Ten days ago SFC Stephen Pointer began his final drill weekend. Twenty nine years of service to our nation came to an end. I have had, and continue to have, the honor of meeting many of our military personnel. Without question SFC Pointer is one of the "cream of the crop."
SFC Pointer served 8 years in the Army at duty stations in Fort Carson, CO, Wurzburg, German, Camp Casey, Korea and Fort Polk, LA. He also had a brief assignment at the Freno, CA MEPS station before leaving the Army and joining the California ARNG where he has served the remainder of his military career. During the later part of his carrier with the California ARNG SFC Pointer served in Kosovo with both the 432nd CA and 353rd CACOM (Civil Affairs Reserve units). While SFC Pointer will be one of the first to tell you he was never deployed in a combat situation I will defend him to my last breath that he has done amazing things as a member of our military. Just the little I know about him would take days to share with you.
I first met SFC Pointer in December 2005 on my second trip to Kosovo. I had the honor of working with him and the Civil Affairs teams on that trip and a subsequent trip the following year. I observed him mentoring Soldiers with extreme skill and dignity. He had the total respect of his superiors as well as those from other nation's Armies that were serving in Kosovo.
On my first trip to Kosovo I had learned a lot about the Kosovar-Albanian issues but very little from the Serbian aspect. SFC Pointer's knowledge of the current issues as well as hundreds of years history of the region was invaluable. His ability to work with and Albanians, Serbians, Ashkahlis and other minorities in the region was astounding. He always spoke open and honestly with them. It was incredible to watch him as he worked through sensitive and, often potentially, explosive issues. Despite the fact that luck placed him on the Civil Affairs teams he was an invaluable asset having had no Civil Affairs training. He is an absolute natural at winning hearts and minds.
SFC Pointer teaches middle school in California. Late last October he posted this note on his Facebook page:
"Several weeks ago a young lady in one of my U.S. History classes came to me and told me, with tears in her eyes, that her father was leaving for Afghanistan. My heart broke or her, and I felt not a little bit of guilt . Two days ago the young lady came to class, sat down, and started working as per instructions; in the middle of the period, she got up out of her seat, came over to me, and quietly handed me a note; here is what it said:
My dad said to thank you for helping me get through him having to leave. I would also like to thank you. Now I have faith know that he can and will make it through. I know that he will be home soon.
That made my day."
No one I know has a bigger heart nor carries more burden for others on his shoulders than SFC Pointer. And he does so at, in my opinion, a detriment to his own well being. But that's the kind of man he is. I saw that in him in Kosovo over and over again with respect to other Soldiers and the populous.
Both of SFC Pointer's sons have chosen to volunteer for military service. David is in the CA-ARNG and is currently attending OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Benning, GA. Lin is assigned to a unit at Fort Carson that will deploy to Iraq soon. SFC Pointer is, without question, very proud of his sons.
So now the baton has been passed and another military parent stands watch as his sons go off to war; something he, like most if not all military parents, hoped he'd never have to see happen. Not many people around have taught me so much about myself and about the Balkans. I hope you know how much I love and respect you and how eternally grateful I am for your service to our nation.
A small photo "essay" of SFC Pointer in Kosovo from my perspective. I'll begin with a few photos from a project I was a part of (fund raising) in the Serbian village of Klokot. I'll let SFC Pointer tell you a little about it in his words:
"This project was the end product of a series of events that started with a little girl with an Impetigo infection, followed by a murder that led to the village damned near tearing itself apart, and finally culminated in this. We spent three months raising money to purchase materials, hiring a contractor, and gaining the trust and friendship of villagers who were once hostile to us. Of all the things I have ever done in my life, I am most proud of this. I'm no engineer, but I was a big part of an engineering project that would help to give people clean water, and keep sewage from flowing openly in the streets and in the school's playground."
Jovanna on the day SFC Pointer discovered her Impetigo infection
Treating Jovanna (and teaching her family) for impetigo
Treating another of the village children who had Impetigo
COL I, Jovanna, Gaga and SFC Pointer after the children were treated
One of the village ladies who came to thank us for repairing the sewer and brining them clean water
Some of the Army Engineers SFC Pointer worked with on the project
SFC Pointer, me, Dada (our favorite Serbian intepreter and an amazing lady in every respect) and one of the teachers from the Klokot elementary school
SFC Pointer guarding the goodies for the Christmas party while I pose for a picture with the kids. Those kids LOVE to pose for pictures.
The children lining up
Some of the children getting their first look at the bounty. No reaching, pushing or shoving. Notice SFC Pointer in the doorway.
The Chrismas party mentioned above was sort of a culmination of the sewer project in Klokot. SFC Pointer and Dada, one of the Serbian interpreters, organized the party. I was shocked that most of the children had never been to a party. I was more shocked at how they handled it. They lined up outside of the school by grade (youngest to oldest). Each class came in the school together. As they entered the room where we had piles of cookies, chips and snacks as well as juice and soda their eyes were as big as saucers. They would take either ONE chip or ONE cookie. No amount of encouragement would convince them to take more. They wanted to be sure all of the other students had some. It made me cry. I can't tell you how many times each class came back through. Towards the end we were filling plates for them in an attempt to get rid of all of the food but we still left food and drink at the school for them. It was one of the most poignant moments of my life. No pushing or shoving. No grabbing handfuls. I can't even begin to tell you how much I miss those children every day.
SFC Pointer when he accompanied me for an interview with Radio Ferizaj. One of our favorite interpreters, Dani is also in the picture. Dani is one of the young men that SFC Pointer was spent an enormous amount of time mentoring. He and an NGO he was a founder of, INPO are doing the most amazing and positive things in Kosovo with respect to issues of Democracy, Transparency, etc.
SFC Pointer & me at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo
SFC Pointer, SSG Van Lanen, COL Hettich, (can't remember other Soldier), Dani (interpreter) me, elected officials and others from Ferizaj, Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel
Sorry Steve. I didn't mean to hijack your "retirement" post with the children of Klokot but they do mean so much to both of us. What a wonderful stroll down memory lane. I can't even begin to tell you how much it means to me that I shared this incredible time and experience with you.
I am a better person for knowing Steve. To be able to call him friend means more to me that I could ever find words to explain. In the next few weeks he will marry the love of his life, Melissa. I wish them more joy and happiness than life can give them and am so happy that they found each other.
THANK YOU for all you have given on behalf of our nation. I know it didn't come without great sacrifice on your part (and we'll leave it at that). I love you.