Saturday, April 21, 2012
Aggie Muster Speaker is Ron Domingue at Wood-Rains County A&M Club April 21, 2012
I'm honored that my sister, Sarah Medlin '93, asked me to speak to you today, but as soon as I accepted, I immediately began to stress over how I could weave an interesting, upbeat speech while not losing sight of the Aggie Muster theme of remembering lost or fallen Aggies. The first thing that came to mind is that I still remember my "Campusology" from my Fish Year in 1986:
Aggie Muster: On April 21 each year, on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, Aggies gather together, wherever they are, to commemorate fellow Aggies who have died during the year. The tradition was begun 21 April 1903.
So, let me begin with saying that I lost a couple of Aggie friends in the last year. The first is an Aggie friend who had been with me for over 20 years. This Aggie Buddy was at my wedding, my graduation & commissioning, the birth of my children and earning my wings of gold. Indeed, this Aggie Buddy accompanied me on my deployments to Africa and Turkey, and was even with me when I flew around the world in a C-130 aircraft. This special friend was with me when I lived abroad in Japan and again in Indonesia. In fact, my Aggie Buddy had been to 34 of those 36 countries you have read about in my bio. Of course, the Aggie Buddy I'm talking about is my Aggie Ring. Sadly, my Aggie Ring was lost forever to the Pentagon sewer system earlier this year. I stand here feeling naked, adrift even, without my Aggie Buddy of over 20 years.
How did he "go" you might ask? Well, I work in the Pentagon, and let's just say thanks to you all for for your tax dollars to support automatic-flush toilets in the Pentagon. But somehow my ring slipped off my finger, and faster than you can say "tsunami," my ring was swished away, and presumably now rests at the bottom of the Potomac River.
In all seriousness, I did lose a real-life Aggie Buddy this year: Jay Kregal, class of '89, lost his battle with kidney cancer and passed away on August 11 last year. But when I think of Jay, I don't dwell on his difficult struggle or on his passing. Jay was an Eagle Scout and Varsity Basketball player in high school. At A&M he was the Outstanding Freshman of the Year, a member of the Ross Volunteers, Deputy Corp Commander, and was elected to the Chi Epsilon National Honor Society. He was tall, lanky and always had a somewhat goofy smile. And that's how I remember him. I see him smiling. Which is exactly how I think he would want us to remember him. I will answer "here" for Jay tonight, and I will not linger on the sadness of his passing. I will focus on his strong spirit, his upright morality and his fantastic character. I will remember him as a leader, an Aggie and a friend. I will think of the good he had in life and the good that he shared. That is the point of Aggie Muster. We remember those fallen and mourn their loss, but we answer "here" to ensure their Spirits live on. In doing so, we ensure the Aggie Spirit and the memories of Aggieland endure.
So, in an effort to come up with something brilliant to say tonight, I decided not to talk about the "Life & Times of Lt.Col. Domingue," or "How Texas A&M helped me solve world hunger." No, instead, I want to offer a few random memories of my time as an undergrad at Texas A&M. Memories that include other Aggies (living and deceased) whom I recall fondly on this Muster evening. To help me do this, I put on some music that I listened to while I was a student at A&M and was reminded of how different music brings back different memories over the years. In no particular order, here are a few memories that came flooding back when I set my MP3 player on "Random Aggie Days":
Anytime I'd get homesick and missed my family in Louisiana, I'd listen to Cajun Music. That started pretty much on day one of Freshman Orientation Week, when they shaved my head. I stood in front of the mirror for a very long time, trying not to cry and thinking that I looked like a convict. My only consolation was that my roommate, James Kirby, looked even more like a criminal than I did. James was the Best Man at my wedding and is still on active duty in the Navy. Now, flash-forward to flight school when I received my flight suit and helmet. Again, I stood in front of the mirror, but with my helmet on and switching between clear and dark visors: daytime...nighttime...daytime...nighttime. That reminded me of my best friend Waylan Cain, who was Head Yell Leader our senior year. He and I were commissioned together and our careers have paralleled for 20 years. He went off to fly F-18s while I went to fly C-130s. He's married and has 4 children. Waylan is in San Diego and will retire from the Marine Corps this summer.
Running With The Devil: Van Halen
We used to hear it every day during Freshman Orientation Week, and any running event I did with Company D-1 or the D-1 Devils. We also used to listen to it while getting the unit psyched-up prior to March-Ins before home football games. And it reminded me of Mike Hahn, who was D-1 Class of '88 and was a total spaz: skinny, red-headed with freckles, excitable and fun! Mike passed away of Leukemia while in Jet Flight School as a Navy Ensign. But what I remember most about Mike was his amazing balance. We used to do "carrier quals" in the dorm hallways. We'd spread a layer of soapy water down the hall and see how far the Fish could slide on their bare bellies before being stopped at the end by the other Fish holding up elastic belts. Mike Hahn could slide further down the hall while standing on his bare feet than the Fish could on their stomachs. That's how I remember Mike.
My sophomore year, some of our classmates from another unit lost their stereo privileges, and we had to keep their speakers in our room. Darn the luck! So we connected their speakers to our already loud stereo., I remember my roommate, James, playing the stereo so loud that the helicopter sounded like it was outside our window. People were coming out of the dorm looking for the real thing. That was loud! We were bummed out when our buddies got their privileges back...
My senior year in Dorm 12 on the quad, with a fourth floor corner room that had a direct view of Aggie Bonfire when it was still build on Duncan Field. My roommate, Mike Potter, and I threw one helluva party that night! I remember Deanne Bullard and her roommates joined us. We started there, went to bonfire & then back to the room with more friends for some more partying. Mike is living outside of Houston, is married with 2 kids and doing well. Deanne is married and we just reconnected on FaceBook after 20 years!
I was introduced to that the summer I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS). Alan James was my roommate that summer. The music proved helpful, as I did a fair bit of praying in the midst of the "fun" that was OCS! Alan married his college sweetheart, Leigh, and is now a Lt.Col. in the Marine Corps Reserves and works for Stryker instruments in Round Rock.
Whenever I needed to escape or I as missing my fiancee, Beth, in Louisiana, I'd listen to music like this. I distinctly remember sitting at my desk my senior year, listening to this song and looking out the window at the bonfire stack, thinking how much I wanted to be on the stack, and not studying! Mike Potter was a good roommate and he helped me make the right decision. We went to work on bonfire stack.
Summer of 1990 when I was a part-time DJ for Texas A&M radio station KANM 99.9 FM Cable: "I'm Ronnie-D, you're tuned to...and this is the alternative for Bryan/College Station." Melissa Allison and I were supposed to be DJs together, but she couldn't handle the midnight to 3 am gig, so I did it alone. Probably for the better, because at that time, the station was only broadcast on cable, so I'm 100% sure no one was listening to me. But I still had fun. Melissa married a fellow C-130 pilot and lives somewhere in Fort Worth: We share Christmas cards each year.
The summer of 1990, when I got married and my wife and I heard that song every 30 minutes as we drove to Florida on our honeymoon. The song reminds me of the wedding, of course, but since I was still a student at A&M, it brings back fond memories of my D-1 buddies. All of them, plus a few others came to the wedding in New Orleans..and to the Bachelor Party the night before. And that's all I'll say about that.
I played recreational soccer at Texas A&M on at last two teams every semester I was there. One night we had an indoor soccer game at the same time that R.E.M. was performing in G. Rollie White Coliseum. The back wall of the Coliseum served as the back ball of the stage, as well as the side wall of our indoor soccer court. For the entire game, we could hear R.E.M. perfectly in the court. We lost that game, but man , it rocked! Come to think of it, that doesn't remind me of anyone in particular, but man it rocked!
And I could go on and on, but in almost every case, the memory (happy, sad, fun, mad, etc.) included a Buddy or a friend from Texas A&M. The bond we Aggies share is special. It runs deep, and unless you're part of that family, you'll probably never be able to appreciate it.
OK, full disclosure: When I first went to A&M, it was because I wanted to take advantage of my ROTC scholarship and go to a great school. But I was adamant that I wasn't going to be "brainwashed" into the Whole Aggie Thing. That determination lasted about two weeks. Week one was Fish Camp, where I learned yells and songs and met other timid Aggie Freshmen, all the while running around going "Aaaaaaaaayyyyyy" and thinking: Yeah, I'm really not getting into this! Week two was Freshman Orientation Week with the Corps of Cadets. They shaved my head, taught me to march and spit-shine shoes. After that, my life was not my own and any dream of remaining aloof from the Aggie Way was pretty much shot to hell. You either convert or you go home: I converted. And thank God I did! My Aggie Spirit runs deep and I treasure the friendships that have grown out of my time at Aggieland.
Last summer, one of my Fish Buddies, Patrick Tansey, retired after 20 years in the Marine Corps. A few buddies and I went to the retirement ceremony and ensuing party at his house. Being Buddies, we of course had to play a practical joke. This particular prank involved a non-running Karman Ghia sports car, Christmas lights (in July), a children's parade and pretty much everyone who ever knew Patrick. Suffice it to say: My Buddy received a letter of complaint from his Homeowner's Association, and was given 30 days to remove the car. Among my Buddies, we call that a "Win!" Whoop!
My son, Oran, who was just weeks away from entering college at SCAD, helped us with the setup and execution of our "Pullout," as we called it in the Corps of Cadets. He was absolutely in awe of our friendship and our love for one another. After that night, Oran commented: Man, Dad, I hope I have friends in college like you did. I'm pretty sure he was sincere and not speaking sarcastically about the twisted but fun way in which we show that friendship. So, I answered sincerely: I hope you do, and I meant that. What I did not say is that in order to have friends like mine, you've got to be an Aggie. For me, Muster is the strongest reminder of the friends and Aggie Buddies I have, whether they are still with us or already moved on to greener pastures. It's a fellowship that's not found in any other organization, except perhaps the USMC.
Meanwhile, I'm always eager to make new Aggie friends, either here tonight, at future Aggie events, in the workplace, or...when the postman comes to visit next month with my replacement Aggie Ring.
On that issue, I look forward to sharing a whole new group of life experiences with my new Aggie Buddy. If nothing else, I've already got my first new memory, and that's how much it costs to buy a new Aggie Ring: Try $1,600.00 for a replacement Aggie Ring! So, for you Aggie Moms out there who can't believe how much it costs you to replace your daughter's lost Smart Phone? Yeah, you've got nothin' on me! I just hope my new Aggie Buddy appreciates what I had to do to get a new ring, because that's a lot of beer at the Dixie Chicken!!!
Thank you very much for inviting me here tonight, and Gig 'Em Aggies!