The Best Job in the US Army (for me) – Rutgers Army ROTC!

Last week I dabbled in my magic world of RUNet 2000 at Rutgers University (remember Mike Fox) and mentioned I would talk more about that great project and the great people I met working at Rutgers in a later post. This post is not that post.

There will be quite a few posts highlighting my days at Rutgers. We will talk about RUNet 2000, my friend Joe Percoco and his great “Midnight Confession” story which enabled me to be seen on camera with Jay Leno, my personal experiences with a great leader (and past and now current Rutgers head football coach) Greg Schiano, the great “secret fiber on the NJ Turpike” story, a personal story about a friendship I made with a great former midshipman and retired admiral, Joe Sestak, and much more.

However, today’s topic is the US Army ROTC Rutgers University Scarlet Knight Battalion. Say what you say? That’s right, Army ROTC. That’s where my 36 year affiliation with Rutgers University began, starting in 1984 through today as a retired Rutgers University employee. Not only that, today, May 19, 2020 is the commissioning ceremony for the current graduating class of army second lieuteneants from the Scarlet Knight Battalion. GO SCARLET KNIGHTS!!!

Unit Crest worn by cadre and cadets of the Rutgers University Army ROTC Battalion

Before I talk about my escapades as an Army ROTC instructor, it is important to understand how important the “team concept” is for those of us in the armed forces. At West Point, Army football is a BIG DEAL! And the Army/Navy football game is the BIGGEST DEAL!!! So, as a lead-in to my Army/Rutgers days, I just have to share a photo which I absolutely love because I was at this particular game when Army beat Navy a couple of years ago. In the army we train cadets and soldiers how important proper cameflouge techniques are, and Army certainly nailed it on this occasion!

So, I reported to Rutgers Army ROTC duty in New Brunswick, NJ for the first time in the summer of 1984. Most of the officers assigned to Army ROTC at Rutgers were down at Ft. Bragg, NC serving at the “advanced camp”. Advanced camp was a six week training program that brought cadets from the entire East Coast Army ROTC programs together where they took turns fulfilling field training leadership positions. For a cadet, doing well at advanced camp made a difference in the future assignment the cadet/future army officer would get upon commissioning and graduation. Cadets attended advanced camp during their final summer in college, just ten months before most of them either went into the army reserves or active duty.

How Rutgers cadets performed at advanced camp was also a reflection on how well the officers and non-commissioned assigned to Rutgers Army ROTC were doing their jobs. In other words, our report card as officers, or officer efficiency rating (OER) was tied to our cadets’ performances at advanced camp! Risky business! As Rutgers cadre, our challenge was to send all of our cadets down to Ft Bragg in hopes of them all gaining top leadership scores. Grading was done on a 5 point scale, with “5” being the best. There were very few scores of 5 or 4, while most cadets earned a “3” rating. Below a “3” meant you had serious leadership challenges. As a large university from the Northeast, Rutgers cadets were actually competing with cadets from the likes of Virginia Military Academy, the Citadel, along with all of the other East Coast schools from the South, where the weather was more conducive for summer training preparation and military was more encouraged by the local populace then it was in New Jersey. Recruiting and training, the two areas that officers assigned to Army ROTC battalions were evaluated by, was a tough road to hoe for us at Rutgers.

My first year at Rutgers Army ROTC was a challenging but rewarding one. I taught the MS IV class (seniors). These cadets had just returned from advanced camp and each had done their best. As the instructor for the senior class, my job wasn’t tied directly to what each of us officers were actually evaluated on….. making our recruiting numbers and school ranking vis-s-vis other schools at advanced camp. My biggest accomplishment my first year was becoming faculty advisor of one of Rutgers University’s premier “clubs”, the Rutgers University Queens Guard Precision Rifle Drill Team.

Rutgers University Queens Guard Presenting Arms in Edinburg, Scotland

As faculty advisor of the Queens Guard, I got to travel with the team, the best in the world, to their overseas performances at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1985 and at the 150th celebration of the State of South Australia in 1986. I am pictured with the team photo at the Tattoo in 1985 (back row far right).

Travelling with the Queens Guard was exciting and challenging and will be the subject of another post. Back to me and Army ROTC.

Army ROTC “Patch”

After one year (and two advanced camps) at Rutgers Army ROTC, the Scarlet Knight was ranked in the bottom 10% in both “quality and quantity”. Quality referred to the composite average leadership scores of the advanced camp cadets and quantity referred to the number of new cadets we brought into the program. Having been there a full year it appeared to me that we needed to make some changes. We were about to receive a new Professor of Military Science (the lead officer of Rutgers Army ROTC) in August of 1985. I approached the new boss, a 1966 West Point graduate named LTC Michael V. McKay with a bold recommendation. Having never met LTC McKay, I was a little reticent to make a major recommendation right off the bat, but I felt we didn’t have time to lose as the students (who we needed to recruit into the ROTC program) would be back on campus in a week or so.

I loved teaching Army ROTC, but I also felt that we as a unit were not putting enough focus on recruiting and training. No one person had accountability for either very important effort, other than the boss himself. The first time I met LTC McKay I recommended that we change the structure of the Rutgers Army ROTC cadre assignments. I asked him to put me personally in charge of both recruiting and training, but in order to give those important areas my focused attention, I would need to be pulled out of my teaching duties in the classroom. Without hesitation, our new leader made the change and my new job was to get more and better students in the door and train them better than we were able to do previously.

Prior to LTC McKay’s arrival, I had worked tirelessly with Professor of Military Science LTC Bob Fazen (now mayor of Boundbrook, NJ) to increase Rutgers administration support of Army ROTC. A most significant event, the approval of the ROTC Advisory Council, occurred in 1985, which helped lay the groundwork for continued Rutgers support for the ROTC program. In April of that year, Rutgers University approved the awarding of $1700 per year to those 4-year ROTC scholarship winners who attended Rutgers. Additionally, Dean James Reed of Rutgers College (who once personally signed over 500 letters to top Rutgers students in support of Army ROTC) authorized $500 scholarships per year to a maximum of three exceptional prospects. The influence of the ROTC Advisory Board was also a great factor in the approval of six credits to those students who complete Basic Camp.

Armed with the knowledge that Rutgers University was supporting our efforts, we did a full court press finding and bringing in the best prospects for Rutgers and our Army ROTC program. We asked for our existing cadets to volunteer to team up with prospective cadets, both in high school and current Rutgers students and give them a personal tour of the campus and of our program.

Adding focus to our recruiting and training efforts was what we needed. And the results proved it!

In just two years, the Rutgers Army ROTC program went from the BOTTOM 10% in training and BOTTOM 10% in recruiting out of over 100 schools on the East Coast to TOP 10% in BOTH RECRUITING AND TRAINING! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!

All of this is great stuff, but I must tell you what Paul Harvey used to call …THE REST OF THE STORY…

Rutgers Army ROTC was technically an active duty military assignment, controlled by the Department of the Army. Our “Army ROTC Building” at 157 College Ave in New Brunswick, NJ was owned by Rutgers, but we ran our own operation. We were attached to the Faculty of Professional Sciences (FPS) for some things, but by and large we were left alone.

That independence enabled us (me) to do some creative things to raise support funds for our program. One huge opportunity came when I took over recruiting. Rutgers, in 1985 signed a new contract with Pepsi Cola, replacing Coca Cola every where on campus. Like I said, we were pretty much left alone and when the university replaced all of the hundreds of Coke machines with brand new Pepsi machines, they left ours alone. So there we were, with the only Coke machine for miles around right there on the front porch of our ROTC home at 157 College Ave.

Where “Old Coke” machine stood an the front porch of 157 College Ave.

Of course, you know what happened next….we started selling Coke like crazy…we couldn’t keep up with the demand. It was a cash cow for us. An astute Pepsi sales director paid me a visit, knowing he couldn’t force me to take his product (we weren’t really Rutgers, we were Army), and made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse…

I remember this sharp dressed man coming up our stairs and coming inside the building looking for who was “in charge”. I told him that I was (I really wasn’t, but nobody gets to waste the colonel’s time without me vetting them first). It turns out he was the “Pepsi” guy. He offered me an impossibly ridiculous low price for his Pepsi product that his folks would keep stocked, and we would just keep the profit. He assured me we were getting a better deal than the university as a whole. The only caveat was that he would have to take our Coke machine away.

Location, location, location….our real estate, right accoss the street from the College Avenue Gym (knicknamed “The Barn”) where students stood in add-drop lines for hours in the hot September days was the perfect place for a Pepsi or Coke machine. But when you have the ONLY Coke machine, the law of supply and demand make it a Coke sellers market!

I thought about the Pepsi man’s offer, and made him a deal. I told him, “you don’t have to cart that old rusty Coke machine out of here, just bring it to the back of the building, it’s all junky back there anyway.” He was happy to save the labor cost and gladly accepted my offer and within a week we had a brand new Pepsi maching on the front porch at 157 College Ave. We were making money to support our recruiting efforts HOORAY! After the dust cleared a little, we made a make-shift sign and placed it next to the Pepsi machine. The sign read “COKE MACHINE OUT BACK!!”. We ran an extension cord out the back door and plugged in the Coke machine, not far from the old horizontal ladder where cadets would train. We started making more quarters than the federal mint! We were definately supporting our cadets!

Back of 157 College Ave where old Coke machine flourished

We made so much money (how much money you ask?)(keep reading) that we even had enough for one of our senior cadets (who had a private pilot’s license) to rent an airplane and fly over West Point the week of the Army Rutgers football game. (Remember, football was a big deal). He dropped hundreds of professionally made red and black flyers which had a Scarlet Knight pictured spearing a Black Knight and a quote saying Rutgers ARMY ROTC says “Go Rutgers Beat Army!”. The flyers were dropped all over the West Point cadet corps during their lunchtime formation and our hero pilot, on his second pass, noticed cadets everywhere bending down to pick up the flyers!.

The second half of the mission was to also drop thousands of flyers over the Rutgers College Avenue campus (getting the local students excited about Rutgers Army ROTC). Unfortunately, part two wasn’t quite as successful as the beautiful red flyers ended up missing their target and reportedly landed in the Raritan River. Sadly, no Rutgers students (our target audiance) knew anything about our recruiting flyers :-(. So I would say that then Cadet Kauza, got a “3” or maybe a “4” that day (remember effort doesn’t count, only results count).

The final chapter of our recruiting story set the groundwork for helping today’s Rutgers Scarlet Knight Battalion and Queens Guard in raising money. Please stay with me, this is important…

Back to LTC McKay…after our boss got acclamated to his surroundings, he got to know each of us closely. As a servant leader, he made a habit of coming to us as opposed to us reporting to his office. In my office stood (sat) a huge five foot tall, four foot wide vault with this huge handle and combination dial. It was an imposing structure. When the boss asked what the safe was for, I told him it stored our money from the Coke and Pepsi machines. Then came the zinger question. He said, But Joe, “How do you account for those funds?” I opened the safe and showed him several cardboard boxes filled with quarters, several hundred dollars worth. I said, ” Sir, I don’t have time to count those quarters”. He got very serious very fast and said, ” Oh, yes you do, and you will!” After counting all the money and getting all of the quarters wrapped in quarter rolls, I went to the Rutgers administration and we decided to start a group know as the “Friends of Army ROTC”. The money would be accounted for through the university. We made the initial deposit and then took over rolled quarters every week from that point on!

So, fast forward to today…The current Rutgers Army ROTC program is supported through the Rutgers University Foundations accounting. They are producing tomorrow’s army officers, along with other ROTC programs and West Point.

Rutgers Army ROTC Today

I hope you will consider supporting Rutgers Army ROTC or the Queens Guard Precision Drill Team by:


or by sending a check to:

Accounting Department
Rutgers University Foundation
120 Albany Street Plaza
Tower 1/Suite 201
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

You can choose to support any one of four affiliated organizations now:

  1. Army ROTC Memorial Award
  2. Army ROTC Program Support,
  3. Queens Guard Support Fund, or
  4. Queens Guard Alumni Support Special Projects Fund

So, congratulations to the brand new US Army lieutenants who are being commissioned through the Rutgers Army ROTC program! I am proud of you, and proud to be a part of the history of the Rutgers Army ROTC program and the Queens Guard Prisision Drill Team! Go Scarlet Knights!


Joseph R. Sanders, LTC(R), US Army, formerly Captain Sanders Rutgers Army ROTC and Queens Guard Advisor, 1984 – 1987

Space – My Final Post about the Final Frontier (Probably)

Why is space sometimes referred to as “the Final Frontier”. I do not know, except that 1) it is far away, and 2) there is no air out there! I can’t help but share with you a photo of a gift from a co-worker, Mike Fox of Tishman Technologies. Mike worked with me back in my earlier Rutgers days as we were building the Rutgers telecommunications network. Our project was a $98.3 million, four year project known as RUNet 2000. I’ll probably write about RUNet 2000, but that will be in a future post. 1

Back to Mike Fox…..Mike is an excellent project/contruction manager and a real stand-up guy. We share an unfortunate background of both having lost a son. Mike’s son passed away while working with me and I knew that I wanted to support Mike emotionally. I remembered Woody Hayes’ advice that “You don’t win with technology, you win with people.” So as project director of RUNet 2000 (a technology project), I commandeered a “Rutgers” bus, asked for volunteers to go with me to Mike’s son’s wake, and 43 people headed for Union, NJ from New Brunswick. Mike, a “man’s man” as we used to say, saw each one of us dismount the bus and walk into the funeral home. Mike broke down. I knew he felt our love…………more about Mike. Mike was a great artist as well, which is why he made this post. Back to space, Mike drew the below picture highlighting why space travel isn’t that easy, take a look:

Artist Mike Fox, donated to Joe Sanders in 2001

So, back to space…I mentioned that space is far away, past the birds and airplanes and Wizard of Oz balloons…. everything that exists within the earth’s atmosphere. Of course , there is a story before the story here…..

The Spring of 1972 was a very unusual time for me. A high school senior, I had been accepted into West Point’s Class of 1976 while our country was still involved in Vietnam. After being assured of this full-ride scholarship, (later, as cadets we used to compare a full ride scholarship to West Point to getting $50,000 jammed up your butt a nickel at a time!), I blew off academics and high school baseball (I had lettered the year before and chose not to play my senior year) and I spent from March 1972 till the day I left for West Point (end of May 1972) going to Red Wings hockey games and rock concerts (Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, Black Sabbath, Yes, the Moody Blues, to name a few). That was a long sentence. I do not regret blowing things off one bit, I knew I was heading for a rough summer at West Point’s “Beast barracks”. I celebrated my high school accomplishments and prepared for the next, very serious, phase of my life. I knew I was going to be seriously tested in the summer of 1972, and friends and loved ones did everything they could to encourage me to “reach for the sky and keep my feet on the ground” as Casey Kasum would say as he signed off the air of the America’s Top Forty show. One friend, and I do not remember who, gave me a signed copy of the inspiring Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story:

Time for the main attraction…outer space…

We are all familiar with the story of Apollo 13. Now THOSE guys were (are) heros. Jim Lovell (Class of 1952, US Naval Academy), Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise braved almost certain death as they piloted their spacecraft safely back to earth after an explosion had seriously diminished their air supply. You certainly remember Tom Hanks playing the part of James Lovell in the movie “Apollo 13”.

I was fortunate enough to attend a Cisco Networkers conference in Vancouver in 1999 while working for Rutgers. James Lovell and Fred Haise were both there as the keynote speakers as the closing event of the conference. The two of them tag teamed with each other as they discussed much of what we saw in the movie.

Apollo 13 astronauts Commander James Lovell and Fred Haise

You may recall in the movie, when the spacecraft was on the far side of the moon, Tom Hanks telling one of the other astronauts that he “might want to put that camera away so we can get back home”. Of that scene, James Lovell told our conference attendees, “Those weren’t my exact words.” I can only imagine what this “Old Corps” 1952 Naval Academy grad might have ACTUALLY have said to get the other astronaut’s attention during that stressful moment!

The conference ended and I caught the cab to the Vancouver airport to catch my flight back to Newark, NJ (changing planes in Chicago). As I settled in at the gate waiting to board the plane, I glanced over and saw our American hero, James Lovell, just arriving in the gate area to board the same flight as me! As shy as I am, (NOT), I walked up to Mr Lovell and introduced myself. “Mr. Lovell, I am Joe Sanders, a West Point grad and I hope you won’t hold that against me! But, I was at the Cosco conference where you just spoke. May I have your autograph?”. He chuckled, and replied,” Sure Joe, and thank you for your service.” Imagine that, this national hero thanking ME for MY service!!!!! You can’t make this stuff up. He signed the only book I had with me from the conference and we bade each other good luck. It suddenly dawned on me that if our plane crashed, I would die on the same flight as James Lovell, who could get a wounded bird back out of space, but couldn’t save us on a plane here on earth! Thank God we arrived safely in Chicago!

So friends, that ends my story of the final frontier. In a previous post I sarcastically mentioned that no Naval Academy grad story was worthy of being in the same story as a West Point story. But whether you are Woody Hayes of Ohio State or James Lovell of the Naval Academy origin, this born-in-Michigan and trained at West Point man has the utmost respect for both of you, and all of you! We are Americans and each serve to make this country and world a better place.

Stay tuned for more stories about great Americans that I have met including Joe Paterno, Gordie Howe (Canadian by birth), Joe Sestak, and comedian Jay Leno. See you soon!

All the best my friends,


French, Drinking, and Space – Tallman, Borman, and Beyond!

OK folks, I must say I have been bouyed by your responses to my earlier blog posts. Much of the feedback is coming from Facebook and from Linked-In. Which reminds me of a story (DUH)…. and today’s topic is NOT Linked-In. However, my first paragraph is about when I retired from my last permanent job as an IT director at Rutgers University. After I retired, my lovely wife Helen was a little concerned for me as I wasn’t mentally ready to look for full time work. That, plus some medical issues at the time was making life difficult. I remember her trying to keep my mind in the game when she said one day, “Joe you really should update your Linked-In profile”. I replied, “Linked-In! Hell, I’ve Checked OUT!!!”….Even in the worst of times, I’ve been able to find some humor in every situation in my life.

I remember one day one of my distant relatives asked me on Facebook, “Joey, why do you still look like a teenager?” I replied, “Cuz, because I still ACT like a teenager!”

Joe Sanders on his 60th birthday (give or take a few or more decades)

OK, time to get real….starting with this photo of me marching punishment tours for getting caught drinking alcohol at West Point (that was a no-no).

West Point Cadet Century Man

So, what is the title of this post all about? Believe it or not, there is a link between it all, so stay tuned.

You may recall my last post “Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an astronaut!” (If you haven’t, read it now and then come back).

So the above picture represents a portion of the punishment that West Point cadets undergo when they act like criminals (like taking a sip of alcohol). I mentioned in earlier posts that I was unlucky in that I was 2-2 when it came to drinking at West Point (see previous post entitled “Silver linings often turn gold! or “Charlie 234 where are you?”)(Again, if you haven’t read it yet, read it now and come back) (Are you getting the idea cadet? Read ALL of my posts).

Well, my first episode of drinking at West Point was actually during the last month of my plebe year, in May 1973. I had made a strategic decision to barricade myself in my room for most of April working on a huge paper for my French class (This is the only tie in to French, no pretty girls this time). I skipped socializing (going to the plebe “hops” four weekends in a row working on this damn French paper (I should have listened to Mr. Carinci), and by the time I was finished my French assignment it was already May! I could not wait to go to my first “plebe hop” in months! At West Point, “plebes” or freshman do not socialize with upper classmen (sophomores, juniors, and seniors), so there were two dances or “hops” each Saturday night (Remember, “Let’s go to the Hop!”?). One hop was for plebes with ladies bussed in from local colleges or high schools and one hop was for upperclassmen and smarter ladies bussed in from local colleges. (I said “smarter” ladies because they had figured out that meeting a plebe wasn’t as much fun as meeting someone closer to graduating).

SO finally the rest of the story…. I went to the plebe hop a little late in the evening, looking as Toby Keith would say for “A little less talk and a lot more action”. (Don’t worry, there isn’t much action at a plebe hop) I walked in and immediately felt elated. The music was playing “I’m your Captain” by Grand Funk Railroad, plebe year would soon be over, and I was ready to party! I asked a girl to dance and she said yes!!!. We danced for a good amount of time until it was time for a break. She was acting pretty friendly (which was fine with me). During the break, I met her girlfriend who appeared equally friendly, and a classmate I had not met before, Chuck Leyman. We chatted and it was obvious that THEY were having a GREAT time. I had to ask, “Have you been drinking?” Chuck said, Yes, do you want some?” Of course, I was game, so the four of us left the hop at Cullum Hall, turned right onto the sidewalk, and headed towards the Hudson River. Actually, we transcended down this little path know as Flirtation Walk, or “Flirtie”. That is where they had their alcohol stashed. (By the way, Flirtie is OFF LIMITS to plebes, so we were already taking a chance just being there!).

We got to the drinking site and Chuck handed me the bottle of vodka and said “you first, we’ve already had some.” I raised the bottle to my lips and nothing came out until I raised it to the sky. I got ONE lousy sip, while the other three had polished off 99%(maybe 98%) of the bottle earlier in the evening! I was pissed! This was what I call a “long run for a short slide!”

What happened next changed my life for ever (or at least for two years). The four of us proceeded back to the sidewalk and headed back to Cullum Hall to rejoin the hop. I walked with my “date” about 20 feet ahead of Chuck and his date. I was escorting the lady properly, my left forearm extended for her to grasp, leaving the right arm free for saluting if an offficer approached. The cadet hostess (who taught our cadetiquette classes) would have been proud of me!

Then, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened! I needed eyeglasses, but was to vain to wear them on a Saturday night at the hop, so my vision wasn’t the best. But even blurred vision couldn’t mask the fact that two big “striper dogs” (cadets from the senior class with a lot of rank) where walking towards us. I knew enough to greet them with the obligatory “Good Evening Sir”. As the two striper dogs passed me and my lady, I recognized them…First Captain Joe Tallman and his room mate, Mr. Newsom. After the two of them passed by us, I instructed my date to keep walking and not to look back. Behind us was a very drunk Fourth Class Cadet Chuck Lehman who had his arms all over and around his date, alone which would get him written up for PDA (Public Display of Affection). I knew that Tallman would stop him and smell the vodka and I didn’t want any part of what was to about to take place. Sure enough, Tallman and Newsom stopped Lehman and his date, and my date couldn’t help but turn around to see what was going on with the girlfriend who had accompanied her to the hop. I told her again to keep moving and not to look back, but it was too late. Newson said “Mister, Halt”. I ignored him till he tapped me on the shoulder and said in a louder voice, MISTER HALT!!”. I stopped in my tracks, turned around, stood at rigid attention, and he said to me “How about you?” I knew exactly what he meant, but the stakes were too high to assume. This was before Breaking Bad, so there was no hope. I said, “Sir, I do not understand”. (A plebe has only four authorized responses when an upperclassman asks a question – 1)Yes Sir, 2)No Sir, 3)No excuse sir, and 4) Sir, I do not understand.) Newsom retorted, “Have you been drinking?” I knew that the test for .08% wasn’t the definition of “drinking West Point style”, it was more like .00000000001%” So, knowing that the consequences for not telling the truth was expulsion, I stated “Yes, sir”. He promptly told me to “Report to Central Guard Room at Taps.” I said “Yes Sir!”

Brigade of Cadets Commander Joe Tallman (left) and his roommate Gary Newsom

It was about 10:30pm at this point and taps wasn’t untill 1:00am. I had a plan….I politely bade my date farewell, and headed back to my room to shine my shoes, begin drinking Listerine, and prepare to impress whoever I would be seeing at 1:00am.

At 12:50 I headed to Central Guard room and stood at attention awaiting my fate. At 1:00am, Chuck Lehman stumbled in, still stinking of alcohol. He must have had another bottle somewhere as he couldn’t even stand up straight when the OC (Officer in Charge) approached us. I felt like I was going to “beat this” charge as Chuck, unfortunately for him, was being questioned by the OC, who just happened to be his cadet company’s TAC officer. I stood at attention the whole time while Chuck took some TAC officer harassment. We were both released and I returned to my barrackes, hopeful that the OC was impressed by my shined shoes, close shave, and non-alcohol smelling breath.

I also thought that my case was a solid example of the misuse of the honor code against me, something known as an “improper question”, something akin to conducting a search without having probable cause. I brought my case to our Company H-2 Commander, Reddy Hobby, whose roommate, Mr. Wineland was on the Brigade Honor committee. After hearing my story, they both agreed that I was subject to an “improper question” and forwarded my case to the Brigade Honor Board. After all, I exhibited no signs of having had had any alcohol. (and I really had only one swig) until my date looked back and caught Newsom’s eye.

So, a brigade honor board, led by Joe Tallman (alone) investigated in Joe Tallman’s room. Newsom, Tallman’s roommate, was the Brigade honor rep and was also the sole “witness” to the event. Tallman had me tell my story, and then he had Newsom tell his story. I will never forget the heat in my left ear when Newsome ended his story with a loud, threatening (this was before the term bullying was popular) statement ” AND THERE WAS NO IMPROPER QUESTION!!!!”. Tallman sided with his roomate and the result was that Chuck and I both got the same penalty…66 punishment tours (known as walking the area), three months of room confinement, and 25 demerits. As today’s cadets like to say, it was my turn to “embrace the suck”, because this situation REALLY SUCKED!!”. But, I’m over it now, really.

Yup, I posted this photo twice for effect, look at all of those stripes! I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell!

So we’ve talked about french class, and drinking, how is this jaun (that’s a Philly word for thing, just sayin’) related to space? Stay tuned, now the rest of the rest of the story!

Punishment tours at West Point are reserved for the academic year. Normally there are two tours (or hours) after classes on Friday plus three hours after classes and parade on Saturday for a total of 5 per week/weekend. So, the 66 tours roughly equates to the three months of concurrent room confinement.

I told you earlier that my enfraction of the sacred cadet rules occured towards the end of my plebe year. As of June 6, 1973, our class was released for a month of leave (PARTY!!! and DRINKING!!!) before returning to West Point for two months of field training at Camp Buckner, about tem miles from the academic area. Instead of walking punishment tours, we were assigned to “work details” in our field uniforms.

The mini-story that follows is a description of what happened during my summer “punishment tours” and was written by classmate Mark Nelson, whose memory is better than mine.

Mark states,” It was a miserable summer. Having received a Commandant’s Board and slug for 44 punishment hours just before before the Recognition Parade (the recognition parade meant we were officially part of the upperclasses as another lot of plebes would be reporting in within the month), I spent every free hour at Summer Camp (Buckner)  either on confinement to my tent (2d Co) or on weekend work detail.  Picking up the trash (beer cans, used condoms, etc) on B Squad Flirty was getting pretty old.  

Then one Saturday, we few, we band of punished brothers (of which Sanders was one), were told to report to the motor pool to get on some deuce and a halfs, bound for West Point proper.  The job: Dismantle and stack the bleachers surrounding the parade field (The Plain).    Two guys from ’74 – also on punishment  tours – were in charge of the detail.   They were Bumpy Borman (son of the astronaut) and Mike Tixier.   

We 10-20 guys spent one hot sweaty Saturday moving the stands into piles of planks and parts.  When the task was over, we got back on the trucks, looking forward to confinement back at Buckner in our barracks, while our unpunished classmates water skied and basked at the beach on Lake Popolopen.  

Halfway back to camp, the truck pulled into a convenience store in Ft Montgomery.  Tixier came to the back of the truck and gave us his helmet liner, told us to throw some bucks in it. Some (most) (Sanders definately) did; soon the liner was full of greenbacks.  Tixier disappeared with the bills. Shortly,  he returned with a case or two of cold Schaefer beer, and shoved them on the floor of the truck bed at our feet.  Eyes opened.  Most of us knew the price to pay if caught  “bringing discredit upon the Corps of Cadets, i.e., consuming alcohol , etc etc….”   Perhaps even, caught again. The truck took off.  

Up into the training area we drove, on the way back to camp. Except we swerved off the dirt road onto  a training area for some obscure weapon, like flame throwers. Tixier and Borman came to the rear of the truck and said, “Drink up, boys!”.   Most of us popped those beers open and downed them, very welcome after the hot sweaty day of work.  Some of the weenies, doing a mere couple of hours punishment declined, afraid of the serious consequences if caught.  Most of us were repeat offenders, and could care less.  The beer was welcome, but we chugged them down, because the longer we stayed, the more likely some TAC in a jeep would drive by.  Beer downed, we finished the ride to Buckner.  

To this day, I admire the balls and initiative  shown by those two guys from ’74.  My morale surged, and my spirit of rebellion was reinforced. It was great to stick it to THE MAN. .

Best, Mark”

So there it is folks, French, Drinking, and Astronauts…and, let’s not forget what I said about my win-loss record of drinking at West Point….I drank four times and got caught only twice for a final record of 2 – 2. The interesting thing is that before I had even set foot in an academic classroom my sophopore (yearling) year, I had broken my losing streak and upped my win/loss record to 1-1, and celebrated with a big summertime victory party along with other classmates Mark Nelson, Reamer Argo, and our feerleass leaders from the class of 1974, including Astronaut Frank Borman’s son.

Closing note: I know I promised you in my previous post that I had more than one encounter with astronaut families. I have decided to hold off on my meeting with James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame for two reaons. First, he is a very dignified gentleman, one of those guys from the “Greatest Generation”. I cannot in good conscience include that hero in the same story with the rest of us degenerates. And secondly, he went to Annapoplis (the Naval Academy) and all of his heroics could never rise to hights of a good West Point drinking story!


Hockey, French, and Space – I almost became an Astronaut!

Ok, I’ll admit that the title of this post is misleading. As a matter of fact, it can’t even be passed off as “social honor”, it’s just a lie! (See earlier post entitled “Leadership – You Gotta Believe!!!” for an explanation of “social honor”) All I know is that my dad told me from a very young age that he thought I would become an astronaut because he said I was “taking up space in school”. He had a typical “dad” way of telling jokes (like I do) that sends everyone heading for the door.

However, I do have some tangentially related stories about astronauts or their families that I have personally experienced (see my next post) in addition to a high school story that proves that I wasn’t cut out to be an academician (or an astronaut).

Let’s start with Southfield High School and with Mr. Carinci, my French teacher and the offer he made me that I couldn’t refuse.

But first, some history of why I was interested in taking French…It all started when I was a young kid living near Detroit, Michigan, just a short ride to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I was a big Detroit Red Wing hockey fan and loved to listen to them on 760 AM WJR radio. (pictured is Gordie Howe, known to the NHL world as “Mr. Hockey” and Red Wing goalie Roger Crozier). (A later post will cover my personal interview with Mr. Hockey conducted when I was a writer for the local hometown newspaper, the Southfield Eccentric, on “Mark Howe Day” in January 1972).

I’ll never forget legendary Red Wings radio announcer Bud Lynch calling the play-by-play….. “Howe shoots, he SCORES!” and “Crozier made a BIG save!”

Gordie Howe and Roger Crozer on front cover of 1963 Red Wings Yearbook

They didn’t show hockey on TV in those days, EXCEPT for Hockey Night in Canada on Channel 9, CKLW from Windsor! Every Saturday night there would be a televised game from either Toronto or Montreal. I’ll never forget the announcers, Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan broadcasting and those Molson Canadien beer commercials! No wonder I drank as a cadet! I digress…..

I LOVED hearing the home town Montreal Forum stadium announcer majestically say to the Montreal crowd “Le but des Canadiens par numero quatre, Jean Beliveau!” (the French speaking crowd would roar) “Assiste par numero seize, Henri Richard” (they roar again), “et numero deux, Jacques Laperriere” (final roar). “Temps du but quinze minutes, cinquant-cinq seconds”. The announcer would then immediately make the same announcement in English (in a decidedly lower tone, as if he didn’t want to offend the crowd who could care less about the English version), ” Canadien goal scored by number 4 Jean Beliveau assisted by number 16 Henri Richard and number 2, Jacques Laperriere time of the goal 15 minutes 55 seconds.” (commas removed for emphasis as I swear that the English announcement was less than half as long as the French version!) You could hear a pin drop in the Montreal Forum, NOBODY made a noise after the English version of the goal announcement was made! From those days on, I made up my mind that I would learn French!

Number 4, Jean Beliveau, “Mr. Canadien” Montreal Canadiens team captain

So, I started taking French as early as I could as a 7th grader at Levey Junior High School in Southfield, Michigan. (Go Jaguars!) French was fun and easy! I took it in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Of course, I was one of the few guys that took that much French. What started from a strong desire to learn the language turned into an arduous task of reading (or not) French novels like “L’Etranger”. The only thing I liked about French by the time I got to High School (10th Grade) was the fact that there were lots of girls in the classes. Pretty ones too! I guess I wanted to study French kissing? (I won’t name names, but you know who you are and I’m a married man).

Our French teacher was Mr. Art Carinci. He was also the stadium announcer for our home football games at Southfield High School (We’re gonna fight, fight for Southfield High! Hit ’em, once, hit ’em twice, and hit ’em again,…) (Go Blue Jays!). I made the varsity football team my first year in high school so you could say that I was one of his teacher’s pets (there were others, remember I mentioned we had pretty girls in the class!). Mr. Carinci also did analyst work for the Detroit Red Wings at Olympia Stadium. He actually got me access to seeing the previously mentioned Montreal Canadien, #4, Jean Beliveau and got me a signed picture from “Mr. Canadien!”

The point of all of this is that I was able to coast by in French class through tenth grade as “Mr. C” just held his nose and let me pass. But, the charade was getting to be pretty pathetic in 11th grade as it was obvious I wasn’t studying as much as the others, or more accurately stated, I wasn’t studying at all. I just didn’t care to read French novels, sorry, I only liked the hockey (and girls) aspect. So, Mr. Carinci made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. One day in the Spring of 1971, with several months left in the school year, Mr. C. asked me to stay after class. I dutifully did so and, when it was just the two of us in the classroom he said, ” Joe, I will give you a “C” grade this year IF you do NOT take French next year”. Since it was February with a lot of tortous French novel reading ahead of me till June, I immediately responded “DEAL!”. We shook hands and I didn’t do an ounce of French homework from that point on and “earned” my final grade of a “C” that year.

So I guess my dad was right after all, I really was “taking up space in school”. It certainly was true for my French classes at Southfield High!

I’ll just say one more thing VIVE LES CANADIENS and GO WINGS GO!

Stay tuned friends, the next post actually does talk about face-to-face encounters with a member of astronaut Frank Borman’s family at West Point in 1973 and with Apolo 13 astronaut James Lovell in 1999! I’m not kidding, no social honor this time, it’s the truth! And stay tuned for that 1972 personal interview with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe!

Silver linings often turn gold! or “Charlie 234 where are you?”

OK, if you read my last post about meeting legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes you know that the only reason that this very exciting event happened for me was that I had endured a very bad event that had a silver lining! Remember, I, as a West Point cadet who had been in trouble, was “confined to quarters” for three months. This enabled me to read some books owned by my Ohio room mate, which triggered me writing Woody Hayes a letter, which he responded to, which led me to call his office to set up an appointment, which occured after I graduated from West Point.

Well, I happen to be a believer in silver linings. (See my earlier post entitled “Leadership – You Gotta BELIEVE!) To survive West Point, you need to believe that there are better days ahead as the system is designed to make you break, just to see how you perform under pressure. The mental pressure is constant. One mental challenge was the requirement to recite “The Days” from your first week as a plebe (freshman). The Days changed daily, and it is the plebe’s job to know, every day, the mess hall breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu for that day, the dates and times of motion pictures the upperclassmen could see that week, the number of days till each home sporting event that week, followed by the number of days till each home football game, ending with “There are 121 and a butt (a “butt” was a partial day, like a cigarette butt was a partial cigarette) days until Army beats the hell out of Navy at John Fitzterald Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Football!” If you made it that far you were in pretty good shape as all that remained in “The Days” was the number of days till Christmas break, ring weekend for the junior class, spring break for the upperclassmen, and finally, graduation day for the senior class. And, every day that number was decreased by one, making memorization a challenge for any plebe. A side note, I’ll never forget popping off with “Sir, there are “insert correct number” of days until Army beats Nebraska at Michie Stadium in football!” We said that line every day for 82 days from July 3, 1972 till September 23, 1972 when Nebraska squeaked by us 77-7. The silver lining with the Nebraska game was that 1) we scored a touchdown against the previous year’s National Champs, and 2) we didn’t have to play Nebraska again! (we went on to beat Texas A @ M the next week IN Texas!).

Back to the bigger silver lining story here..and Charlie two-thirty-four…you may recall from my Woody Hayes story (go back and read my previous post entitled “Leadership Rivalries – Woody Hayes and the State Up North”) is that I stated I drank alcohol 4 times as a cadet, and got caught twice. In other words, if you equate “winning” with “getting away with drinking and not getting caught” and ” losing” with “getting caught”, my win-loss record was 2-2. However, the penalty for losing was great, lasted many months, where the reward for winning lasted a few hours (till the buzz was gone), So, in essence, going 2-2 wasn’t worth it, except for the opportunity for a silver lining that would turn gold!

So, while the Woody Hayes silver lining story actually was enabled by my getting caught drinking as a firstie (senior) as a West Point cadet, an earlier significant silver lining turned gold story was actually triggered three years earlier when I got caught drinking alcohol as a plebe at West Point. BTW, I never do things half-assed, I got caught plebe year by the senior ranking cadet in the Corps, a Mr. Joe Tallman. He was the big striper dog! (I am convinced to this day that I was entrapped by an “improper question” (same as not having probable cause), but that’s the topic of another post). Without elaborating, my punishment for this offense (one swallow of vodka) (are you reading this Chuck Lehman!?) was 66 hours of walking the area (punishment tours), 25 demerits, and 3 months of “room confinement”. Since my offense occured near the end of my plebe year, my room confinement was served by having to stay in the Camp Buckner training barracks during the summer training months after serving on “work details” picking up trash in the area while other cadets could go swimming with their girlfriends at the nearby lake. I remember taking other guys’ “guard shifts” just to get out of the barracks on Saturday nights. The barracks were very hot, and the lights remained on at all times till 1am on Saturday nights. Since I was on the top bunk, my life was torture with that hot, bright light not allowing me any sleep until my classmates came back all refreshed and happy after seeing their babes. HOWEVER…the summer of 1973 prepared me for a silver lining turned gold in 1974! Read on…

After completing my sophomore year (called “yearling” year), I had a great summer to look forward to. My summer began by attending the US Army Infantry School for three weeks of airborne training. I was looking forward to getting my “wings” (meaning I could successfully jump out of a perfectly good airplane and land using a parachute without killing myself). I then had four weeks of leave and had big plans back at my home in Michigan, and then 5 weeks in Europe (a week of vacation in Paris, followed by 4 weeks in Vicenza, Italy, serving as the equivalent of an officer in a real US army unit).

So, first stop, Fort Benning, Georgia for “C-130 rolling down the strip, airborne daddy gonna take a little trip. My new name was “Charlie 234” the “charlie actually standing for the letter “C” in “Cadet”. Ft Benning training was similar to the previous summer’s training (when I was required to stay in the barracks when other could leave for fun time) in that it was as hot as hell, most people could leave the barrackes at night, and we were doing great “army training sir”. There was one exception, which actually created another silver lining for me!

At Fort Benning, we would get up VERY early for our morning PT (physical training). The bulk of the 519 students in my airborne class 45 were my classmates from West Point. The difference between most of them and me was that, the previous summer, I had become accustomed to staying in the barracks in the evenings/nights when they were out having fun. This summer, I had the authority to leave the barracks in the evenings, but CHOSE to stay inside and get my rest before the early training that would be beginning at “OH dark thirty” (we used that term before any movie was produced, just say’in). So, in those days, I was one of the few who had had a good night’s rest and was ready to go while many others showed up for morning PT in various stages of intoxication. Mind you, everyone toughed it out, but I was one of the very few trainees that actually repeated the cadences VERY LOUDLY that were led by the “black cap” airborne sergeants. Cadences like:









This chant along with the one that started “UP JUMPED THE MONKEY FROM THE COCONUT GROVE” were two of my favorites, especially at Oh dark thirty!

Some of my hung over classmates didn’t appreciate my volume level, but I didn’t care, I was going back home soon either way!!!!

For a West Point cadet, airborne training was like a walk in the park. The training was condensed from the conventional 4 weeks to just three weeks, with the first week usually designed just for physical training to get trainees in shape. We were already in shape, so running PT after drinking the night before was actually doable, I just chose not to partake.

So, after two weeks of training comes the big test, “Jump Week”. The week prior to jump week is called “tower week” where they would rig your fully opened up parachute up onto this huge metal circle that was attached to a cable that would hoist you up very slowly 250 feet into the air, release the chute, and then the black cap sergeants evaluate you on how well you completed your PLF (parchute landing fall) when you hit the ground. If you didn’t perform well during tower week, you recycled back and were not allowed to jump the next week (This meant losing precious leave time, a dasterdly fate).

At the beginning of jump week, the sergeants gave me a white helmet. They said, “Charlie 234, this is your helmet for the rest of training” It turns out, six of us were given white helmets the first day of jump week. They told us they would be watching us closely as one of us would be crowned “honor graduate”. I didn’t care about making any honor graduate, I wanted to get the hell out of Dodge (Ft Benning). Nobody said a word to me the rest of the week, so I assumed that I wasn’t in the running at the end for this coveted honor.

Jump school graduation was scheduled for a Thursday, June 27, 1974 afternoon at 1:00pm. After that, I had plans on catching the first flight out of Atlanta to Detroit and then it would be Katie bar the doors! I couldn’t wait to see my buddies back home! (My best friend, Bill Sage and I called ourselves “Ranger Joe and Six Pack Bill”)

On Wednesday, the day before the graduation ceremony, after the final bit of traing/jumping was complete, the cadre put out an announcement asking if their were any of us that wanted to catch a “space available” flight to Norfolk, VA THAT DAY!!! HELL YES, I said, and I rapidly packed up and proceeded to catch the army bus to the military aircraft that awaited me and others anxious to head home on leave. As I was about to step on the plane, an officer said “what is your name cadet?” I stated, “Cadet Joseph Sanders, Sir!” He said “Joseph Sanders, were you Charlie 234?” I said “Yes sir!” He said, “You aren’t going anywhere, you are one of our two honor graduates, you have to be at the graduation ceremony tomorrow!” I was totally bummed. The last thing I wanted was to spend another night in Georgia. I wanted the cadre, the next day, to be calling “Charlie 234 where are you?” I wasn’t going to be that lucky! So, I got back on the bus, and went back to the barracks. I immediately put in a collect pay phone call to my parents and told them about my being annointed as honor graduate. THEY were all excited and told me they were “on their way”. They picked up Six Pack Bill, and promptly departed Southfield, Michigan by car for the 20 your straight drive to Ft Benning, Georgia.

At 12:55pm the next day while seated in the auditorium, I saw my weary dad, mom, and my buddy enter the auditorium. They were escorted to their seats and saw me collect my “Iron Mike” trophy as one of the two honor graduates (Truthfully, I was the second best, behind the distinguished honor graduate, but hell, let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good!)

Remember, this was about silver linings, and this silver lining was the punishment I received as a cadet conditioned me to stay in the barracks which enabled be to yell real loud during morning training which impressed the airborne cadre which won me the Iron Mike trophy!

Silver lining turns GOLD! (or actually, Iron Mike looks more like copper, but lets not let perfect be….)

So, Charlie 234 where are you? I’m right here, hoping you will continue to read my stories.

Stay safe everybody! All the best,

LTC(R) Joseph R. Sanders, AKA C234

Leadership Rivalries – Woody Hayes and the “State Up North”

Back by popular demand! Many of my personal friends from Michigan, Ohio, and West Point have asked me to tell them my “Woody Hayes Story”… So, here it is….

Of course, with the Colonel, there is never just one or a simple story…so we will get to Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes and why he spent 3 and 1/2 hours mentoring me, a then new West Point graduate from THE Great State of Michigan. (For those of you who wonder why I wrote THE in all caps, blame it on all Ohioans from Ohio State, they make an obnoxious point of saying that theirs is THE Ohio State University, a claim that prior to a legal judgement in a battle between OSU and Ohio University was a real issue. OSU won the legal fight and they forever rub it in!)….Do I go running around bragging that I am THE Colonel Sanders? No, I let Harlan take all of the credit and even keep the name. There is room for both (all) of us. Just sayin’ !

Back to the story before the main story……I first initiated contact with Woody Hayes, not out of any admiration for the man, but as a challenge to test a theory that he really wouldn’t live up to his reputation of loving the military and always returning every letter sent to him. I didn’t like Woody Hayes at all in the early Spring of 1976, his teams (and it is even worse these days) handled Michigan in many of the UofM/OSU battles, usually by a field goal by their Swedish soccer style kicker when Michigan’s Vietnam vet field goal kicker would fail. It wasn’t fair I tell you, I HATED Woody Hayes, but still respected him (a little) in the early Spring of 1976.

I was a “firstie” (a senior) West Point Cadet in the Winter/Spring of 1976. I had been highly rated by my peers and was destined to be a “striper dog” (cadet captain in the internal cadet chain of command). Unfortunately (or I feel fortunately looking back), I didn’t necessarily follow all of the rules as a cadet. Back then cadets were not allowed to drink alcohol on the military post, even though the legal drinking age was 18. Lucky me, of the 4 times in 4 years that I broke the alcoholic prohibition, I got caught twice and became a “Century Man” by walking over 100 punishment hours on the “area”. It was a senseless punishment, but it effectively took time away from thoses cadets like me who needed to be punished. It took away our “bag time”, free time where we could sleep (a very scarce commodity for all cadets).

So, in February 1976, after having served my 5th punishment hour for that weekend, I returned to my room after freezing my…..”toes” off in the cold New York cement-pavement-area-walking-winter. After the punishment tours were done for the weekend, I had to stay in my room 24 hours a day (with the exception of visiting the mess hall, latrine, and did I say the bathroom?) Oh yes, and the barber shop was on limits too. I remember going there twice in one day to get two haircuts within hours of each other of sheer boredom. I digress…

On “room confinement”, there was little to do but sleep, read, write, and spit shine shoes. So, after thawing out, sleeping and shining shoes, I broke down and started reading books that my roommate, an Ohio resident, had sitting on his bookshelf. There were a couple about Ohio State and, of course, Woody Hayes. With nothing better to do, I read about Woody Hayes. I was impressed, but really interested in the fact that each source said that he loved the military and military history, and, even more impressive was that these books stated that he “personally responds to every letter ever sent to him”. Hmm, that seemed like a temptation that I couldn’t resist! So, I wrote Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes a short letter …

TO: Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Head Football Coach, Ohio State State University, Colombus, Ohio

Dear Mr. Hayes,

My name is Joe Sanders. I am a West Point cadet and will be graduating this June 2. I live in Michigan, will have two months of leave between June 2 and August and will be spending my leave time less than a 4 hour drive from Colombus. I’ll admit I haven’t exactly been an Ohio State fan, but as a person from Michigan, I have great respect for you and would be honored to have the opportunity to meet you personally this summer.

Thank you in advance and continued wishes for good health.


Joseph R. Sanders, USMA Cadet

My real thought was that I would not get a return from Mr. Hayes. After all I was from Michigan, and he reportedly wouldn’t even say the word “Michigan”…It was the “State up North!”

To my surprise, less than ten days later I received an envelope in the mail from the office of Ohio State Football.

I quickly opened it and, sure eneough, I received a letter inviting me to call him (ok, his secretary) and make an appointment to meet! I was thrilled. I made an appointment for Tuesday, June 6, 1976 at one of his offices on the campus, on the second floor of Ohio States’ basketball arena, St. Johns arena.

Fast forward till June 2, 1976…….I graduate from West Point, attend two local classmate weddings and then head to Colombus (for a third classmate wedding in four days!) .

THE day at THE Ohio State University – June 8, 1976

I made sure I was early, arriving at Mr. Haye’s office about 10:30am for our 11:00am appoinmtment. His secretary greeted me….I was dressed to the nines..well shaven and wearing my best three piece polyester suit with open neck shirt (ala John Travolta). At 11:00am sharp Mr. Hayes came down the hall and called out “Cadet Sanders!, Welcome!”… I replied “Thank you sir!” ( I was actually a second lieutenant, but didn’t feel offended by THE MAN calling me cadet). My first impression was that he was shorter than me…he always looked so big on TV!

He invited me into his office and I sat in front of his desk. Surprisingly to me, his office was quite small and very messy. The first thing he said to me was “So, how do you like my office?” I wasn’t sure what to say about this rat hole, but I remembered my “social honor” (see my previous blog post) training and said, “It is very nice sir”….He responded, ” If you like this one, you’ll love my other office, it is half this size!” I saw a slight glimmer of a smile coming from behind his legendary Woody Hayes glasses, which gave me permission to laugh after realizing that he was busting my chops right out of the box!

He then asked me why I wanted to meet him. I told him that I had read a couple of books about Ohio State and that I appreciated the fact that he was a successful leader and that he loved military history. ( I decided not to share with him that I would never have read those books hadn’t I been forced to stay in my room as a “bad cadet” LOL!). He responded by asking me if I had any questions for him. I thought this was my best shot at putting to rest the “never-say-Michigan” rumor. I thanked him for inviting me to ask questions, and then I popped the big one. I said, ” Mr. Hayes, I’ve been folllowing the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry for a long time and all I hear and read is that you never say the actual word “MICHIGAN”. Is that true?” His response deserves its own paragraph…

He laughed out loud and responded, “That is not true! As a matter of fact, I even voted for a man from your state!” He was referring to President Gerald Ford, a Michigan graduate and former UofM football player. The point is, he still did not utter the word MICHIGAN! I laughed, saw that glimmer in his eye, and said, “Thank you Mr. Hayes for clearing that up for me!”

Twelve o’clock noon came fast and I figured my allotted time was up. To my surprise, Woody then asked me if I had lunch plans. I had none and so stated. He added, “Great, let me treat you to lunch at the faculty lounge, I’ve rounded up a couple of military history buffs and we can have lunch together”. I graciously accepted and we soon were heading out to take a little campus walk.

As we began walking across the campus, I was astounded by the number of students who greeted him. Everywhere we walked students said ” Good afternoon, or hello Mr. Hayes!” I remember stopping when we are about to pass three college girls that were studying for a test on the steps of their dorm. They greeted Mr. Hayes and he asked them what topic they were studying. They replied “We have a history test in an hour”. His eyes lit up! He asked, “What period of history?” I don’t remember their response, but I do remember Mr. Hayes giving them pointers on what was important to know about the history of that era!

I also remember watching people eyeballing me, this 5′ 9″ 187lb, short haired (relatively) person walking with Woody Hayes. I kept thinking that they must be thinking I was a football recruit. They must have thought that i was REAL fast because I surely wasn’t big LOL!

Fast forward again…the lunch was great and the walk back similar to the walk there, admiring fans greeting “Mr. Hayes”

I had purchased a picture of Mr. Hayes which he gladly signed with the inscription “To Lieutenant Joseph Sanders, I am sure you will serve your country in an outstanding manner, Your Friend, Woody Hayes, June 8, 1976”

He was so right, he was a friend. Our visit ended with a very prophetic comment by Mr. Hayes that guided my actions the rest of my army and civilian career. As I prepared to say farewell, at 2:30pm (3 and a half hours after we had begun), Mr Hayes said, “Joe, you are going to serve in an army that is going to become much more technology based. But remember, you don’t win with technology, you win with people. Take care of your people.”

So, that was my visit to the non-Michigan saying great friend and Ohio State football coach, Mr. Wayne Woodrow Hayes. That day ws a big one for me. I still cheer for Michigan State and Michigan when they play Ohio State, but when I hear of bad events that occasionally occur at Ohio State (just like every school), I remember the generousity I reveived on June 6, 1976 and I thank God for getting caught drinking as a not so stellar West Point Cadet.

Humor is (almost) always appropriate

I have found throughout my life that having a good sense of humor can be a life saver, sometimes literally. I’ve read that having a good sense of humor has even saved marriages! Can you remember any times when you got so mad, and you WANTED to stay mad at your better half, but you couldn’t remember why? And then, out of nowhere, one partner says something funny (which often time refers to a common experience the two of you have shared) and try as hard as you can not to, you burst out laughing and low and behold the crisis is averted. Laughter and crying are good for the soul and they both help one return to an emotional equilibrium.

I remember an event in my life when my mother was so mad at me that I was lucky I could run faster than her! Actually, I didn’t have to run, but I did have to leave immediately. My mom was suffering from dementia and I could not leave her home alone. It was time to find her an assisted living facility. Those of you who knew or have heard about my mom know that NOBODY told Alberta Blanche Sanders what to do or what not to do! Except, that, on this occasion I was dropping her of at an assisted living facility for good, it was going to be her new “home”. She got into her room, took a seat, and I brought in her suitcase. (The assisted living facility had prepped me for this moment, telling me that when I dropped her off to be ready to leave and not look back, no matter what). Sure enough, my mom got infuriated with me when she inquired about the suitcase and I told her that this was going to be where she was staying. I brought the suitcase in from the car, set it in her room, did an about-face, and began to walk out. She cursed me out like a drunken sailor, but I just kept on walking…I came by the next day right after work, petrified of what abuse I was about to recieve when she saw me. As I walked into her room, she looked up at me with a big smile on her face and said, “Son, it is so great to see you, thank you for coming to see me! (and she was not being sarcastic)”…and then came the dementia silver-lining moment…she said “You know, yesterday I was as mad as hell at you, but I can’t remember why!”… I followed with “Gee mom, I don’t remember you being mad at me at all! Oh well, I’m here now!” We hugged and all was well (and forgotten).

On to the topic of humor….a friend of my wife’s says that her boss emails the entire workforce a joke a day just to keep everyone’s spirits high…what a great thing to do during these times when we can feel isolated because of Covid-19 restrictions. So, I end this post with a joke that was shared with me yesterday, hopefully you well enjoy it too. Joke follows:

An Italian mother comes to visit her son Anthony for dinner.  Anthony lives with a female roommate named Maria.
During the course of the meal, Mama couldn’t help but notice how pretty Anthony’s roommate is.  She had long been suspicious of the relationship between the two and this made her more curious.
Over the course of the evening while watching the two interact, she started to wonder if there was more between the two than meets the eye.  Reading his mom’s thoughts, Anthony volunteered, “I know what you must be thinking.  I can assure you, mother, that Maria and I are just roommates.
About a week later, Maria came to Anthony saying, “Ever since your mother came to dinner I haven’t been able to find the sugar bowl.  You don’t suppose she took it, do you?”
Anthony answers,”Well, I doubt it,but I’ll email her just to be sure”
The email read:

Dearest Mama,

I’m not saying that you took the sugar bowl from my house and I’m not saying that you didn’t take it.  I’m just saying that it has been missing since you were here for dinner.

Love, Anthony

Several days later, Anthony received an email response from his Mama.  It read:

Figlio mio,

I’m not saying that you “do” sleep with Maria and I’m not saying that you “do not” sleep with her.  I’m just saying that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the sugar bowl.

Love, Mama

MORAL: Never lie to your Mother

That’s all folks, keep LAUGHING!!!

Leadership – You Gotta BELIEVE!!!

Friends, those of you who know me personally know that my favorite topic is LEADERSHIP. However, that topic is so broad that I like to talk about it by taking baby steps, or one bite at a time. I also like telling stories, so today I hope that my story can highlight one very important concept included in any discussion of leadership, or more specifically, what great leaders DO!

Leaders MOTIVATE, and better yet, INSPIRE others to perform to their highest potential, and beyond!.

The funny thing about performance is that it isn’t always consistent. We are human beings with feelings, emotions, and are entitled to have that bad day once in a while. But, the best leaders understand all of these things, and they figure out what it takes for their “team” to bring their best game every time they are challenged. You may have often heard the phrase, “That’s why we play the game.” This phrase is often used in an attempt to explain how a here-to-fore winless team can beat a here-to-fore undefeated team.

It all begins inside the human mind. A big factor of whether a team can win is if the individuals on a team BELIEVE they can win. Think back to 1980, and the “Miracle on Ice”. The American Olympic ice hockey team beat the Soviet Olympic team by playing “over their heads”. On paper, the Soviet team was much better, but they did not win. The Americans BELIEVED they could and would win…every one remembers during the final seconds of that game sportscaster Al Michaels saying “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!!!”

I would like to share a true story that I experienced to illustrate how I feel emotions and inspiration work to improve an individual’s performance….the story begins in Secane, PA at my local Pricerite grocery store.

Let me begin by stating that, for better or worse, I have been told that I look a lot like the University of North Carolina’s head basketball coach, Roy Williams. I’ve been confused for him by bartenders and others who meet me for the first time. My favorite encounter was at an event where I walked up to the bar and the young lady (they are all young to me now) said “What will it be coach?”. (I knew she thought I was Roy Williams, but I played along as I have, in fact, coached many teams in my life so “Coach” as a title applies to me (as does bartender, minister, uber/lyft driver, director, assistant professor, colonel, etc.)). I replied, “I’d like a double IPA on tap if you have it.” She replied, “Coming right up Coach!”. She drew the draft while I fished out my wallet and as she approached me with the beverage and saw me ready to pay she said, “Put your wallet away, this one’s on me Coach!” I said thank you, took the drink, smiled at her, and stuffed the bill in my shirt! I digress… back to reality in Secane, PA at Pricerite….

I walked into the store heading down the first isle and an elderly man who looked a little down on his luck approached me and said with a very wide-eyed look, “COACH?” I saw that my presence (actually, in his mind, Roy Williams presence) had bouyed his spirits a little bit. I decided to play along. I nodded my head, drew closer to the gentleman, pulled out a piece of paper and pen, and signed a very scribbly “Joe Sanders” and gave it to him. As I handed him the “autograph” I wished him a good day and asked him to keep this on the “down low” while I was in the store. I could see he was excited and I didn’t want to burst his bubble.

Shoprite has many isles and I believe I crossed this man’s path at least 5 more times that day in the isles, each time we nodded to each other and occasionally winked at our little secret ;-). As he left the store I was in the check-out line. We both exchanged glances one more time and gave each other a thumbs up….we were both going to have a good day after this!

Now some would say that I was wrong to “lead this man on”. But before you judge me that way, consider this…at West Point, where the honor code states that ” a cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do”, we learned a term called “social honor”. We all took “cadetiquette” training where we learned how to write thank you notes and learned about social honor. (Frankly, I think part of it was so that we as cadets, fearing the penalty of expulsion for telling a lie, didn’t tell some officer’s wife that dinner that she prepared for us as guests in her home tasted terrible! The truth shall set you free!).

An example of using social honor would be when you receive a present from your grandma that she took months to knit. You think the sweater looks hideous, but you tell grandma that you love it. Why? Because you do not want to hurt her feelings AND you are not personally gaining by telling the lie. Or how about when my mom, who had dementia, asked if I had seen my father recently (he had died three years prior). I told her, “Sure mom, I just saw him the other day, he’ll be here soon!” She forgot the whole exchange. I learned the hard way the first time she had asked and I told her dad had died three years ago, she relived his death as if it had just happened. I caused her deep pain and decided I would never tell her the “truth” again if it was going to hurt her feelings. That is what social honor is all about, not hurting someone while not gaining from it yourself.

So, the topic here is LEADERSHIP and how good leaders MOTIVATE and INSPIRE others to perform better than they normally would. I’ll just say this…… when it comes to Roy WIlliams at the Shoprite in Secane, I would be willing to bet that the gentleman who “met Roy WIlliams” that day had a better day after meeting Roy, and if he were on a “team”, he would have performad better. Why? because he BELIEVED, and BELIEFS start in the mind! No harm no foul, he had a better day and I did not profit from the exchange.

OK, OK, you could say that I distorted the concept of social honor when I accepted the free beer from the female server as I technically “gained” something by going with the Roy William shtick, but hey, I never listed “angel” in my list of titles. Get over it.

Drive on soldiers, stay safe!

And remember, don’t stop BELIEVING!!!!


Following the Data – A simple application for daily life that will make you healthier! – One ounce/gulp

You may have heard the following riddle:

Question: “How do you eat an elephant?”

Answer: “One bite at a time”

That is often used when there is a huge tusk, I mean task (pun intended) ahead that is so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start. That is NOT what today’s discussion is about.

Today we are talking about those EASY tasks that we never seem to approach, but that are very important to our health and welfare in the long run. We procrastinate, thinking that there is “always tomorrow”, but why wait till tomorrow? As we should have learned, especially in these trying times, is that tomorrow is never guaranteed. So, what can you do today to help get on track?

Let’s look at one simple use of data science. (As I speak the whole world is talking about how we must use the existing data to beat the coronavirus, so this seems to be timely to me, especially since most of us are supposed to be staying at home)

Let’s begin….You’ve all heard that the best things in life are free. So let’s not let “perfect” be the enemy of “good” and talk about “water”, which, compared to other liquids, is relatively free and is delivered right to your own kitchen and bathroom sinks.

I’m guessing that most of you know that the consumption of water is one of the most essential elements to leading a healthy life. If that is the case, why do so many of us disregard the advice to drink “8 – eight ounce glasses of water a day”? Even worse, how do I get my head around “64 ounces of water a day”?

Stay tuned sports fans, your life is about to improve, thanks to the Colonel’s use of data science!

Today (with an abundance of time on my hands), I decided to tackle the “64 ounces a day” dilemma.

So, we all know (I had to look it up) that there are 8 ounces in a cup. A cup is much easier to quantify than a “glass of water”, so I decided to do a very simple experiment. I measured a cup of water with a measuring cup and poured it into my oversized glass. I realized that the glass would hold more than one cup, so I added another cup, giving me a 2 cups of water. I then drank the entire glass of water (16 ounces) all the while counting the number of swallows it took me to comsume those 16 ounces. It took me 14 swallows or gulps.

We now can used this data to make quantifying “64 ounces a day” a very easy task. If 14 gulps is the same as 16 ounces (for me it was), then the total number of gulps needed per day is calculated as follows: 64/16 = 4…..and 4 times 14 =56. So, for me, I need to drink 56 gulps of water a day to maintain a healthy level of hydration!

Now, along the theme of not letting “perfect” be the enemy of “good”, it is better to drink a little more water than less, so my engineering and estimating experience tells me it is OK to round up a little bit and just say that I need 64 gulps of water a day, equivalent to the number of ounces. Oh, and yes, since my glass holds 16 ounces, I could just have easily just chosen to drink four of my big glasses of water a day. Do the math, but more importantly, FOLLOW DR. FAUCI AND DRINK WATER!!!

Keeping it all in perspective!

For me, this topic has some very real, and in the beginning, very sad memories. But the theme today is to not give up hope… other words… THIS TOO SHALL PASS!

Let me get through the sad part first to make a point……

On August 7, 1987 I received both the most exciting AND most terrifying news. After my wife had had two beautiful daughters, my very first son was born! These were exciting times! I had just resigned from my active duty military officer position to take on a new career as a stock broker (not knowing that just two months later we would experience the largest one-day loss in the history of the stock market). I was supercharged with excitement! I had plans for this young man….little league sports, going to sporting events, a possible future West Point cadet (I am a 1976 grad), and all of the other things that dads like to do with their sons! Little Ian Joseph Sanders was going to be a rock star!

The mood quickly turned from exuberence to fear when the doctor told us that our little angel “appeared” to have Downs Syndrome. It was going to take two weeks to verify the results of the blood work before we knew if the doctor’s thoughts were verified. I remember often praying to God to please “let him be a normal baby”. Prior to learning the blood test results, I took a trip to my alma mater and stood in front of the Cadet Chapel at West Point and looked out over the great expanse of the Cadet area with the beautiful and uplifting view of the Plain, Trophy Point, with the Hudson River in the background. West Point always inspires me, and I needed inspiration at this point in my life.

Fast forward…..Ian DID have Downs Syndrome and we soon learned what a blessing he was to our family! He did have many medical issues, but your baby is your baby, you love them and that love grows more and more over time. Ian had 5 surgeries before he was even two years old. The first, was open heart surgery when he was only 6 months old and weighed only 11 lbs. Historically, one of three babies at that age did not survive that surgery. I remember while in the waiting room at NYC Medical Center a doctor coming out and informing another set of parents that their baby had not survived the surgery. It struck fear in my heart as I watched them break down and awaited the news about my own son’s fate.

A little later, our surgeon came out and informed us that Ian had done very well! We were on Cloud Nine! Prior to that we had resigned ourself to the thought that God may choose to take Ian that day and we would accept whatever happened.

Ian had four more surgeries, one on each ear, and one on each hand in the upcoming months. By the age of two, he was on his way! His sisters Jillian and Bryn (who were older than Ian) and then later Kelly all loved their brother.

I wont focus on the details, but Ian passed away before his third birthday from pneumonia. He went into the hospital on December 23, 1989 and his mother joined him three days later as she also had contracted pneumonia. We all decided that we would put Christmas on hold that year until Ian came home from the hospital. Christmas and New Year’s Eve came and went. Ian’s mom was released from the hospital on January 3, 1990 and we were told by the doctor that Ian would be coming home soon!

We were all excited to “restart” our Christmas celebration (nobody had opened one present…we wanted our little guy there!)

On January 6, 1990 Ian’s mother took the call while I was out delivering newspapers. She was told very abruptly that “Ian had expired” with no further explanation. I got home from delivering newspapers and was greeted at the door by my father-in-law who gave me the bad news.

I cannot begin to share the grief that we all felt…only those who have lost a child would understand.

But , the whole point of my message today begins right now….

Of course, my first thought was disbelief. I remember one particular moment that actually got me back on my feet….I remember praying to God to “please bring him back, bring my son back, Downs Syndrome and all!”

Right after that prayer the big AHA MOMENT hit me….I realized that, in a span of less than three years, I had prayed to God for OPPOSITE outcomes!!! In August of 1987 I prayed for a “normal” baby, and then in January of 1990 I was praying for my Downs Syndrome baby back! It hit me that I was not in charge and that I had to accept what had happened. My healing began.

Today, all memories of the times with Ian are good ones. I feel blessed to have spent 29 months on this earth with him, and his spirit is alive and well in all who knew him!

Which leads me to totay’s point….this Coronavirus is scary and indiscriminate. It can lead us to deep depression if we allow it to. Now is the time to keep it all in perspective,,,,, this too shall pass, and it might not be on our timeframe….but we must be patient…haste makes waste and we must support each other, practice safe health habits, and love one another….from a distance.