A week ago, while cleaning out my basement, I found an old box full of photos that I'd taken during 1982 and 1983 while a member of the U.S. Army and a student at the Defense Language Institute. Ever since then I've been tracking down long-lost classmates from those days, most of whom I hadn't spoken or written to in 25 years. I'd sometimes wondered over the years 'what ever happened to old so-and-so?' Now, thanks to social networking resources that didn't exist way back when, I'm beginning to learn what that particular cohort of young troops have done with their lives in the years since we lost track of one another.
While I still have many old friends yet to track down, the results so far affirm my faith in my fellow military linguists. The youngest of the group returned home after completing his initial tour of duty, went to college and law school, and is now back on active duty as a JAG lawyer. Another is now an aeronautical engineer working for Raytheon. One is a successful accountant in Florida. One is a speech pathologist working with disabled children. One is the mother of three children and grandmother of one, as well as a teacher. One is a Deputy U.S. Marshal. One is back at DLI, having gone on to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard after completing her enlistment, and then becoming a senior civilian official at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. One has remained on active duty the whole time and is now a Command Sergeant Major (that one particularly impresses me; the Army will make almost anybody a General, but it makes very few people CSMs).
Another of my old friends, one who I used to think was the most staid and somber of us all, completed an overseas tour in signals intelligence and then went to law school and became a practicing attorney. Being a man of many interests, he soon developed a secondary career as a songwriter, performer and producer of alternative rock, acoustic-based psychedelic pop, and electronic music. During the late 1990s he was a pioneer of the web-based independent music business, helping artists connect directly to their consumers via the then-new media of CDs, internet radio and on-line distribution. In 2001, he and his group played live at Bob Dylan's 60th birthday celebration in Minneapolis. He hosted a podcast about indie music for a number of years, is an avid motorcycle rider, dabbles in many artistic fields, and all the while has remained an active member of the legal bar. Now, that is what I call a Renaissance Man!
Most of us married, often to fellow DLI students (it isn't called the Defense Love Institute for nothing). A number of those marriages ended early, but I've found three DLI couples who are still going strong after 27 years, including me and my DLI girlfriend, Mrs. TSB.
Looking at photos of us all back then - young men and women standing in formation on the parade ground, studying in classrooms, doing physical training in the afternoons, listening to language tapes at night, having cookouts on the beach near the school, drinking together at local hang-outs, escaping on weekends to the Monterrey Peninsula or the Napa Valley - and reconnecting with old friends, has been a fine way to mark the passage of time.