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Trent Michaels is the hero of Ruth Logan Herne’s “Reunited Hearts”—a book reviewed here recently. We wanted to ask Trent some difficult questions and we are proud to say he gladly accepted. So let us start:
VINCE: Trent did you take any philosophy courses at West Point? I’m particularly interested in ethics and its application in war.
TRENT: Great question, Vince. Of course, philosophy goes to the completeness of military training on an intellectual and emotional level to complement the physical training. The Introduction to Philosophy is mandated as a core course at the Point, but that was the only philosophy course I took. I’m told it’s similar to civilian courses except for a hefty dose of war ethics as the course winds to an end.
VINCE: I would say, from my teaching experience, that most college students never take a philosophy course beyond Philosophy 101. It's not for everybody but having at least one philosophy course is important in a total education.
TRENT: That's understandable. A favorite saying at the academy is: “The history we teach was made by the people we taught” and in so many cases that’s true, but each man and woman must come to peace with the ideas behind philosophy. The premise of a “just” war. Of fighting for freedom. Of delving beyond applications of war and using applications for peace, like the cool mechanical hinged prosthetic foot the academy recently developed. A local gal, Katie Bascomb, is going to be fitted for this new technology once it’s out on the civilian market, but sometimes the best things developed FOR soldiers are BY soldiers.
VINCE: Do you have a philosopher you feel comes closest to explaining your view of the world?
TRENT: I don’t know if I’d count Abraham Lincoln as a philosopher. More of a reluctant sage. But as a self-schooled man of low means, he set a high bar for mankind, always questioning himself. Sometimes doubting. Often praying. And yet, once a decision was made, he held firm. I like that in a person.
VINCE: Abraham Lincoln is probably a philosopher in the same way that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is a philosopher. Lincoln's a very interesting choice.
VINCE: Do you have a personal philosophy that you live by?
TRENT: I do Vince. I think most men do, don’t they? I believe that God is my compass, my steering companion, my north star. Growing up as an abandoned kid, I never had the parental commitment most of us take for granted. Generally parents love their children. It’s a given. In my case, that wasn’t true, but somewhere inside me was this knowledge and appreciation for God’s love. Christ’s redemption. I think part of my hard work and focus, my urgent will to succeed was to prove myself worthy to God since I was obviously not worthy enough for my parents to embrace.
VINCE: When you were at West Point did you do a lot of dating? I know a lot of women have their sights set on a West Point man.
TRENT: I wonder now where all these women were a few years ago. Sure, I dated some. A few that were almost serious. Nothing quite clicked, but my life was pretty dedicated and fragmented for a while. And I must have missed the hordes of women throwing themselves at my feet. Must have been looking up, watching for snipers.
VINCE: Speaking of snipers, did you ever come close to being killed in battle and, if so, how has that affected your life?
TRENT: No. But I watched a man die, a young marine who gave his life to save three others. I’ve been a more humble person ever since because I don’t know if I could have made that choice, the choice to throw myself on top of an explosive to save those around me. My gut says yes. My heart isn’t nearly as certain.
VINCE: It has been said that only when we are tested can we really know ourselves. How hard was it for you to leave the service? As a West Pointer, weren't you on the fast track to becoming a General?
TRENT: This is a difficult question. When I entered the academy, I thought I’d be army forever, but as time went on and I learned of the situation in Jamison from my friends the Hannitys (Reverend and Mrs. Hannity stayed in touch with me all those years. Mrs. Hannity sent me cookies. Treats. Cards and letters. A very “Martha” act from a true Mary heart.) I realized that maybe God had provided the means for an excellent education and learning experience so that I could bring it back home to Allegany County and help those that helped me. It just made sense.
VINCE: It also seems to be working. You are now in an ideal position to make a difference in your community. But did you ever have dreams of becoming a General? It's said that every Senator looks in a mirror and sees a President. I would think West Pointers would look in a mirror and see a General.
TRENT: In the beginning, maybe. Mostly I was focusing on getting through courses, drills, not looking stupid while doing it! But I like working with people face to face, hands-on. A general has way too much desk time for my liking. Now I’m at a desk, but I’m also in the plant, checking out production, working with design teams, pestering Jeff Brennan about getting things right the first time. It’s kind of a joke, only he doesn’t get the humor in it like I do! Electrical and mechanical engineering design guys are an interesting lot. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
VINCE: What military person in history do you most admire?
TRENT: Washington. When have you ever seen a more patient, trusting man in such unlikely to succeed circumstances? Amazing resolve and focus.
VINCE: I have to agree with you. The more I learn about Washington the more I admire him. He was America’s Cincinnatus – the Roman general who would leave his farm to head the army and save the Republic in times of emergency only to immediately give up all his powers when the danger was over and go back to his farm. Washington wanted to do the same thing. There are few men in history like this.
VINCE: They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Did being in combat change your faith and belief in God?
TRENT: Great quote. No. My belief in man’s ability to make wise choices was downgraded somewhat, but I’ve learned a great deal about perspective and reality. One person’s reality affects and colors not only their belief system but their every choice. And it doesn’t matter if their reality is wrong, or fragmented, or has little basis in fact… If it’s the only thing they know, they act accordingly. We are blessed to be Americans. Amazingly blessed.
VINCE: You’re reached your 30s without ever marrying. Do you think this is a result of being in the service or have you always carried a flame for Alyssa Langley?
TRENT: I’ve always carried Alyssa in my heart. Maybe that’s true of every first love, maybe it was because she was my destiny. I don’t know. But I never came close to marrying, mostly because of time constraints. I tend to be linear. First A, then B, then C… Finding Alyssa again, and being with Jaden and Cory has taught me that linear is strictly a geometric term when dealing with family life. And I’m quite happy to be running circles!
VINCE: I must say that Alyssa is a lucky woman to be loved so much. Did you think it was God’s plan that your son was hidden from you for all those years? How have you dealt with it?
TRENT: No, of course not. It was human frailty. Alyssa made a choice she thought was good for me. I’m a black and white soldier, just learning about shades of gray, but she knows it was the wrong choice. I know it. But having said that, I believe that out of great wrong can come wondrous good and that’s how I feel about my life. That the broken road, or the hidden “Blessings” may have been forged with tears and laments, but we’re together now. We’ve learned and matured. And she looks great in a bathing suit.
VINCE: What are the three most influential books that you’ve ever read?
TRENT: I love Tolkien’s fantasies. The great battles. Good over evil. I’ve actually got (I almost hate to admit this) armies of little Lego men I’ve procured on e-bay that I’ve re-designed to fight the battles. Alyssa thinks I’m a little whacked, but Jaden and Cory love it. I set up our basement rec room as a go-to place for battle. Maybe it’s that little boy in me, still fighting his way out. Either way, it’s great to play with the kids down there.
VINCE: You sound like every kid's dream dad. But go on.
TRENT: I also admire Max Lucado’s The Crippled Lamb. Cory loves that story and Alyssa and I read it to her all year long, even though it’s a Christmas tale. I really relate to Christ’s beginnings. The humble and dirty stable. A manger. Hay. The chill night, the promise of a new tomorrow. Wandering that field when I was four years old, I was as alone as anyone ever could be until that hunter stumbled over me. He was wearing blaze orange because it was deer season, and I’ve loved orange ever since. Weird how a kid can take on after things, isn’t it?
And Herman Wouk’s Winds of War. I have his whole body of work, and I love the way Wouk turns a story, but Winds of War is my favorite. Now there’s a linear writer for you, but woven with the intricacies of a well-laid battle plan. It’s hard to find a mistake or mis-step in Wouk’s work. And his soldiers are real people. They have real foibles. Real life happening around them in the midst of chaos. Few authors can do that and make the reader feel each step, each page.
VINCE: I can tell you have a love of literature. I think you would have made a great general. Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers about your life?
TRENT: I think the most important aspect of my life now is that I’m home. I have a home, a family, a place. I’m back in Allegany County, I have a job I love, a wife I’d lay down my life for, and a baby on the way. Who could ask for more from the Lord our God?
VINCE: I don't think you've received anything less than you deserve. Thanks for being here today and thanks for your service. It is always an honor to meet a West Point man or woman.
You can read Trent and Alyssa's story in "Reunited Hearts".