Learning a lesson from the short man


By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]



Recently, there has been much talk about littering in Surry County. There’s even been a meeting involving representation from just about every entity in the county.

Admittedly, I never noticed the trash strewn along roadsides until Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris brought it up at a meeting. Now it sticks out like a sore thumb. Everywhere I go, I see trash. I drive down U.S. 52 and see trash. I paddle along the Ararat River, and I see trash. I walk trails at Pilot Mountain State Park, and I even notice trash there.

By whatever power one chooses to believe, the human race was placed on earth to rule. The fact is our species controls the world. Whether that’s fair to other animals who inhabit the earth is irrelevant.

With power and might also comes responsibility — the responsibility of stewardship. Here in Surry County we aren’t very good at seeing that responsibility through.

One look at the inside of my car is all one needs to come to the conclusion I don’t throw trash out of the window. Instead, it finds its way to the floorboard. Once the passenger seat becomes lost in the heap or when my wife yells at me, I clean it out.

I put it in bags and take it off to one of the many convenience centers here in Surry County. They are relatively conveniently located throughout the county, which I assume is what leads to the name.

I’m not sure what major malfunction is contained in the brain of a person who throws his or her McDonald’s wrapper out the window, but I would recommend the floorboard option instead. It works all right for me.

I have a long history of fighting litter. In fact, I would say it led to some level of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2011, I jumped on a helicopter headed to Combat Outpost Herrera. When we were wheels down at the little base, we learned our first mission.

Our first order of business wasn’t to attack the enemy. It was to attack the trash which littered the entire post. It seemed the Oklahoma National Guard unit which called the place home prior to us wasn’t filled with good stewards.

I remember taking a picture for our monthly company newsletter of some of our boys loading a trash truck. The mound of trash they were removing was about 15 feet tall.

We had a senior non-commissioned officer who was obsessed with trash. It pretty much didn’t matter what was happening. Trash took precedent. If you were running for cover during a mortar attack you had better not step over a piece of trash.

In that instance the choice was simple, you risk getting blown up to pick up the piece of trash or you face the short man’s fury. Best bet was to take your chances with the mortars.

Once a platoon sergeant came into my office swearing. Apparently, the first sergeant had put the entire company to work cleaning up the trash pit, the area in which we burned all our trash. It seems he wanted a nice, clean trash pit. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone. We didn’t get it either.

With many expletives included in the commentary, Sgt. Martinez said something to the effect of, “It’s a trash pit. It’s where the trash goes. What are we doing? Why are my guys doing a police call in the trash pit.”

When I was home on mid-tour leave I sat at a bowling alley with my family, only getting up to roll my ball or refill my beer.

I noticed I was sitting there rocking. It probably appeared as though I was staring into nothing, but I wasn’t. Three alleys down a gum wrapper lay on the floor.

I was staring at it, and the short, bald man was screaming, “trash, trash, trash” in my head. Finally, I got up and picked up the wrapper.

While the priorities of the leader who gave me trash PTSD may have been a little messed up, he did teach me some lessons. When members of the 101st Infantry Division started flying in to replace us at COP Herrera, I was proud to help hand off a post which was at least a little better than what we had adopted from our predecessors.

I think Surry County residents and others using the roadways in this county could learn that same lesson from the short, bald man.

Leaving this place a little better for the generation which will inherit it is easily done. It involves simply not throwing your fast food wrapper out of the car window, covering the trash you take to the landfill and taking a few extra steps to pick up a piece of litter as you walk along the greenway.

Plus, if the county wins its “war on litter,” the little voice screaming “trash, trash, trash” in my head may finally stop.

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By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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