My friend Maggie has a degree in journalism and runs a family owned business in Oklahoma. She is a writer I admire who has shared many wonderful stories with me over the last seven years or so. She originally wrote this story on February 13th, 2008.
From the People Watcher
Pau (not his real name) is a little, quiet man with a quick smile and nod of his head in a distinctly Oriental gesture of respect. He came to our company through a temporary employment service and as of yesterday had worked three months. We now had the option of hiring him without additional costs, of keeping him as a temp or of letting him go. He is a production employee who does final mechanical assembly. Both his co-workers and the production manager like his work and like him on a personal level and the decision was made to add him to the permanent staff. Pau was pleased with our decision. He had worked on an assembly line at GM in Detroit for 30 years, a job which he did not enjoy. Here, he said, he was able to do a lot of jobs, not one small job over and over, and had the freedom to get to know his co-workers. GM had laid him off and gave him a full benefit package. His wife announced that she no longer needed him since he did not have a job with money and filed for divorce. After 30 years of the same things now everything was different for him.
Pau moved to Oklahoma to benefit from the lower cost of living and warmer weather here. He never considered living on his pension from GM, saying that "eating and sleeping only is not good. We need to work to stay healthy." So yesterday Ms. HR and I sat in the conference room with him to explain his benefits and have him complete the required paperwork to add him to our staff.
We gave him the I-9, a form designed to detect people working here illegally and asked him if he had a green card or if he were a citizen. With a big smile he told us that he was a citizen. He seemed physically larger when he said it and I could hear the pride in him voice. I wondered what this country would be like if each of us had that sort of pride in being American.
HR put the completed I-9 in his folder and passed the W-4 to him. He told us that the number of dependants would change in March. He was planning a trip back to Laos, his homeland, to marry a young woman from his hometown. He told us that he had seen her last year and admired the way she looked and her mother had given her daughter to him. This was a completely foreign concept to me, but as he talked about her he did it with such respect and consideration for her wishes that somehow it seemed right for them. He said his bride-to-be had never been outside of her little village and had only been in an automobile once. But, he said, if she did not become afraid of such big changes in her life, he would go to the mountain with her parents and bring her down in the traditional wedding ceremony of Laos. The next day the newly weds would go to the American Embassy and arrange for the new wife to return to Broken Arrow with her husband. Pau seemed comfortable and confident about what needed to be done to bring her back home.
Pau took a photograph out of his wallet and slide it across the table to me. It showed Pau dressed in traditional Laos attire standing behind a chair occupied by a beautiful young woman. Both were dressed in gold which seemed to glisten as if threads of real gold were woven into the cloth. The photo could easily been a cover from a National Geographic Magazine. I looked at the beautiful face and was in awe of the courage she must have to leave her small world and enter a new world with a person she hardly knows.
In these orientation conferences with a new employee, we are careful to get the information we need for the file but also careful not to infringe on the employee's right to privacy. But Pau seemed comfortable with our questions and I had to ask how he had managed to get to the U.S. He took out a card from his wallet and passed it to me. The laminated card showed a picture of a young Pau and across the center were the words United States Army Special Forces and I knew that in all likelihood I was in the presence of a true hero.
The United States Army Special Forces is an elite special operations force of the U.S. Army.
Special Forces units are tasked with seven specific missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, combating terrorism, counter-proliferation, and information operations. Other duties include coalition warfare and support, combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian de-mining and counter-drug operations. Many of their operational techniques are classified. Their official motto is De Oppresso Liber (Latin: "To Liberate the Oppressed"), a reference to one of their primary missions to train and assist foreign indigenous forces. (from Wikipedia)
Pau told us that his job was to find pilots who had ejected from a damaged plane and bring them back to safety. Search and rescue. Visions of a young Pau running across the jungles of Laos to rescue a downed American pilot from Cleveland or perhaps even Tulsa gave me a new and deeper appreciation for this production worker.
I love people and their stories and yesterday I was privileged to get to know a real American hero.