09 October 2013

During Furlough, We Can Hold the Line on Values

Editor's note: In a week of politics and shutdowns and furloughs, Washington National Guard citizen-soldier Gabriel Russell posted the following essay to friends and family via Facebook. It is noteworthy for its clear voice, and articulation of values. He has graciously granted permission to present the essay as a guest blog. I didn’t know Russell before I read his words, but I'm glad to know him now. I hope you’ll feel the same way.

In his military job, Russell works as a senior enlisted soldier at 205th Regiment (Leadership), where he helps train future Army leaders. In his civilian job, he works as a government employee with a focus on security issues.

It goes without saying, of course, that the views he expresses are his own, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official positions of any governmental agency.


By Gabriel Russell
gabriel.russell AT takoubasecurity.com

A Safeway store before opening. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Perspective. Got stuck in the lone checkout line at Safeway behind a woman buying groceries with her EBT card (food stamps). She had her teenaged son with her and a huge stack of coupons. I’ve been having a frustrating week. I was wearing coat and tie and probably had a grumpy look on my face when I arrived. The woman working the register kept looking at me apologetically as time went on and the line grew.

The shopper had a coupon for almost every item. She went through that stack of coupons four times slowly because she was missing one. I think she had coupons for apples, soup, pasta, rice, beans, and bread. She was missing a 60 cent coupon for her two cartons of almond milk. She had a list and had calculated to the penny what she could buy, had $70 on her EBT card and $20 or so on a check she had written but she was $1.20 short to finalize the purchase.

I was tempted to pass the woman two bucks but she was already starting to radiate with awkward embarrassment. Her son stood behind her and stared at the floor. Finally the shopper asked the register worker if there was any way she could look through the weekly flier and find the coupon she needed and the worker started paging through it for her.

My irritation dissipated the longer I stood there. Its been a long time since I agonized over $1.20 for food. I’ve never had to do it with a crowd behind me. I could see the time and care she had put into her shopping trip, calculating the cost, clipping coupons, buying cheap healthy food.

I relaxed. I smiled. The coupon was finally found and the sale made. The register worker kept thanking me for my patience. I suppose these days most folks expect a certain amount of eye-rolling and grimacing when a customer is inconvenienced for a few minutes. We’re very busy people.

By Monday, the shutdown will have cost me enough from a plane ticket change fee and a lost weekend of National Guard wages that it will sting. But I won’t miss a meal, or even skimp. I won’t miss a mortgage payment. I won’t fear for my phone or electricity being shut off. I have friends that may. I’m grateful for all that America has given me. I’m glad my wife has a good-paying job.

Not everyone is so lucky. We have young National Guard soldiers here in Washington State that rely on their drill pay for food and lodging and on military tuition assistance to pay for college. They won’t be getting either due to the shutdown. Each of them volunteered to serve in their nation’s military during time of war, uncertain of the cost.

This will likely, hopefully, be resolved before my young soldiers or friends in federal service even have time to apply for food stamps or unemployment. But not, perhaps, before a few missed payments, missed meals, and sleepless nights. It bothers me to see them treated this way.

The legislative branch of our government has its work cut out for it. I’d like to see them take up that task with the same zeal, teamwork and selfless sense of service to nation and community I see in the young soldiers and law-enforcement officers that work for me. I’d like that a great deal.

All I did ... the best I did today ... was to stand patiently in line behind someone less fortunate than myself and not act like a complete ass. The woman at the register seemed appreciative. Almost like she expected me to be annoyed. Is this what we’ve come to? Is this what people expect?

Patience. Compassion. Persistence. Teamwork. I expect these attributes of my most junior employees.

I expect them of myself.

I expect them of my government.


  1. I can understand the frustration of waiting in line behind someone with multiple coupons. A couple of aspects of this situation are not the same, however. 1) She wasn't one of those professional couponers (though she may be a professional or near professional at using them) trying to get her food for as close to free as she could. 2) She had put in her own effort at making her money stretch enough along with her EBT benefits.

    You don't mention her food selections but from what you did post this seemed a situation of true need and true effort to do ones part to make ends meet.

  2. Great Perspective. Thanks

  3. Thank you for sharing this. There are many folks in this great country of ours that are barely making ends meet.

  4. I get only $49 in food stamps, but I spend it cautiously, using coupons to stretch the amount farther. I suppose I get about twice the amount in food because I buy ingredients, not prepared items. However, the combination EBT and coupons drives some people to snort and shuffle behind me. Thank you for realizing not all of us are using your money for our treats.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.