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Dave Story: Army Grammar Lesson
Dave Carlson - February 3, 2005

If I ever write an auto-biography, this story most likely will be there. It is a story about my life I thought you might find interesting. Many times when I tell my stories, people say, “You should write a book about that.” So, here’s a start…

1981 Colorado -- I was an Army lieutenant; he was a one-star general. I was full of energy and enthusiasm; he was wise and understanding. We were both stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.

I was selected to serve on his team to evaluate a National Guard brigade. The general was chief evaluator; my role was to evaluate the engineer unit. We met in the morning to discuss the daily objectives, then got together again in the evening to review the day’s activities.

At the end of our two-week evaluation period all of the evaluators summarized our observations and submitted input for the general’s final evaluation report of the brigade. When the general completed his report, he asked each of his sub-unit evaluators to ensure there were no errors and that we agreed with our portion of the final evaluation.

Split Infinitive

Of course, the young lieutenant on his first major evaluation mission (that would be me) called upon his extensive understanding of the English language by correcting a grammatical error in the general’s report.

The General asked me why I changed his report. I told him I though it sounded better the way I wrote it. I was surprised and impressed with how he handled the situation.

The general calmly and respectfully explained what was wrong with what I had written. After a detailed discussion of split infinitives and verbs, I thanked him for his patience with me and apologized for changing his words. He winked at me and smiled as he said, “Just don’t let it happen again.”

As soon as I returned home that night, I looked up in several grammar books the things he told me. How ‘bout that. The general was right. I promised myself I never would make that kind of mistake again and did everything I could to master English grammar. I learned more about grammar and individual character during those 15 minutes of his life he gave me, instead of just yelling at me for making an ignorant mistake.

General Colin Powell, I thank you again for one of the most important lessons I ever received about individual character and the most effective grammar lesson of my life.


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