Who’s packing Alpena’s parachute?

Have you heard the story of Charlie Plumb? Charlie was a Navy pilot in Vietnam. He flew 75 combat missions before his plane was hit with a missile. Charlie parachuted from the destroyed plane into enemy territory, was captured, and spent six years in a Vietnamese prison. But because of his parachute, he lived. Charlie is now a motivational speaker, sharing the hard lessons he learned as a result of this experience. Years later, while at a restaurant with his wife he bumped into someone who said he knew him from the Navy and his fateful mission from the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier. Charlie couldn’t place the sailor and when he asked how he knew him, the man said, “I packed your parachute.”

Charlie credits the man with saving his life; citing the crucial importance of a working parachute as being as critical to a mission as the skill of the pilot. My only experience with a parachute is elementary school gym class where you trap air under the silk and sit under it until it falls on your head. But I do know that after seeing one in real life, it would not be so easy to properly stuff the chute and all the rigging lines into a backpack so it would unfurl in the exact fashion necessary to be a life-saving device. This makes the job of the parachute packer extremely important.

Alpena experienced a big fall with the last recession. About ten years ago the nation got the stifles, Michigan caught the flu, and Alpena was down with pneumonia. It has taken us a long time to recover but I think most of us would agree that we are now stronger than we’ve ever been. Part of the reason why it was such a struggle to recover was due to our collective attitude about our worthiness as a community. We’ve overcome that attitude and have come a long way since then. Current success is a direct result of, not only those who are working to develop the community; but more importantly, a result of those who are supporting people on the front lines. For those who fight for Alpena, the job is second-nature because of a strong passion to make this community great. But, even the strongest passion can experience exhaustion. Sometimes resistance from outside forces (and even inside forces) make progress an uphill battle. When I think of some of the resent battles like saving the trails at Chippewa Hills Pathway from overly aggressive timber harvest, saving air our regional service, or improving unemployment rates; to small conflicts like correcting errors in press coverage that improperly represents Alpena and improving local negative perceptions about what the community has to offer, I am reminded that none of these situations achieve positive outcomes without a properly packed parachute.

I couldn’t possibly list all the people who pack my parachute. From my teammates Jessie Morasky and Nicole Carr at the Convention & Visitors Bureau, to my husband and extended family, to my babysitter when I was 6 and my 4-H horse club leaders when I was 12 – all have played a role in encouraging me to affect positive change in my environment whether it be visible or behind the scenes, tangible or social.

Every word of encouragement, volunteer hour served, dollar donated and project idea carried through to fruition contributes to the positive end result. Everyone plays a role in making Alpena a community we are proud to call home. Everyone is responsible for packing Alpena’s parachute. The question for you is: Are you taking great care with your words, your attitude, and your help to assure that our parachute is properly packed; or, are you ripping the fabric and tangling the lines?

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.