by Audrey Thomasson
WEEMS—It takes a strong and unwavering support system to overcome poverty, said a man who persevered in the face of life’s obstacles in order to achieve his dreams.
“My success is tied to my family, coaches, teachers, pastors, mentors and church. They instilled in me a value for education,” said U.S. Army Major General Patrick D. Sargent in a celebration of Men’s Day November 20 at Sharon Baptist Church.
Gen. Sargent was in Lancaster with his wife, Sherry Hill Sargent, to visit her family, Lloyd and Eleanor Hill of Weems.
Gen. Sargent is deputy commanding general for operations U.S. Army Medical Command in San Antonio, Texas, and the 18th Chief of the U.S. Army Medical Service Command.
The two-star general is proof that it takes a village to raise a child. “If you want to go fast—go alone. If you want to go far—go together,” he said.
He is a long way from where his life began.
“I was born to a single mom…who worked as a maid. We lived in Panama City, Florida,” in what he described as an extremely poor neighborhood. He remembered the dirt floors, the heat being turned off and the eviction notices. But because everyone around them lived in similar conditions, “I didn’t know everyone was poor. We collectively came together and took care of each other.”
But the boy who grew up to become a general didn’t let poverty determine his life. It was a trip to an air show in his sophomore year of high school that opened his eyes to the possibilities of what could be. Immediately, he set his sights on becoming a fighter pilot.
Despite working hard in school to achieve his goals, he was met with guidance counselors who tried to “squash my dream.”
Can you imagine, this boy from the poor neighborhood thinking he could become a fighter pilot? he asked the congregation. “They told me to go into the army or go to community college.”
Instead of being deterred, he joined the school’s JROTC program. “You have to have a focus and a relentless pursuit of your dreams,” he said.
Even when he was accepted at Florida State University, the first of his family to graduate from high school and attend college, he remained committed to his goal and continued in ROTC. But pledging a fraternity became a distraction. Slipping grades meant he no longer qualified for Air Force flight school.
Again, it was suggested he lower his sights and become part of the crew instead. But that wasn’t the dream and he became more determined to find another way. So when he learned he could qualify to become an Army helicopter pilot, he adjusted his dream.
“Blessings come out of adversity,” he explained.
Overcoming setbacks to excel was a great lesson for a future general.
“Failure is necessary to grow. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t study. I had no one to blame but myself. So coming into the Army, I decided to be prepared.”
He focused on the goal and worked hard to succeed. It wasn’t long before he was overseeing tactical and operation combat commands during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His lesson for success: Surround yourself with a support system of church, family and community; focus on your goal and work hard to get there; work harder than everyone else; view setbacks and failures as a learning experience on the way to success; and don’t dwell on the past.
He encouraged people to help others.
“We must have respect for humanity. We all have a responsibility for improving the conditions of humanity…and helping our neighbors. Serve your church. Serve your community. Focus on something bigger than yourself. ” He asked the congregation to remember the men and women serving in the military and their families. “Thank them every day. Remember those that are injured, but most importantly—those that have died.”
A strong faith in God lit the path out of poverty for one determined boy.
“You’ve got to reach out on faith. Your value in the world is not determined by your station in life. I am living testimony to God’s mercy,” he said. “All that I’ve accomplished in my life is by the grace of the Lord.
“The race isn’t given to the strong, but to the one that endures to the end.”