More than a silver lining

Major Constantine crossing a canal.

Major Constantine crossing a canal in Iraq.

No one changes the world alone. This is a story about two people who wrapped their arms around brutal change that came to them unexpectedly and found ways to support each other — and change a part of the world.

Justin and Dahlia Constantine are simply amazing. Justin’s courageous recovery from a devastating war injury and his subsequent advocacy of wounded warriors, and Dahlia’s selfless commitment to the man she loves are more than inspiring. They are life changing.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, Justin (’92) will address the December graduates of JMU’s Class of 2012. In anticipation of Justin’s commencement address, I asked him to write today’s blog post. Here is a part of Justin and Dahlia’s story.

Courage, commitment and change

By Justin Constantine (’92)

Nothing in life remains constant, and we are continually changing, adapting and evolving. Just like JMU looks and feels a lot different than it did 20 years ago when I graduated, I too am quite a different person now. Six years ago my life changed drastically, and by all objective measures I shouldn’t have survived to be here today.

Justin (far left) and his Civil Affairs Team

I joined the Marine Corps after my second year of law school, but when I deployed to Iraq in 2006, it wasn’t in the role of a JAG officer. I had the honor of leading a team of eight Marines, and we were attached to a Marine infantry battalion.

On October 18, 2006, our combat patrol stopped at one of our forward operating bases, and I noticed that the reporter accompanying us that day was kind of standing around. When we got out of the vehicle at our next stop, I told the reporter that he needed to move faster, because we knew a sniper had already killed a few Marines in that area. Based on that, he took a big step forward, and a split second later a round came in right where his head had been and hit the wall behind us. The next shot hit me right behind my ear and exited out my mouth, causing catastrophic damage along the way. In fact, the Marines around me thought that I had been killed, and when the Corpsman came running over, told him, “Don’t worry about the Major – he’s dead.”

George Grant and Justin Constantine

But George Grant is an amazing young man, and although the sniper was still shooting, he saved my life. As torn up as my face was, George performed rescue breathing on me, and then an emergency tracheotomy, so that I wouldn’t drown on my own blood. In fact, despite all that was going on around him, George did such a wonderful job on my tracheotomy that my plastic surgeon at the military hospital thought another surgeon had performed it.

Back in 2006, Dahlia and I were not yet married; we were married two years later in 2008. We had met earlier in 2006 at a Spanish immersion course in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dahlia was there from California, and I came from Virginia. We were in the same small class, and we really hit it off during that time. We dated that summer back in the States, and then when I deployed to Iraq, Dahlia left to pursue her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in England. Unlike in other wars, we were still able to communicate with email, and letters and packages and the occasional satellite phone call, and we often talked about our lives together and how we could work that out.

The Constantines on their wedding day

After I was injured, Dahlia decided to temporarily drop out of her doctorate program to be with me in the hospital. Never mind that studying at Cambridge had been a lifelong dream of hers, or that she didn’t know anyone in Maryland near the military hospital, or that at that point the doctors didn’t even know if I would survive. When I awoke from my coma, Dahlia was there and we have been an inseparable team since. Because of the injury that caused these problems, I am far closer with Dahlia than I would have thought possible, I now know that I am far stronger than I ever would have imagined, and I can put everyday obstacles into their proper perspective and focus on what is truly important to me and Dahlia.

And they say that every cloud has a silver lining, but all the changes that have happened since that day in 2006 are far more than a lining. I am truly very lucky for my “new normal” and have some great things going on in my life. I have stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve and am now about to be promoted again. I am attending Georgetown University at night for an advanced law degree through the VA’s vocational rehabilitation program, and I work full time as a lawyer with the FBI and also recently started my own inspiration speaking company.

Justin and Dahlia when he received the Purple Heart

Because of my injury, I belong to a number of different wounded warrior organizations committed to helping so many of our returning heroes, and frankly, I know that I would not be doing this kind of advocacy if it weren’t for my injury. It sounds crazy, but this change that was violently thrust upon me, and all that comes with it, has actually been very beneficial to me in the long run.

Life changes, for better or worse. It all depends how you look at it. I choose the glass to be half full, not half empty, and to embrace change. I want to live in the future, not the past. Be the Change!

To read more about Justin and Dahlia Constantine, go to this link:
Learn even more about Justin or engage him to speak by going to his website:
You can also find Justin on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and see him accept the 2011 George C. Lang award for his work with wounded warriors on YouTube.

The persistent kind

Unknown-1This year’s Super Bowl was as fun to watch online as it was on television as people weighed in throughout the game on Facebook and Twitter. When the power went out and the game was temporarily halted, some people ran to their computers and smart phones, while sports commentators caught flat-footed tried desperately to fill air space.  All the while, we were treated to over-hyped commercials that often fell short of expectations

One Facebook post caught my attention. Justin Constantine (’92) wrote: “In case any of you missed the commercial about the Wounded Warrior Project during the Super Bowl tonight, here is the YouTube link.” He posted the video with a reminder of how easy it is to contribute to the cause.  What struck me was Justin’s dedication in the midst of the gridiron contest that borders on a national obsession. He wasn’t taking a break from his all important work.

The same should be said for Adam Armiger (’07) whose commitment to the Hope Marietta Foundation found Adam cheering on his Facebook page about Hunter Paulin, a friend of the foundation and the Play 60 Super Kid of the Year. Hunter who has a congenital heart condition delivered the game ball.

It made me realize that significant change — the kind that alters lives and has widespread and lifelong impact — requires commitment of the persistent kind. Lasting change demands a commitment that does not ease up, slow up or give up. It is on going, devoted and never interrupted by even the most memorable of Superbowls.

Individuals like Justin and Adam demonstrate this.  To care and wish and even work a little isn’t enough.  Change happens with serious commitment, persistence and a relentless drive for the long haul.

Cheering on Team GB

Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M) in front of London’s Tower Bridge

“When in Britain, do as the Brits do” has been a big part of the Olympic experience for guest blogger Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M) and his traveling companions, Jennifer Philips Bost (’97), Liz Hadley (’98,’04M) and Jimmy Bost (’97). Soaking up the ambiance of the international city, getting around  to different venues and cheering on Team GB are all wrapped up by lightning fast media coverage. In today’s blog, he describes how England’s media cover the Olympics, an experience that can be “slightly surreal.”

My time here in London is wrapping up and I am heading back stateside for the last week of competition. I have to be honest; I am sad to leave the excitement of the games and to join the rest of the world watching it on the couch. It will be possible to see much more of he results and stories from the comfort of home, courtesy of NBC and my Internet connection. When you are at the games, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all that happens on a daily basis unless you spend all your time online.

I quickly became a fan of the home team, Team GB. Everywhere you go in the city you are reminded of the possibilities for Britain. Billboards, tube ads, radio and tv spots, and even t-shirts showcase those expected to win big in 2012. It was impossible not to become part of the British team and follow their ups and downs with the rest of the people. There is a very healthy newspaper industry still in London, both morning and evening editions. These are found outside every tube station and can easily be found left behind on the tube, a bench or in a pub. The morning editions cover the success the night before, combined with a wish for the glory of that day. The evening versions highlight the day’s triumphs or failures. This news coverage sometimes was slightly surreal. I’ll give you an example:

U.S. opening ceremony flag bearer and fencer Mariel Zagunis competes for bronze.

On Friday we were heading out to the day’s rowing competition, held at Eton Dorney outside London near Windsor. Getting to the venue required time on the tube, the national rail, the Olympic shuttle bus, plus a brisk walk. On the way we picked up the morning paper and read of the near miss of the British rowing team earlier and the hope for success from the British Women’s double sculls team of Grainger and Watkins. The background was particularly of interest since Grainger had previously missed gold in the last two Olympics. We arrived at the venue and shared in cheering the team on to gold with 20,000 other fans. The medals were awarded and the national anthem played. After the competition, we spent some time in the town of Windsor. On the train back to central London, I picked up the Evening Standard and read — in detail — all about the event I had just attended. This included great interviews and photos. Pretty remarkable to hold the news in my hands that was only about three hours past. The newspapers covered it all. I read more than probably healthy about the badminton (pronounced BAD-min-tin in the UK) controversy in the papers and got a thorough daily update on what all the Royals were up to at the games. Then there’s the BBC.

Beach volleyball includes a cast of dancers to entertain the crowd during timeouts and between games.

Wenlock, the Olympic mascot, leads the crowd in cheers at Greenwich for Equestrain.

The BBC (the main news channel on British TV) has multiple channels covering the games. Most of my viewing was in the early morning or late at night. The a.m. shows outlined what to expect for the day and sometimes had guests from the day before. The evening shows brought together seemingly random guests to discuss the events of the day. One panel included Michael Johnson, John McEnroe, and a British Track star, all there to discuss — swimming!  The anchors recap all of the action. If Team GB fell short that segment was replayed over and over and over again. The British seem to enjoy a shared struggle or an unrealized dream. We got a lot of this on the first day when Cavendish failed to win the road race in cycling.

The best part of the BBC coverage was the nightly Team GB medal count. They have giant gold, silver, and bronze medals on the set. Headshots of any medal recipients are slapped onto the medal. If it’s gold they also give a giant dong of Big Ben. Through it all it is obvious the pride and unity the Games bring to London and Britain. Go Team GB!!!

Faster, higher, stronger and bigger

Grasping the size and scope and even the feel of the Olympics is hard to do, Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M) writes from London. He’s guest blogging this week from the 2012 Olympiad. From his vantage — up close and personal — Jeremy shares his perspective and gives us a glimpse into the size and complexity of these world games.

Bigger and better than you can imagine

by Jeremy Brown (’96), guest blogger

London’s velodrome (a cycling venue) is surrounded by gardens, a nod to London’s environmental efforts.

Time moves faster at the Olympic Games. It has to. How else could so much happen in such a short span of time. Over 300 world class sporting events in just over two weeks! The millions of visitors to London for the Games are approaching the mid-point of the celebration. Before I attended my first Olympics, I had a pretty good idea of how it all worked. This was based on the years of viewing coverage on TV and a visit to Atlanta during the ’96 Summer Games. Being present to view things allows a new vantage that NBC just doesn’t give you in the packaged presentation. I thought I might share some observations from the front lines of the whirlwind of sport….

There are literally hundreds of people involved with operating and staffing each spot of action. This includes the fields of competitive venues, the security queues, the ticket gates, the merchandising crews, the safety staffs, transportation, and many more. You quickly realize just how massive this undertaking really is. So much going on at the same time all over the city could make your head spin. For those of you in the D.C. area, imagine if the Nationals were in the World Series hosting a home game — at the same time the Redskins were playing the Cowboys. Then throw in a sellout soccer crowd at RFK stadium for a D.C. United match, a major concert at George Mason University, and Fourth-of-July-size tourist crowds on the mall. Add a couple of presidential motorcades crossing town and you begin to get an idea of the efforts needed to make it all roll so smoothly.

U.S. silver medalist, swimmer Brendan Hanson, shares his medal with a young fan outside the Today show.

To make it all happen, there are volunteers to do everything. You might not guess some of the necessary jobs. Of course there are ticket takers, policemen and those manning the information booths. Did you know there were people set to stand throughout town marking the travel path for every single event? These volunteers wear giant pink pointing fingers and greet each visitor with a spirited “Hello” and directions of where to go. We encountered a volunteer who had the job of politely keeping people from cutting through a flower bed to get to the rings display. There were workers just to clean up spectator vomit from the grounds, fern collectors, flag folders, medal holders and photo takers. There really is someone assigned for every imaginable task.

Grounds crews rush to change things for the next group in the equestrian venue at Greenwich.

And all this with the world watching. Media coverage is not just biased for the home team in the US. The BBC coverage has certainly been different than NBC. Typically British, it focuses on the missed opportunities almost more than the success. We can almost predict each day what will dominate the highlights each night. Cavendish missing a medal — apologies all night. Just missing the medals in synchronized diving — count on seeing that dive 100 times. If they win you get the success story and they add it to the giant medal board on the set. They do try to give an overview of the results from events featuring some interesting points on other competitors.

In the end, though, true sport prevails. Regardless of results, the athletes and the crowds are there for the contest and give it their all. (Chinese badminton team the exception) The efforts of the jumper who placed 22nd at Equestrian was cheered loudly

Traveling friends (l-r): Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M), Jennifer Philips Bost (’97), Liz Hadley (’98,’04M), Jimmy Bost (’97)

by the British crowd of 25,000. They were there to support their team efforts but cheered for all. When the home team just missed the gold medal, they didn’t boo the victorious German team, they yelled and cheered to celebrate their success. It’s about the effort and the competition. The Olympic spirit is alive and you can feel it in the air.

The most noticeable difference being at the venue and not sitting on the couch is that spirit. It’s a connection with others that is difficult to put to words. The fans and the athletes seem to wish to live to the Olympic Motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger).

As JMU goes, so go the Olympics

Wimbledon decked out for the Olympics in JMU purple.

The Olympic family and the Madison family have more in common than you might imagine, writes Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M) from London. Jeremy is guest blogging this week from the 2012 Olympics, his third trip to an Olympic Games. He’s traveling with JMU friends Liz Hadley (’98,’04M), Jennifer Philips Bost (’97) and Jimmy Bost (’97).  During their first few days they’ve taken in the London Zoo, Regents Canal, Hyde Park, the Torch Relay, Bell Ringing, Big Ben, Parliament, Camden Market, Opening Ceremonies, Wimbledon Tennis (and rain), the tube, the pubs, and lots of interaction with new friends.

Jeremy writes: JMU is alive and well here in London.  I have spotted more than a few JMU hats and bags around town, and JMU’s Jacob Wukie (’09) earned a silver on Saturday. Might have to try and find a ticket for the archery events on Monday and Tuesday to support Jacob!  

Welcome to London!

by Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M), guest blogger

The world has gathered here as they do every four years to celebrate sport and come together as a truly global family. This shared fortnight in 2012 happens only once and is unique to these athletes, officials, coaches and spectators. The Olympic family will gather again and again in the future, and each time those who participate will be added to the fold and connect with those from the past. The Olympic family and the Madison family have more in common than you might imagine, read on…

Tyler Rix lights the torch at Hyde Park as the torch finishes its final day before heading to the stadium.

The Preparation: Getting to the games, whether as athlete or spectator, takes advanced planning and preparation. You have to figure out if you qualify to go, in which events you will participate, where you will stay, who will you meet and how you will pay for it. (Sounds like preparing for your first year at Madison, doesn’t it?) Will you attend fencing or will it be volleyball? Will you meet people with similar interests and ideas? Will you be able to communicate and interact? (Take English lit or ballroom dance?  Who will be in my hall? What if I don’t connect with other on campus?) Arriving at the games you’re not sure where anything is, how to get there, and you can feel overwhelmed with the sheer mountain of things to do that lies ahead. (Yup, that’s summer before freshman year)

The Reality:  You get to the games and all is well — fantastic even. There are volunteers to assist at every turn. Hundreds of hours of planning and preparation went into assuring you enjoy the visit and get the most out of it. Everyone you meet had the same worries and challenges but work together for the good of all. All have their own unique background and story to tell, but they come together to create a new community. You can’t be a Duke and be at the games and not feel the similarities. The way everyone is focused to be the best and to do well is contagious. The positive energy is something you can’t shake.  Just like Madison Pride!

Traveling Dukes: (l-r) Liz Hadley, Jennifer Philips Bost and Jimmy Bost

Traveling Dukes: (l-r) Liz Hadley, Jennifer Philips Bost and Jimmy Bost

The Bond:  After the games you always will be connected to those who were with you and took part in what happened. Even if you never interacted or connected directly, you are linked. I met a woman this afternoon who also attended the Torino games in 2006. We had never met but were able to connect with the energy we still had from the experience. So it is with Madison. Whether JMU Class of ’38, ’68, ’98, or ’08, we are all Dukes and we share the same flame inside, just like the Olympic family. Following that focused time together we must go forward, to go out into the world and Be the Change!

Many thanks to Paula Polglase (’92,’96M) JMU’s social media specialist, for connecting Jeremy and this blog.

The echo of change after life

When a person dies, there’s always an echo. Sometimes that echo fades quickly. Sometimes, though, it continues to whisper years and years after the person has left us. Such is the life of the late Chris Carter (’97), a friend to many at JMU, who died unexpectedly of Type II diabetes in 2009.

Recently, we received a letter from Kelly Warren (’00) nominating her late friend Chris for Be the Change.  Kelly beautifully describes the life of one who changed lives while he lived — and continues to do so.

Chris Carter

by Kelly Warren (’00)

The late Chris Carter ('97) (from the CCF website)

Christopher Michael Carter’s effect on the JMU community began the first day he set foot on campus in 1993. With his infectious smile and contagious, boisterous laugh, Chris brightened the lives of everyone who crossed his path. He completely embodied the JMU spirit, always approaching each new day with a love for life and a personal commitment to helping others. No task was too big or small for Chris. He welcomed every opportunity to make someone’s day better through laughter and love.

On campus Chris quickly made his mark, both in and out of the classroom. Whether playing tennis with Dr. Carrier or helping a lost freshman find her way to class, his cheerful and friendly demeanor never faltered. He always carried himself with an honest and easy confidence, and treated everyone equally with respect and compassion.

As a member of the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity, Chris slid into the role of mentor to many of his brothers and incoming pledges. He was the one people turned to for a good laugh and sound advice, knowing he would be straightforward, tactful, kind, and fully engaged in improving the situation. No matter how bad the circumstance, Chris was always able to find a silver lining and get you to laugh and smile by the end of the conversation.

In his final two years at JMU, Chris decided to channel his school spirit and passion for helping others, and became an Orientation Assistant. This is where I first witnessed his magnetic and charismatic personality. As an incoming freshman I was nervous and full of questions, yet excited about all of the possibilities in my future at JMU. Chris welcomed me with open arms to JMU, dissolved any and all fears, answered my questions with his trademark beaming smile, and convinced me that I had made the right decision by choosing to spend the next 4 years of my life in Harrisonburg. He made me feel special, but the truth of the matter was that he unconditionally did the same for thousands of other incoming students. Everyone was special to Chris.

Chris’ commitment to serve others in need continued well beyond his time at JMU. He had a photographic memory with an uncanny ability to remember anyone’s face, along with the most minute detail s about virtually everyone he met during his short but tremendous life.

It was not until this world lost Chris that we all began to see and feel the magnitude of his love and spirit. Stories emerged from people who had heard of his passing. The overwhelming theme of these very personal accounts was that being friends with Chris meant that he made you feel like you had his complete attention and that there was nothing he would rather be doing than to spend time with you. He was a best friend to hundreds, and shared his knowledge on life and love without expectations. His love was spread far and wide, and never diluted. Everyone who needed him got him 100 percent.

Chris Carter lived his life fully and selflessly. He leaves behind a legacy of laughter, love and kindness. To have witnessed his greatness was a true blessing and gift. For all that he has done for me, and countless others, I believe that Christopher Michael Carter is a perfect “Be the Change” nominee.

Kelly Warren (’00), Ph.D.,MPT

Kelly, a teaching assistant professor at The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, also told us that Chris’ legacy continues. She writes:

“After Chris unexpectedly passed away in 2009, his best friends and fraternity brothers from JMU (Alpha Kappa Lambda) created the Christopher Carter Foundation. Partnered with Virginia Hospital Center (where Chris was cared for in his final days), CCF raises money and awareness for diabetes education and treatment. Chris was unaware that he had Type II diabetes, and it eventually took his life very quickly.  One hundred percent of what is collected (by the foundation) is given to VHC.  In the past two years, the foundation has organized fundraising events such as 5K memorial runs, golf tournament, auctions and more. I belive the founding members have brought in close to $100,000 in their first two years as a nonprofit. I think this is very impressive, especially since the foundation is something these men do out of their love for Chris. Each of them have full-time jobs and families to care for.”

Still they make time to honor their late friend. And in doing so, they are changing the world for others with diabetes. While Kelly so eloquently nominates Chris, the efforts of Chris’ friends are equally laudable. In keeping Chris’ memory alive, Vincent Coyle (’97), his best friend, and many others are continuing to change lives.

It is all a beautiful and meaningful echo from the life of Chris Carter. His life — like the memory of his laughter — reminds us of how important it is to connect with others. Only by that connection, whether intimate or international, can real change happen.

To learn more about the Christopher Carter Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting the prevention, early detection and active management of diabetes, visit

“… a sincere concern for students”

One of the newer members of the Be the Change cohort, Dr. Richard Roberds, says that he considers his 10 years of service at JMU (he was the director of the department of integrated science and technology) among the most memorable and enjoyable of his career. “There is a sincere concern for the students at JMU,” he says. Roberds is a Silver Star Medal recipient–read more in his Be the Change profile!

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