had tried to push down on my head, but I decided I wouldn’t let that happen. I served a total of nine years in the U.S. Army and National Guard. I often got voted in the top percentile from that day forward.
Never underestimate a #NativeNerd.
Here is a video of the California Military Academy of which I appear at 5:55 and 14:30.
Follow fellow Native Nerd, Vincent Schilling associate editor for Indian Country Today at @VinceSchilling
Make sure to use the Hashtag #NativeNerd
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