Experience and opportunity can happen where we least expect it, and sometimes it’s not finding the brass ring on a carousel, but the ride itself. This past year was one of the craziest and tumultuous periods in my life, and if I did not have my APUS armor things would have resulted quite different for me and my community.
Recently I noticed how many APUS graduates are making amazing accomplishments. For others, there are still some issues with moving ahead. Nowadays finding the ideal job is no different than being on a merry-go-round trying to grab a brass ring with just one thumb. Try it. It’s not easy and downright frustrating. No matter how polished the resume is and how supportive the references are, the fingers are still tied and the great job remains elusive.
As I type this article, I think about my education. I do have subtle reminders of writing those annoying and reluctant “what I learned in school” essays many of us loathed as kids. Regardless, one year later I asked myself “How has my education helped me thus far?” I have not found my brass ring. I can deal with the job that I have, and I am grateful for my employment, but ambition drives me towards more.
This is my story through graduate school: I live in a seventy year old neighborhood in a home that was constructed by the United States government to house the many torpedo workers that moved into this area in 1941. My home, as well as the other 159 became the subject of intense controversy. Because the infrastructure is in such terrible shape and endeavored rare and infrequent repairs over the past seven decades, the costs fell on the current residents. In spite of the past use, most of the middle income families simply cannot afford the repairs. Add to this a major housing market crash, causing many to lose their precious equity.
Not everyone was satisfied with the two engineering studies conducted to assess the damage. A few neighbors started a campaign to try to preserve the buildings. This put me in a bind. On one hand, two engineering studies indicated an impossible feat of fixing and moving on; the cost was estimated at 8 million dollars. On the other, these houses sheltered the people who worked around the clock to support the Allies with torpedoes to fight against the Axis powers. Myself, working on a masters in military history, became thrust into my own war seventy years after we fought Germany and Japan.
As this community turned into a warzone with flyer campaigns, newspaper articles, false accusations, threats of lawsuits and scenarios that turned neighbors against each other, I was taking courses in military history and learning about the situation. “World War II in Context” taught by the brilliant Dr. Anne Venzon, enlightened me on my own home situation. As neighborhood crusaders bombed the community with flyers on historical preservation and significance, I began to see some holes in their argument. 160 people in these homes supported the torpedo effort in Alexandria, Virginia, but 80,000 more also worked around the clock. The community was not founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt as these people stated. He dedicated the buildings for the war effort but he was long dead by the time it became a homeowners’ association. I also learned that the buildings were never meant to be permanent.
As I spent tireless hours on the research project, I spoke to the adult children of the factory workers. I also spoke with Virginia Preservation representatives. I delved through documents on historic preservation, construction materials used on the homefront during the war, lives of factory workers, Virginia zoning, and post-war decisions that the US government implemented. I felt enlightened to make my own decisions and presented my findings to the HOA Board of Directors in written reports. Suddenly I became a historian, a writer, a researcher and an educator. However, all I did was unveil the facts as my APUS education has taught me.
On February 21st, 2012 we had the historic vote to sell this community to a developer who offered us each twice the value of our homes. I was confident that not only I made the right decision but educated my community on the facts through conversation as well as written reports. Preservation offered no solution for our situation and the homes because too deteriorated for redemption. We sold the property.
This isn’t the end of the story, or the end of my time here…not just yet. Because of my work, the community elected me to the Board of Directors, and as I a writer I have the role of secretary. My APUS degree greatly assisted in my continued research and writing, and contributions to the community. In addition, my research skills provided me with new and original research methods when community members asked questions involving historical issues. In addition to history, I researched legal issues and contracts to assist the current and past boards. Any issues could not be disputed, because I footnoted all facts accurately using ample resources.
I also worked with this neighborhood to ensure that any and all historical records are given to the county’s archives, and the new owner of the property will display the photographs of the property in their new lobby. I am also working with the Virginia Historical Society to ensure that a highway marker is placed in front of the new property so that the sacrifices of the torpedo workers will not be forgotten.
Soon 430 new townhouse-style apartments will be standing where I type this article. Am I sad? Not in the least. I have a degree in military history and I accept this situation because I did all my homework, learned a lot about these types of situations and made a conscious decision. Not every old building can be saved, and some are simply not meant to be rescued.
Al graduated from American Military University in May 2012 with his M.A. in Military History.
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