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Thoughts from a Tech Data Veteran on Veterans Day:  If I Could Witness One Event in History…

Posted by Dwight Hawkins on Nov 11, 2019 7:00:00 AM

In celebration of America’s vets on Veterans Day, Authority reached out to one of its own, Dwight Hawkins. Dwight recently joined Tech Data after a 20 year career in the U.S. Air Force. As one would expect, given his choice of Service options, Dwight’s interest in aviation and manned space flight took on new significance this past July with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Illustrative of  all the men and women who have served our Nation, these three men exhibited remarkable courage, character and commitment. 

In honor of America’s heroes -past and present- on this Veterans Day, Dwight reflected on America’s role in the world, its impact on history and the contributions our advancements have had in fueling the growth of technology. Looking back, Dwight shares with us that one event he wishes he could have witnessed; events made possible by those who served and those who supported their service – Happy Veterans Day.

Pick a random person off the street, and I guarantee that they have a lifetime of memories seared into their minds. Memories good, bad, happy and sad; all filled with places and people who were there to watch them unfold. Like your first kiss, the birth of your son or daughter or -for our millennials- your first time breaking the “100 Likes” barrier to the picture posted on social media. Those are all significant events in a person’s life that will resonate with them forever. They may even talk to their kids or their grandchildren about them.

Over the years, Hollywood has made several movies involving time machines, fantasy worlds, solving impossibly complex crimes (or "pre-crimes” – AKA Tom Cruise in the movie, Minority Report). Maybe even the ’80s blockbuster, Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox jumps into the DeLorean time machine (sports car) and travels back to his parents’ youth and inadvertently changes their history (courtesy of Biff and a mean guitar solo), making them ‘rad’ parents. No offense to Marty McFly, but if I went back in time, I wouldn’t want to change history; I’d rather witness it… Watching Neil, Buzz and Michael accomplish what I consider to be the greatest achievement in the history of mankind – the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Houston, the Eagle has Landed

As NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it got me thinking about its significance, not only for U.S. history, but world history - simply amazing. if you look at what was happening in the world at the time, we were deep into the thralls of the Vietnam conflict. The military service draft was well underway and young men from across the country were not sure what their future held after high school. Would they go to work, go to college, or go to Vietnam? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic I Have a Dream Speech just a few years earlier, and the country was still in racial turmoil with protests, in the struggle for civil rights. To top it all off, in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy stood up and gave his famous speech at Rice University about the U.S. putting a man on the moon this decade, the Soviet Union was beating us at every stage in the space race – first satellite (Sputnik), first man in space (Yuri Gagarin) and first spacewalk. The seeds, however, had been planted. 

Following the first Sputnik, Sputnik 2 was launched in 1957 with first living being to orbit the earth, a dog named Laika. Poor Laika never made it back but her memory lives on. President Kennedy, however, saw the bigger picture and used the U.S.S.R.’s success as his carrot to energize America’s ingenuity and grit. While the limits of imagination were boundless, for technology, this was far from reality. Did you know that the guidance computers directing Apollo 11 to the moon had less processing power than cell phones? In fact, your iPhone has over 100,000 times more processing power. Our goal went way beyond just getting a man into orbit and back; the vision became the moon.

Considering what it must have been like to watch that vision become reality sounds extremely exciting. Something so ambitious and far more significant than any one person. But the road to get there was filled with failures (launchpad explosions), controversy (Gus Grissom’s blown hatch), near, in-space catastrophes (Gemini 8) and the loss of an entire crew (Apollo 1).  Eleven months after making his bold declaration to put a man on the moon, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. What now? Mission forward - press on!

The sixties was an amazing decade – momentous events -good and bad- reshaped a nation and a world:  The Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, assassinations of two leaders (JFK, MLK) Beatlemania, Woodstock hippies, drugs, "free love" and the international conflict which put the U.S. and Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war (Cuban missile crisis). So much happened Billy Joel put it all in a song (We Didn’t Start the Fire).  The 1960's was no ordinary decade in America – all unsettling yet extremely fascinating; all of which underscore, even more, the amazement of NASA’s crowning achievement; an amazing capstone to a historic decade; just as its sun was setting.

Imagine, despite all the strive and discontent in our country, for that one moment in time; everyone could forget what was happening in their personal lives, what was happening on the job, what has caused them pain, what has caused the anger, agony, uncertainty — wiped away at least for a few minutes, as all eyes were focused on a planet more than 200,00 miles from earth. Over 600 million people around the world were fixated on their television screens (mind you, these are not the beautiful, shiny, colorful 55” inch flat screens many of us enjoy these days. We are talking primarily black & white TV, folks) all watching with amazement, the coverage of landing on the moon and taking those historic steps on the lunar surface.

To at least enjoy that great achievement while it lasted with no hate, no anger, no judgment, just pride. Pride in the accomplishment of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and the thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians, and others that made it possible, and not least of all the man who spoke the mission into existence back in 1962, President John F. Kennedy.

In a related story, celebrating our veterans and the technologies they embraced to keep our country free, Andrea Miner, Tech Data’s Director, Consulting Services, IoT and Analytics, wrote a fitting tribute to an American hero who played a vital role during the cold war; working as a spy for the National Security Agency (NSA) - her father. Click here to read Andrea's story.

About the Author

Dwight Hawkins is a Marketing Communications Specialist for Tech Data in Tempe, Arizona. In his role, Dwight works on several external communications initiatives including the Authority blog, web content, partner newsletter, executive and presentation content and helping to build out thought leadership program and brand equity. Prior to joining Tech Data Dwight served over 20 years in the United States Air Force garnering experience in public affairs, video and radio broadcasting, and strategic communication.

Tags: history, technology, mobile technology, Leadership, Veterans Day

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