Veterans Day 2018: Military stars shine brightest

“We are privileged to serve,” Texas Air National Guardsman Lt. Col. Ben Schill told me last week. “It’s our calling, our solemn duty.”

He continued, “We don’t need people’s gratitude, but a sincere ‘thanks’ goes a long way, just like in friendship or in leadership. The American people can’t pay us back, but we can’t pay them back for their support either.”

Lt. Col. Schill, known to fellow pilots by his call sign, “Showdown,” has flown F-16 fighter jets for sixteen years, twelve of those in the U.S. Air Force. Duty has called him to Germany, Korea and Iraq.

Today, the Boerne, Texas, resident trains a new generation of fighter pilots at Lackland Air Force Base. He also still flies missions of his own.

Schill recently returned from Afghanistan where he flew roughly fifty “close air” missions supporting American and Afghan ground troops. His time overseas provided clarity on the U.S. military’s role in the world.

“Our power is overwhelming to our enemies,” Schill explained. “We are extremely good at fighting and winning. We have a heritage of skill and expertise that extends back to the World Wars.”

“But we also have a conscience,” he asserted. “The men and women of the U.S. military are volunteers from the citizenry of our country. We have a somber approach to taking life. We don’t take unnecessary life. We don’t cause unnecessary suffering.”

Like a sharp scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, U.S. Armed Forces excise threats to human life and rights worldwide.

“The meritocracy, the ingenuity and the capability of our military make the United States a tremendous force for good,” Schill stated. “The power of our dollar and the power of our military have brought more prosperity and security than any other forces in history.”

“It sounds jingoistic, but it’s absolutely true.”

I had to look up “jingoistic.” Schill’s Air Force Academy education had left me in some etymological dust. It means “characterized by extreme patriotism.”

You could certainly use the term to describe Schill, a Pennsylvania native, but his devotion isn’t naïve. It’s rooted in an “eyes wide open” view of our times.

“We are fighting an Islamo-fascist ideology that wants to destroy and subjugate faith, freedom and open society. It’s a scourge that devalues human life, particularly the lives of the defenseless, the vulnerable.

“Today’s terrorist leaders are extremely perverse. They’re only interested in power and using people for their own gain. If we pull back, the weak will suffer more.”

Schill pointed me to a timely line by twentieth century English writer G.K. Chesterton: “Men are never more awake to the good in the world than when they are furiously awake to the evil in the world.”

“We live in a miracle called the United States,” Schill believes. “When you witness evil like what continues to transpire in parts of Afghanistan, you realize what good is.”

Under the capable leadership of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the U.S. military is arguably the brightest light atop this shining city upon a hill. (For more on Secretary Mattis, click here.)

Veterans and service personnel like Lt. Col Schill have made it so. They don’t need our thanks this Veterans Day, but it would go a long way if they got it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes a regular opinion column in The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

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With teenagers, keep calm and parent on

Interacting with a teenager is a little like dealing with a two-year-old. The fuller his tummy is, the less likely the conversation will end in a blowup.

And the more sleep he’s gotten, the more likely you’ll make it through without hearing “Why?” fifteen zillion times. Still, somehow, he’ll think you’re the one who asks too many questions.

“You ask too many questions,” my teenager informed me recently with exasperation in his voice.

Evidently, my one inquiry, “How are you doing?” put him over the top.

I understood. I also used to cringe at questions from my folks.

Like him, I probably ended many conversations with a huffy, “May I be excused?” (teenspeak for “I’m done talking”).

Nevertheless, I tried to explain to him that dialogue builds relationships.

Parents are, by nature, in the past. Trends come back in style because kids don’t want to be like their outdated parents. My attire likely looks more like my grandfather’s than my father’s.

A piece of trivia came up at dinner recently: “A hotel was built in Hawaii in 1919.”

“Wasn’t that when you were born, Dad?” one son asked in a line of joking that – ironically – never gets old.

“No, he was 1914,” my eldest son chimed in.

Some joking about my age is more innocent, such as the time my 7-year-old daughter asked me with all seriousness, “Dad, what year were you born? Do you remember?”

The older I get, the more birthdays mean, and the more I want to embellish them.

Recently, my wife and I were planning a family birthday outing for our soon-to-be fifteen-year-old.

“Why?!?” the teenager asked, channeling his inner toddler.

“We want to celebrate with you,” I said.

“I want to celebrate with my friends,” he retorted, in no uncertain terms.

Anyone who has lived with hormones knows they never stay constant. It wasn’t much later that he backtracked, “Well, maybe we can go out to dinner or something.”

At that point his stomach was full and his frontal lobe was developed just enough to remember that he will indeed get hungry again.

It’s uncanny how much we all can turn, for the better, when we just let a little out. I’m not the same person after I do. He’s not the same person after he does.

When teenagers are diffusing and refuting, it’s important to keep calm and parent on, the Brits might say. Things only become a big deal when you make them a big deal.

Letting a little rope out also helps.

“How late did you stay up?” I asked when I picked him up the morning after a night at a friend’s house.

“Guess,” he invited.

“Five a.m.” I conjectured.

With wide eyes he asked, “How did you know?”

I was a teenager once, I explained.

I, too, had inquisitive parents. Then, I became one.

I know he’ll soon get annoyed again by questions from his old man. I also know he would get more alarmed if I quit asking them.

 

Kevin Thompson writes for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

New roads are worth the effort

Lajitas thermThe two hottest months of the year in Big Bend National Park are May and June. Don’t ask me why. My family and I found out the hard way.

Wanting a springtime, family-oriented, “off-the-grid” getaway, I booked a trip to Big Bend for Memorial Day weekend.

On the afternoon we arrived, the thermometer on the west-facing front porch of our vacation rental in Lajitas, Texas, read 120 degrees. That was as high as the thermometer went.

“It’s not that bad,” I explained to the kids. “It’s a dry heat. Plus, there’s a breeze.”

“It feels like we’re standing in front of a giant hair dryer,” one of them observed.

Fortunately, the Rio Grande was a stone’s throw away. And while I was initially concerned about water quality, the elements necessitated a swim across the border.

Mexican bovines met us on the other side. They didn’t mind the heat. They also provided an opportunity for more paternal perspective.

“See, look,” I told the kids. “At least you’re not wearing a black leather bodysuit.”

We spent the next three days taking on Big Bend’s classic hikes. The river trails were scorching. We took a dip in 105-degree hot springs to cool off after a pass through Boquillas Canyon.

The Chisos Mountain trails were doable thanks to a 20-degree temperature differential, but not without a lot of water and salty snacks.

During our 8-mile hike up Emory Peak, a question occurred to me, “As hard as it is to hike this trail, how much harder was it to build?”

I offered the question up to my kids. They nearly backed me off a ledge like I was Scar in The Lion King.

Trails, like roads, don’t happen by chance. They take planning, forethought, execution and effort. They require political will and determination driven by a desire for public good, both present and future.

Just like I’ve never heard the death-bed phrase, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office,” I’ve never heard, “I wish we never built that road.”

Unlike some government-funded “tragedies of the commons,” roads generally generate prosperity. They are usually utilized by a diversity of citizens.

In response to a joint request for help from Kendall County and the City of Boerne, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) spent two years and more than $1 million developing its Kendall Gateway Study.

Extensive citizen feedback was considered to determine ways to increase mobility in our fast-growing county. The data-driven plan is currently before Kendall County’s Commissioners Court and Boerne’s City Council. We need to get something out of the time and money spent.

I know it’s not easy. Someone’s backyard will have a line through it. We still need to put lines on the map, and sooner than later.

Construction won’t start on any proposed roadway for years. No TXDOT funding is yet on the table – and it never will be unless we start pushing for it through the Bexar County-dominated Metropolitan Planning Organization.

But we can’t start pushing for funding until local leaders put lines on a map.

Regional TXDOT Planning Director Jonathan Bean noted recently that Loop 337 around New Braunfels was first placed on a right-of-way map in the 1960s.

Very few people think that road – or any other road, for that matter – is a bad idea now.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Two cents’ worth on CVS

sach in black and white
A presentation to Boerne’s Historic Landmark Commission created a firestorm earlier this month. A friend suggested re-naming the group Historic Landmine Commission.

Following the presentation, a rumor spread fast: National pharmacy chain CVS is coming to the corner of Main Street and River Road.

The reality is many hoops of local government stand in CVS’s way. The Commission’s “discussion item” was miles away from a groundbreaking.

When I first heard of CVS going where a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint stood for decades, the idea was anathema to me. I like my barbecue orders taken with a pencil and cut-up copy paper. Riverside Market was a brief stop in Mayberry.

Besides, where else could you buy nightcrawlers for the fish and white bread for the ducks of Cibolo Creek?

The Shell gas station / Riverside Market combination was not what tourism professionals would recommend for a gateway welcome center. But it was Boerne.

And it was also sold in 2012 by the Boerne family who had owned it for years. A San Antonio convenience store operator and then real estate investors have owned it since.

Boerne’s Main Street has long been filled with utility. People needed a livery stable and then automobile repair shops. They needed groceries, medicines, gas and places to stay and eat. All these sprang up at one time or another up and down Main Street from Riverside Market.

Directly across Main Street from Riverside, Sach’s Garage operated as the self-proclaimed “oldest garage in town.” City leaders recently referenced a black and white photo of the garage when the CVS developer asked what building type would fit Boerne’s historic district.

The developer presented renderings of a CVS Pharmacy styled like a 1940s garage to the Historic Landmark Commission two weeks ago. The drawings actually don’t look that bad. They look like an upscale CVS you’d see in Estes Park, CO, or Seaside, FL.

The outcry against CVS seems ubiquitous, but I haven’t heard what people want instead. The hole-in-the-wall is gone. Something else will be built. What should it be?

Public art sculptures? A museum? A gigantic Guadalupe bass with a six foot tall, wide-open mouth for tourists to take selfies in?

How about a restaurant with a deck overlooking Cibolo Creek? Several of those already exist within a stone’s throw of the site. A city park? There’s one across the street. A frozen yogurt shop? There’s one next door. A coffee shop and bakery? Try two doors down.

What about a boutique organic grocery or an outdoor gear outfitter?

Unfortunately, most of these ideas are not financially sustainable at this point. Like other businesses currently along Main, outside sources of income would be required for them to survive. For long-term prosperity, we need more economic viability, not less.

Other questions to ponder: How do we get dry goods and groceries to growing populations on the north and east sides of Boerne? Would it help traffic congestion to the south if we did? Would a series of smaller stores minimize the need for big boxes?

As for Main Street and River Road, an old-fashioned drugstore complete with diner-style grill and soda fountain milkshakes sounds good to me. If CVS will change its exterior to fit our historic district, maybe the pharmacy would retrofit its interior, too.

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

 

Bucket List Includes Rock & Roll Show

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I admit I don’t have much of a bucket list, besides keeping the floors mopped until the kid spills decrease.

And while I was born in Music City the week Elvis died, I don’t consume a lot of new music. My older sons laugh at how few artists are in my repertoire.

And I definitely don’t think of myself as a rocker, unless it’s on the front porch.

Still, I consider one band iconic. While the group is labeled a rock band, its work cuts across genres and decades. With its latest release, the four-man act has had a Billboard chart-topping album in each of the last four decades.

My wife was a fan long before I. So, she wasn’t a tough sell when I asked her to rendezvous with…drumroll, please…U2. “I was going With or Without You,” she said.

U2’s sweeping anthems have captured generations of music lovers. The songs land the band on Super Bowl halftime shows and outsized music festivals. Think “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

U2’s current tour is called eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE. At the concert, we didn’t hear all the classics. We did experience the heart and soul of U2’s vision and its mastery of technology and artistry.

While U2 scales every rhythm and melody to entertain at the highest levels, its lyrics are what draw me in, particularly the Biblical allusions. Lead singer Paul David Hewson (a.k.a. “Bono”) pens them.

“See the bird with a leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out” (from Beautiful Day)

“You broke the bonds, and you loosened chains, carried the cross of my shame” (from I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

Historical references reflect how much attention these guys pay to the world around them. They are always on a mission and are deeply affected by human suffering.

“Sometimes, I wake at four in the morning when all the darkness is swarming, and it covers me in fear…Sometimes, I’m full of anger and grieving, so far away from believing that any song will reappear” (from The Little Things That Give You Away)

Bono’s honesty keeps U2 rolling, real and relevant. He connects grief and terror from his youth with events of today. The death of his mother and the 1972 shootings in Northern Ireland impacted his young innocence.

And now, through experience, Bono entreats Americans to restore the American soul. There’s even a song by that name.

On the new album, he writes, “The slaves are lookin’ for someone to lead them, the master’s lookin’ for someone to need him, the promised land is there for those who need it most, and Lincoln’s ghost said, ‘Get out of your own way.’”

“Free yourself to be yourself,” he encourages in the song, Lights of Home.

“I want to be useful,” Bono said recently in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That is our family prayer… It is not the most grandiose prayer. It is just, ‘we are available for work.’ That is U2’s prayer. We want to be useful, but we want to change the world. And we want to have fun at the same time.”

While making good music, Bono and company appear to be keeping the faith, just not to themselves.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Boerne has welcomed progress before

Land developers often use blank slates for their exploits. They build ground-up on large swaths of vacant property. Think Orlando, Florida, or The Woodlands north of Houston.

Boerne’s different. We have what some fast-developing areas don’t. In a word, we have history. History gives a deeper character that can make growth meaningful, inviting and attractive. Some places must build history around growth. Boerne can shape growth around its history.

Some local businesses are building on Boerne’s past. Cibolo Creek Brewing is bringing Main Street to life like Max Beseler’s “Metropolitan Saloon” did starting in 1891. The saloon occupied the building where The Daily Grind now brews coffee.

Long-time Boerne resident Tommy Mathews is doing something similar in the former Bergmann Lumber building. Tusculum Brewing is “coming soon.”

Down Blanco Road, local florist Urban Flowers occupies a 1951 wood frame structure that builders Robert Thornton and Travis Roberson preserved in their recent commercial revitalization of the Schwarz homestead.

These business leaders don’t see progress as a threat to quality of life. Neither did many of their predecessors.

In Historic Images of Boerne, Garland Perry republished a San Antonio Daily Express article from March 1878 describing the arrival of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad in Boerne.

According to the story, six hundred San Antonians “of almost every imaginable race, color, sex and previous condition of servitude” boarded seven passenger coaches destined for the “mountains” of Boerne.

Riders enjoyed Lone Star beer during the two-hour trip that whistled to a stop at the end of Theissen Street just passed “Cibolo falls,” a series of water chutes downstream from present-day Cibolo Nature Center.

The Boerne brass band played as guests disembarked. Dr. W.G. Kingsbury un-reluctantly welcomed guests to “our little hamlet of Boerne.”

Kingsbury was was once tasked by the governor of Texas to recruit settlers to the state. He had offices in St. Louis, Missouri, and London, England.

According to Kingsbury, it was “so great a luxury to inhale [the] mountain air” that even if guests didn’t eat, they “would go home tonight declaring it the grandest holiday.”

“But such is not our intention,” Kingsbury relieved the audience. “Old men, young men, saints, sinners, Democrats and Republicans” had joined up to organize a barbecue dinner for the guests. The arrival of the rail line had the Boerne-ites in a “state of excitement never witnessed.”

Boerne understood the benefits the iron horse would bring. Travel times to San Antonio would be cut significantly. Greater quantities of goods could be delivered and stored to meet demand. Twice-daily mail and newspaper service would deliver new knowledge.

Kingsbury compared the train’s arrival to the biblical return of the prodigal son:

Let mirth and joy abound.

We once were lost, but now are found.

Our hills are iron bound.

“Go kill the fatted calf,” he urged.

The Daily Express reporter summed up the day’s festivities this way: “Nobody seemed to want to come home…The town was in a frolic, and is liable to keep it up for a day or two longer…If you want to have a jolly time, go to Boerne.”

It doesn’t sound like “Boerne Texas Gone Forever” was charcoaled to the rear of any horse-drawn wagon on the grounds that day.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

7 Ways to Improve Education

You’ve heard of the dog days of summer. Well, welcome to the dog days of school.

Standardized tests are almost done, but the standardized calendar is not. Daylight lingers longer, but attention spans do not. It’s a good time to review what works well and what wears us out.

Boerne ISD has its online parent satisfaction survey open through Friday. Superintendent Tommy Price is also assembling committees to set a new strategic direction for BISD. As the conversations unfold, here are seven ideas for improvement:

  1. Group elementary students by their birth quarter. In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell highlights the significant difference between success rates of people born just after an age cutoff and those born months later.

Teaching to the lowest common denominator is a common temptation in education. Grouping students of like ages, down to the month or quarter of their birth, will challenge high performers and help those who need extra attention.

  1. Teach more values. In a politically correct, pluralistic society, we’re better at teaching skills than values. I want my kids to have both.

If kids get values (honesty, hard work, discipline, service over self, respect for authority, etc.), they will acquire skills, even if it’s after they leave home. Knowledge and information aren’t limiting factors in our interconnected world. Character and wisdom are.

  1. Help kids develop a fierce mastery of technology. Boerne resident Kelly Newcom, author of http://www.BraveParenting.net, says smartphone pitfalls (pornography, bullying, addictive behavior) have dramatically increased incidences of suicide, self-harm and depression among kids nationwide.

Schools should carefully monitor and/or restrict device use on campuses and buses. Reducing dependence on smartphones will help kids master offline communication skills and sharpen the original supercomputer: the human brain.

  1. Transition to school uniforms. As decorum slides in our image-obsessed society, a move in the other direction would serve students well.

Uniforms work in third world countries and inner city charter schools. They work in pricey private and parochial schools. They will work in BISD. Let students express their independence and creativity in their work products, not in their attire.

  1. Close the gap between elementary and secondary start times. Elementary students shouldn’t have to go to school in the dark for half the year and then go to bed in the light the other half.

Various issues affect scheduling: bus routes, parental work schedules, morning and evening activities, student performance studies, etc. Still, start times closer to 8:00 am are ideal for all ages.

  1. Shorten middle school block periods. Hour and a half classes are too long, especially for boys. Teachers try to break up the monotony, and block schedules help with moving teachers between campuses, but we need a better way to organize the day.

7. Let the adults be adults. In our “customer is always right” world, the chief / tribesman line can get blurry.

Today, university students sit on regent boards and high schoolers help select principals. A mix of perspectives is beneficial, so long as the wisdom and expectations of the aged prevail.

***

Basic parenting is faltering in some circles. Educators are being asked to pick up the slack. They need our support and encouragement. They also need our input. The dog days of school are a great time to offer it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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