Blowing Stuff up with an EOD

I interviewed Paul, who was an EOD with the Air Force.  He dismantled IEDs (home-made bombs), blew stuff up, protected the President, completed top secret missions, and kept people safe.  Below is his story. 

When Claire was just a little baby, she was in foster care for three and a half months.  After we adopted Claire, we became great friends with her foster family, and still have a relationship with them to this day. One of their sons, Paul, was already in the Air Force at the time of Claire’s adoption, working as an EOD Technician. (EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.) Claire’s foster mom Robin would often email me and request prayer for Paul, because he was often in very dangerous situations.  I am finally interviewing Paul to figure out exactly what he did for a living. Paul is now retired from the Air Force (even though he’s fairly young) and I had the opportunity to do a Skype interview with him.

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Paul (center), with Afghan soldiers.  Paul was retired as an EOD Tech after 16 years of service in the Air Force.  It’s a small miracle that he even survived. Below is his story.

 

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Paul and Claire, being silly.

First of all Paul, tell us about your job?

EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, basically disarming anything that was ever created since the beginning of time from any country, whether chemical weapon, biological weapon, nuclear weapon, hand grenades, or IEDs.  We deal with them all.  And then, where appropriate, detonating the bomb.  We deal with anything that goes boom or zoom.  We also do range clearances and also Secret Service detail for the President.

(quick research note: according to Airforce.com, an EOD Tech is “trained to detect, disarm, detonate, and dispose of explosive threats all over the world…assigned to some of the most dangerous missions.  They do what needs to be done to keep others safe.”)

Why did you choose to go into EOD?

I wanted something more, and that was definitely it.  If you google the most dangerous job in the military across all the branches, it’s number one.  We all go to the same school — the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army — we all attend an EOD School on an Air Force base in Florida that’s run by the Navy, but all of us are in the exact same school, even mixed in the same class.  I went in for the action, the adventure, and to blow stuff up.  What little boy doesn’t love that?

What was training like?

Training was very difficult.  We started with 100 people and we graduated with 7.  EOD has an extremely high wash-out rate.  You have to be able to do a very high-intensity job with zero errors.  And you have to be able to do it in a 90 pound bomb suit when it’s 115 degrees outside.  You have to be able to function well while you are exhausted.  All of our studying was done through books and publications.  All the studying had to be done at the classroom for up to fourteen, fifteen hours a day.  Because it’s classified, you couldn’t bring anything home.  And you do that for nine months straight, and that’s just for the basic course.  You will continue years of additional school and a lifetime of training.

Are there any women that go into EOD?

Yes, there are.  A lot of women don’t make it through the pull-up part of the test. But there are females that do it and many of them are actually really good bomb techs.

How long were your deployments?

Six months to a year for a deployment.  Some don’t deploy for awhile and some deploy back to back. I left Iraq because Bush told us we were pulling troops out of Iraq and everyone cheered, but then I got shipped straight to Afghanistan.

What do you actually do in the field?  Sounds like you dismantle bombs and then blow things up?

Yes, we try to disarm them first, where they are at. Usually, the bomb is in a bad spot, we disarm it enough to where it’s safe for transport and then we bring it out to the middle of nowhere and dispose of it.  We blow it up.  We try to get the intel part we can keep first.  We also do range clearances, which is essentially where we clean up bombs that don’t go off at military training sites, especially in Nevada.  We also dispose of things for the Military (by explosives).

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Paul, on one of his deployments.

Have you ever disarmed a bomb that you weren’t quite sure how to properly disarm?

Yeah, all of them, kinda.  A bomb that is dropped from an aircraft, all are pretty much the same and there are publications and books to deal with this, step-by-step.  With an IED (which stands for an Improvised Explosive Device), which is a home-made bomb, it’s different, as they are all slightly different.  But that’s the challenge – to figure it out.  That’s why I like it so much.  How does it function?  How does it work? And then figure out the safe way to disarm it.

Were you afraid to die?

For me — the reality of what just happened or what you just had to do never really hits me until after.  Even afterwards, when you are heading back to camp, you are still on the “mission high” and you really don’t think about all the “what ifs” and what could go wrong.  Thinking about ANYTHING else but the problem in front of you will get you killed.

Where did you serve?

Texas, Mississippi, Colorado, Florida, Europe, California, Nevada, then deployments: Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places (top secret).

Tell us about your Presidential Detail?

We are the bomb squad for the President, so wherever he goes, we go.  We get there long before he does.  We also provide service detail for Foreign dignitaries, First Ladies, Vice Presidents, U.N. Counsels, anything where there will be big people at, where there could be a threat, we work with that.  I was face to face with President Obama once; we both nodded at each other.

Tell me about a typical mission?

When you are deployed, you get a call, most of the time it’s a group, maybe a convoy somewhere, that came across an IED and they set up a safety circle and evacuate everyone out of that area. And they call us and say, “hey, we need an EOD for an IED.”  At that point, we either convoy or fly out to that location.  We also bring a whole security convoy. We go out to the location and deal with it.

Tell me about one of your more memorable missions?

That’s a hard one.  There are so many and I don’t know how to categorize.  There are some missions that you will never forget; they leave a scar on your heart.  There are some where you get a good feeling.  For example, once we took an IED out of a school.  They try to blow up their own schools with their own kids in them.  Another time, there was a magnetic IED that was stuck to the side of a fuel tanker. In front of hundreds of other fuel tankers, all side by side.  Had that gone wrong…

Most dangerous mission?

Night missions are always some of the most challenging and dangerous missions.  But a lot of work is done under the cover of darkness, at night.  Other dangerous missions are when you are going after the bomb maker; their homes are well guarded by the products they make.  But I have to say that the most dangerous missions I did as an EOD Tech are the ones we are not allowed to talk about.

Your mom told me that she prayed constantly for you.  Was there a time where you know for sure your mom’s prayers for your safety were answered?

Yes, there were at least three times that I remember.  First, before I was an EOD I was a Firefighter in the military.  One night we got called to a building to put out a fire.  The building had ammunition in it which we had no idea about.  While I was in the building the ammunition started going off, so  I was immediately pulled out of the fire. When I got out they checked my jacket and sure enough, there was a bullet lodged in my jacket, through my clothing, but somehow, miraculously, had not penetrated my final layer of clothing — it hadn’t pierced through my chest.  However, my jacket did end up with so many holes in the front and back that I had to replace the jacket the next day. Come to find out, my mom had been up all night, unable to sleep, with a huge burden on her heart to pray for me.  Everytime she’d fall asleep, the Lord would wake her up again to pray for me.

Another time I was in Iraq and was afforded the opportunity to Skype with my mother.  During the Skype call we had a rocket attack.  One of the rockets exploded close to the area I was in.  The “wood building” I was inside (that was really more of a shack), had sustained massive damage.  I was blown to the floor and the shack was full of holes going in one side and out the other.  I got up, a bit shocked with ears ringing and a massive headache, but I was alive with no real injuries.  The moment the rocket hit, all Internet was killed.  The last thing my mother heard was the sirens warning of incoming rocket attack, and then everything went black.  A few days later I went back to that same shack; it was closed off due to damages but I went inside anyway.  I sat there scratching my head asking myself over and over again: “How did none of that hit me?”  There is no way I should’ve survived that.  Come to find out, my mom had been praying.

Lastly, one time we went out on a post-blast analysis, after there’s been an explosion somewhere.  We go out there and determine what type of explosive was used, how it was detonated, are there any more, gather intel, look for patterns, and make the area safe for other personnel to get in and do their job. The enemy knows this and will sometimes use that to lure us into a trap.  The enemy waits for us to arrive because they want to take us (the EOD) out because we are a high-value target to them.  There were a couple of times when I got to the scene that I got this weird feeling — the hair on the back of my neck stood up; it didn’t feel right.  To this day I can’t tell you what it was that was “off.”  But it’s listening to that inner voice, not just hearing it, but doing something about it, is what keeps you alive.  I had great fellow EOD team members with me whom I also trusted with my life.  When they didn’t like the way something was being done, or had a bad feeling about something, we would switch things up.  We wanted to keep the enemy constantly guessing at what we would do next.  I know my mom’s prayers were heard and answered on some of these particular missions as well.

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Aunt Robin, and Claire.  They are so cute together.

What did you love about your job?

I love traveling.  I love blowing things up.  It’s a lot of fun, like fireworks, but so much better; you are so close it just rocks your world. And then seeing the dust and everything flying up around you. I also enjoy the camaraderie.  I used to be a Firefighter in the military– EOD is similar to that but even stronger.  And you truly made a difference.  When someone steps on an IED on the ground, if there is one IED, there will be more, it’s like a land mine.  You gotta run to the front, sweep up, but that guy is screaming and you have to get to him.  To make a difference and do all of that, it’s a gratifying feeling.

I absolutely loved my job and I miss it.  I wish I could still do it.

Even though it was so much pressure, stress and danger?

Absolutely.  They only want people in this career field who absolutely love it.  If you ever decide that EOD is not the job for you, they will immediately cross train you into another position in the military.  Again, they only want people who love their job.  And you have to be of the right mind to work in this job.  If your wife just left you, they will pull you off the field, so you don’t make a mistake. Everyone you’re working with loves their job and wants to do well at their jobs. Plus you get extra money for it.

What is the mortality rate of an EOD?  It seems pretty high.

I don’t know.  I know the injury rate is really high.  I know for our class we started with 100, we graduated seven (the rest washed out).  Of those seven, three are now dead.  And two of us are out.  There are other ones that keep working longer. The EOD motto of “Initial Success or Total Failure” could not be more true.

Was the movie The Hurt Locker an accurate portrayal of the life of an EOD?

The movie is great for showing you an idea of what we do while deployed and a rough idea of what the life of an EOD Tech is like.  However, this is a lot of Hollywood added.

What did you dislike about your job?

I had some long deployments.  I was never married, so it was a lot easier for me, but that’s why I never married.  I chose not to because of that.  There was a woman I was dating, she was in the military, she said she would refuse to date me if I went EOD, because she had lost too many friends who were EOD.  She said she wasn’t going to lose a husband.  I can respect that.

Why did you stop working?

I was medically retired early from the military, due to injuries sustained while I was deployed, mostly due to TBIs (traumatic brain injuries).  Some of it was due to explosions, being too close, things that hit me in the head, anything and everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, did.  I had 19 TBI concussions and 13 knock-outs.  So I had to retire.

What is the number one piece of advice to give anyone going into EOD?

First is, you gotta know you want it.  Because when you’re sitting there in school, for hours and hours, and you’ve been studying your brains out and chugging five hour energy to stay awake, you have to know you really want it.  But it’s very rewarding.  It’s a brotherhood much like the Fire Department but stronger and tighter.  That leads to my second point, you cannot do this job without your team.  You have to work as a team — period.  And you’ll be deployed a lot which is really hard on families. EOD stands for “Every-One’s-Divorced,” — due to the amount and length of deployments.

What are you doing now?

I am converting a Mercedes Sprinter Van into a custom RV so I can travel the country.  I’ve cut out a lot of people in my life that just waste my time.  I want to spend my life with, and my time with, the people I love.  So right now that’s my girlfriend, and her son.  I’m working on getting my health back.  You only have so much time, so I want to spend it with the people I love.

Has it been an easy or hard transition?

It’s actually weird and difficult.  I joined the military right out of high school, and I was always told what to do.  So now I still feel like that kid right out of high school again.  I don’t know where I want to go or what I want to do.  I have the financial means and the time, which is even better, but at the same time I’m like “I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go.” And also, the civilian world is different.  There is less of that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.

Describe your EOD job in one sentence?  

It was a blast!

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A quick note from Heather:  Sadly, most EODs end up six feet under.  Maybe not most, but many.  That fact that Paul survived is a small miracle.  I credit that both to Paul being an outstanding EOD Tech, but also to Robin, Paul’s mom, who prayed for him constantly.  It really is true that when it’s your time, it’s your time.  And when it’s not, it’s not.  Grateful that Paul is still with us to share these stories! And….I hope he gets married someday because he’s a great guy!  I’m glad he’s part of our extended family and we wish him the best as he gets to have a second chance at the rest of his life!

To watch a video of Paul blowing stuff up, click here:

 

 

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I wish Paul all the best as he enjoys the first day of the rest of his life!  Thank you so much for your outstanding service!

 

 

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Blue Collar Girl Trapped in a White Collar Marriage

I want to take you back to the 1970s and 80s and reminisce about what it was like to grow up somewhere on the spectrum between poor and blue-collar in Upstate, New York, where I grew up.  Back to the days when it was common to see a 1971 Plymouth Baracuda cruising down the streets of Syracuse, windows open, driven around by a guy in a dark blue uniform with a name-tag, blasting “Free Bird” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Maybe there’s a cigarette dangling from his dirty/greasy hands, hands that are hard to get completely clean.

Maybe there’s a little blonde-haired girl in the back seat with him, looking out the window, hoping the smoke will stop blowing into her face.

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Me, as a young girl.

That little girl was me, and I want to share with you my perspective of what it was like to grow up in a blue collar single-parent family — both the good and the bad— and what I have learned since then.  I will also share how I have changed (or not) since transitioning to a white collar marriage several years ago.

Here is my super quick back-story:

I grew up the child of a single working mom after my parents’ divorce at the age of four.  My dad worked at a local car manufacturing company and we didn’t see him very much because he was always working (overtime, double-time, and other terms his union negotiated for him), and did not consistently seek out a relationship with my sister and me. There were also some dysfunctional elements of my childhood in the mix as well.  My single mom was poor, and we (my sister, mom, and me) survived on her small secretary’s salary.  Child support was very low back then so I always noticed how hard she struggled.  Our small family of three drove around in a brown pinto and didn’t go out to eat much because we couldn’t “afford it.” On hot summer days, we would beg my mom to stop at Arctic Isle (the local ice cream stand) for a $1.00 soft serve ice cream cone and the answer was always “no, it’s too expensive, we have ice cream in the freezer at home.” My mom was very cheap and often said no to buying almost anything that wasn’t a necessary item.

Not having a lot of money growing up made me take a good, hard look around me and make some serious inner vows. Vows such as:

“I will work really hard, go to school, and make good money so I won’t have to struggle.”

“I will marry an awesome guy and we will NOT get a divorce.”

“And if don’t get married, fine.  I will do really well in my career.”

“I will show everyone that I am not a loser and will make something of myself.”  (Not sure exactly where that one came from, but I think it stemmed from some deep-seeded self-confidence issues.)

With those inner vows in the back of my mind, I started babysitting at 11, worked my way through high school and college (clocking in between 20 and 30 hours per week as a waitress during college), and then landed a professional job in my early 20’s.  I eventually got married and ended up in what I call a white-collar marriage. On a side note, I was also very picky about the guys I dated, making sure I wouldn’t end up with a “creep,” a “perv,” or a “loser.”  Bottom line?  I didn’t go on many dates.

Below is just a portion of the more difficult aspects of growing up in the poor/blue collar income bracket. Perhaps you can relate to some of these?

  • …First, I remember all the CIGARETTE SMOKE.  Smoke in the house.  Smoke in the car.  Smoke in a tree.  (How can that be?) I have so many memories of just sitting in front of a various TVs that sat perched on the green living room carpet, watching maybe Star Trek, Evel Knievel, or Scooby Doo while someone smoked behind me in an easy chair, reading a newspaper. Growing up in a smoke cloud gave me (subconscious) permission to begin smoking myself very part-time through high school and college.  I finally quit in my early 20s.
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I am a proud survivor of years of second hand smoke.  I began smoking part-time in high school but quit in my early 20s.
  • …We MOVED a lot.  I have many fond/not so fond memories of various apartment buildings, houses we shared with other friends, and yes….I even spent some time in the coveted trailer park.  I will never, ever forget how tiny those little trailer bedrooms were, and the trailer closets were ridiculous.  On an up note, I was able to share a house (different units) with my best friend Hillary, who was also in a single-parent home, which was awesome. We also lived in the same apartment building a couple of times.
  • …We had NO MONEY.  I heard “we can’t afford that” about 1000 times.  Want to stop at McDonalds?  Nope, not gonna happen.  If you want money, you had to get your butt off the couch and go earn it, all by yourself.  So that’s exactly what I did. I have never stopped working and to be honest, it’s so strange for me to not work in a way that earns an income to this day (more on that later). I am still so grateful that my grandparents were so generous with my sister and me — they provided everything from new Trapper Keepers for back to school (remember those?), to new clothes and shoes, to very generous Christmas gifts.
  • …As mentioned above, I didn’t see much of my DAD. Early in life, I developed some father-figure issues and ended up crushing a lot of older men, and men in positions of authority over me. However, I did appreciate his hard work ethic.  He even built our house from scratch and much later, my mom moved back into it and still lives there to this day. We now have a great relationship (as adults), but again, he wasn’t around much growing up and that was hard for me.
  • ….Finally, I struggled with some TOUGH EMOTIONS.  I often felt ashamed of my clothes, house, and cars.  I felt insecure and unworthy of love.  I feared rejection.  There were some things that happened that caused some deep wounds, that I have (thankfully) since healed from.  But they were very hard to go through at the time.
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Yes, friends, that is a beer in my hand 🙂

But growing up blue-collar was also a blessing in many ways.  Here are just a few of the positive elements of growing up in a blue-collar family:

  • First and foremost, I developed an amazing WORK ETHIC.  I have no problem with doing “real work,” “physical work,” and “working with my hands.”  Because my grandfather was in the farming business (he built silos) and also we lived near a farm, I actually have helped neighborhood kids with their farm chores.  I have also actually picked the following: rocks in a huge farm pasture/field, tomato horn worms off of tomato plants,  and weeds from my mom’s garden.  I mowed the lawn consistently (when not living in apartment complexes). In fact, I still happily mow my own yard here in Suburbia while my neighbors watch me curiously from their windows.  Bottom line?  I am not lazy and I’m not afraid of real work.
  • Secondly, I KEEP IT REAL with no BS.  You will always get the real deal from me. I will always shoot 100 percent straight with you.  I don’t like to lie; it makes me uncomfortable.  The only lie I will tell you is if you ask me directly if you look fat in that dress, and if you do, I will feel bad, and I will lie and say no.  You have been warned.  But that’s about the only lie I feel okay about.  Sorry not sorry.
  • Thirdly, I will never be pretentious. I will never think I’m better than you.  I will always treat everyone THE SAME.  And I will always be generous.  I will always over-tip waiters and waitresses, and I will always say “hi” and “thank you” to all the people who make my life easier.  Why would I be snooty with waitresses and maids?  I actually did both of those jobs for many years to earn a living.  Those are my peeps.
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Having fun at one of the restaurants (the Ground Round) I worked at during college.  I sometimes clocked up to 30 hours per week waitressing during school.  Growing up blue collar gave me a kick-butt work ethic.
  • Lastly, I developed an appreciation for the CLASSICS, and no I’m not talking about classical music or classical home-schooling eduction.  I’m talking about Classic cars and classic rock, baby.  Whenever I go back to Syracuse I still see folks driving around in a classic car blasting classic rock.  I just went to one the Eagles’ final concerts last summer before their lead singer passed away.  It was a blast!  (see photo below.)

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    My dad owns five classic (muscle) cars purchased in the last ten years.  These were the cars I grew up around.  I want one.
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His Plymouth Baracuda.  My appreciation for classic cars came from my dad.

So what have I learned since “moving on up” to a different income level?

First, I actually really appreciate money and where it came from.  It is a blessing to actually have some of it.  But here’s the deal: I never want to rely too heavily on money or grow accustomed to being upper middle class.  Why?  Because I developed a deep financial insecurity early on. I know deep in my heart that you can have money one moment, but then the next moment…POOF! It’s gone.  And then you are back to square one. So I decided to not even leave square one in the first place.

Secondly, I am still cheap (especially with myself) and don’t like to spend money.  I still clip coupons (if I feel like it, because coupons are really a pain), and try to limit my children’s material possessions so they don’t become “spoiled.”

Thirdly, I still feel weird about not working outside the home in a way that generates an income. I still feel a little bit like a “moocher” even though my husband assures me he is fine with me being a stay at home parent.  I do plan to work again when my kids are older and after our next adoption, but I would prefer to work part time.

And on that note, I think that’s one of the best things money will buy you: options.  I have the option of working part-time rather than full-time down the road. Our family has the option of spending our money on nice vacations (we have created memories for our kids and have taken them to some nice places). We have the option of buying my kids sneakers exactly when they need them, rather than waiting until the next paycheck comes in.

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There is one thing money can buy: precious time with your family!  We do spend money on making memories with our kids, for sure.  Above, Claire and Erik enjoy fishing in a back-country lake in Utah.

Fourthly, I have learned that money doesn’t buy happiness or inner peace.  However, it does buy time and convenience.  It’s either time or money.  Either you spend the time on something and save the money, or spend the money on something and get back some of your time.  So in that way, it’s a lot easier to exist in a white-collar world.

Finally, the number one reason I believe God has blessed us with a little bit of extra income is a. because God is good and He just chooses to bless us in this particular way, b. we both worked very hard to get here, c. to afford to adopt our children, because adoption is expensive, and d. so we can be generous with other people, and also with ministries and other worthy causes that need financial assistance.

Bottom line?  I believe money is a gift to help support and enhance human relationships and to support worthy causes.  If you have money, chances are, God wants you to help others in need.

So why did I choose the title of this blog?  Honestly, I’m not really “trapped”in a white-collar marriage per se, but I feel as though I really don’t belong some elements of this world, deep down.  One night we spent time with another couple who are also in our income bracket.  Both the husband and wife were very cultured and came from solid families, and they had lived all over the world.  Both of them had PhDs from prestigious universities.  As they shared about their childhoods and current successful careers, I felt like I just couldn’t relate to them.  I felt like I had to impress them with something about my life, but I just couldn’t think of anything to say.  I also didn’t feel like I could be completely myself around them.  (Qualifier: most white-collar folks are super, duper nice and not pretentious at all. Maybe they’re a lot like me and didn’t grow up that way. But if they did grow up with wealth, they seem to have a certain self-confidence about them that poor kids lack.  I think I sense this subconsciously and feel I cannot relate.)

In closing, Oprah Winfrey once said that obtaining money just makes you MORE of something.  So if you are kind, you become more kind.  If you are generous, you become more generous.  If you are an arse, you become more of an arse.  I agree with her assessment.

Since transitioning income brackets I have become the following:

More cheap (with myself)

More generous with others

More unpretentious

More hard working 

More efficient with my time 

More grateful for money, but knowing it’s limitations

I am grateful to be where I am today, but I will never forget where I came from.  My childhood made me into the person I am today, and I am grateful for all the lessons it taught me.  Blue-collar workers truly do make the world go round, and I am proud to be counted among them.

So if you see a suburban woman driving around a really nice convertible, blasting the Eagles, drinking coffee from a coffee mug from home because she didn’t want to stop at Starbucks because it’s too expensive, all the while thinking about how she needs to mow her lawn when she gets home, well…that would be me.

I’m teetering between the two worlds, not really fitting into either one at this point.

But that’s ok, because that old saying is true:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So while I may be in a white-collar marriage, I’ll always be the same blue-collar girl, deep inside.

Peace out.

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Off to the Eagles concert with my dear friend Ragan!

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PS: Stay tuned for a future post: Raising Blue Collar Kids in a White Collar family.

Thanks for reading!!