Capt. Joe Eldred on Being a Force for Good

During Episcopal's annual Veterans Day Chapel, faculty member, Capt. Joe Eldred addressed the student body. He reminded students to be a force for good, and encouraged them to live a life of service. Below are his remarks: 

This Friday, November 11, is Veterans Day – a day in the United States in which we recognize those who have served in the military. The tenth grade World History students are currently doing a wonderful job studying WWI, so they know that November 11 is an important historical date because the WWI armistice was effective at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. 

Right, my tenth-grade scholars?

When I was on active duty in the U.S. Navy, my mom loved telling her friends that I was “in the service.” From the day I was commissioned as a Naval officer back in 1992, she never said “my son is in the Navy” or “my son is in the military” — it was always “my son is in the service.”  

I loved my mom, but for the longest time I never really liked her use of that old-fashioned phrase to describe what I was doing in the Navy.

What was I doing in the Navy?  When I was a brand new junior officer fresh out of college at 22 years old, I was assigned for three years to a Navy warship named the USS Merrill. The Merrill was a type of ship called a destroyer — home to 350 sailors, about 520 feet long, weighed about 8200 tons, could go about 30 knots (which is around 30 miles an hour) — and when we hit rough weather and big waves, the Merrill would bounce around in the water like a ping pong ball.

But I eventually got my “sea legs,” which means my body got used to the ship’s rocking and rolling on the heavy waves, and I qualified to stand watch on the ship’s bridge as “Officer of the Deck.” This meant the ship’s captain trusted me to be in charge of the USS Merrill in the middle of the night when he was sound asleep.

I still remember the first time I stood the “Officer of the Deck” watch by myself at 2 a.m., pitch black outside, pouring rain, heavy seas, wondering if I was really ready to do this all alone… 

Except I wasn’t alone. I had many teammates who were also standing watch throughout USS Merrill — everyone working together to make sure we kept the ship and our shipmates safe out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from home.

That’s what I miss most about the Navy: the people I served with, from literally all walks of life, from all over the U.S., and from all over the world. If you have ever been part of a team at EHS — athletics, theater, robotics – then you know what a great feeling it is to be with a group of people united toward a common goal, a common mission, and a common purpose.

I loved that feeling in the Navy of serving with a group of dedicated people united in a common mission to do our small part to keep our country safe. I loved that feeling so much that I ended up serving on active duty for 27 years. Looking back now, the years seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.

But back to my mom and her use of the phrase “in the service.” The reason I am standing before you today is because my mom also led a life of service; specifically, as a teacher at St. Thomas More School in Chapel Hill for 30 years. She was on her school’s Easter Break when she passed away very unexpectedly on Easter Sunday in 2016. 

At her funeral, hundreds of my mom’s current and former students showed up and told me about the positive impact she made on their lives in her service as a teacher, mentor, and friend. Those words made such an impact on me that when it was time to retire from the Navy, I decided to first try to follow in my mom’s footsteps as a teacher. Thank you, EHS, for giving me the opportunity to do so.

I think my mom would very much appreciate the EHS Mission Statement, part of which states that EHS prepares young people to “pursue lives of ethical leadership and service.” Service meant so much to her. Serving in the military for the majority of my adult life was the right decision for me, and it just may be the right decision for you too.  A military career can be very challenging, and it can also be incredibly rewarding.   
So on this upcoming Veterans Day, please take a moment to recognize and thank your friends and family who served in the military, whether it was for three years or for 30 years, or somewhere in between. Trust me, they will appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness. 

But as we recognize those who chose to serve in the Armed Forces, please remember that there are so many different ways to live a life of service and make a difference in the lives of others. Teachers, nurses, doctors, first responders, law enforcement, civil servants, clergy, social workers, coaches, researchers, counselors — the list goes on and on, and we should salute them all.

Students who have taken one of my classes at EHS may recall that at the beginning of each semester we spend some time discussing one of the EHS Core Beliefs: “We are all part of something greater than ourselves with the capacity and responsibility to be a force for good in the lives of others.”

Friends, that’s the very definition of service: “We are all part of something greater than ourselves with the capacity and responsibility to be a force for good in the lives of others.”

And so I will end this Chapel Talk with a Veterans Day challenge to the current EHS scholars: How will you be a force for good in the lives of others, both here on The Holy Hill and beyond? You have the capacity. You have the responsibility. How will you live a life of service?

I salute you as you continue your journey, and I love you all. Thank you and God Bless The High School.