Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Post Piece On Our County

Okay, okay, I’ll post it. This is a piece that ran in the Montgomery Extra section of the Washington Post this week. They had asked me and some other people to write up a little piece about what Montgomery County is like, so I sent them this. I don’t know that it really fits on the blog, but several people wanted me to post it. I guess it does, this blog is about living in this county as much as anything.

Here you go:
A Melting Pot of Cultures, Viewpoints

I have seen Montgomery County from several points of view, being a parent, a federal employee and something of a social activist. This is an unusual place, a bedroom community for the government, and our population is amazingly diverse -- what country on Earth is not represented here? The beauty of the countryside needs to be mentioned. I live in Rockville, not far from Rock Creek, and walking in the woods is the most refreshing experience. It is not unusual to see rush-hour traffic stopped for a family of geese single-filing across the road. We have trees along the creek that have been gnawed by beavers, and you watch for the occasional red fox slinking through back yards, even a coyote now and then. Our county shimmers with life.

But, of course, the most impressive thing here is the people. Our group,, has been involved in a vibrant debate over community issues for several years, and it has been incredibly invigorating to hear from absolute strangers who want to contribute their time and knowledge to our effort. This is not a county of apathetic sleepyheads; people here are serious about decisions that affect all of us and reflect the timbre of life in our community. There may be disagreement and debate about what direction to take, but there is nothing like the somnambulistic acceptance of the status quo that you see in so many other places.

The word "diverse" barely begins to scratch the surface here. There are neighborhoods downcounty where you could believe you were in Central or South America, with bachata blasting from boomboxes and the smoky smell of pollo a la brasa settling over the sidewalk. Then you drive upcounty and you might as well be in Idaho or at least Kansas, with wide-open landscapes, conservative people and the warmth and the pace of rural America; loop back around to Potomac, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, where the rock stars, the athletes, the lobbyists and the congressmen live, and you're in another world altogether. We really do have every kind of people here.

The result is a casual and mature kind of tolerance that you rarely find anywhere. There are so many ways of life here that the phrase starts to lose its meaning. Friends and neighbors adapt to one another's ways without judging. People look for the goodness in one another and respond to that. It adds up to a county scintillating with energy, a prosperous place where some of the world's greatest scientific breakthroughs are routinely made, where the nation's and the world's leaders rest their heads at night, where cultures interact to produce a new thing -- an integrated, high-energy, peaceful approach to living that makes better people of all of us. Call it the Montgomery County way of life.

Jim Kennedy


A Melting Pot of Cultures, Viewpoints

I should mention that I didn’t make up that title.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Jim. It truly is quite representative of Montgomery County.

Here's something totally irrelevant to your post but I thought that many people would find it interesting.

Below is an article from about Atheist soldiers being harassed because they do not believe in God.

Aheist Solder Claims Harassment.

JUNCTION CITY, Kansas (AP) -- Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism.

But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging he's been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn't believe in God. The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"I'm not in it for cash," Hall said. "I want no one else to go what I went through."

Known as "the atheist guy," Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and -- just as severe to some soldiers -- gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.

"I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That's what I believe everyone else should see," he said.

Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school. It wasn't until he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding he couldn't follow any faith.

But he feared how that would look to other soldiers.

"I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist," Hall said.

It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.

"I said, 'No, but I believe in Plexiglas,"' Hall said. "I've never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I'm worm food."

The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall's allegations.

Hall said he had had enough but feared he wouldn't get support from Welborn's superiors. He turned to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Weinstein is the foundation's president and a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. He had previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on students at the academy, though that case was dismissed. He calls Hall a hero.

"The average American doesn't have enough intestinal fortitude to tell someone to shut up if they are talking in a movie theater," Weinstein said. "You know how hard it is to take on your chain of command? This isn't the shift manager at KFC."

Hall was in Qatar when the lawsuit was filed on September 18 in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. Other soldiers learned of it and he feared for his own safety. Once, Hall said, a group of soldiers followed him, harassing him, but no one did anything to make it stop.

The Army told him it couldn't protect him and sent him back to Fort Riley. He resumed duties with a military police battalion. He believes his promotion to sergeant has been blocked because of his lawsuit, but he is a team leader responsible for two junior enlisted soldiers.

No one with Fort Riley, the Army or Defense Department would comment about Hall or the lawsuit. Each issued statements saying that discrimination will not be tolerated regardless of race, religion or gender.

"The department respects [and supports by its policy] the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs," said Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense.

All three organizations said existing systems help soldiers "address and resolve any perceived unfair treatment."

Lt. Col. David Shurtleff, a Fort Riley chaplain, declined to discuss Hall's case but said chaplains accommodate all faiths as best they can. In most cases, religious issues can be worked out without jeopardizing military operations.

"When you're in Afghanistan and an IED blows up a Humvee, they aren't asking about a wounded soldier's faith," Shurtleff said.

Hall said he enjoys being a team leader but has been told that having faith would make him a better leader.

"I will take care of my soldiers. Nowhere does it say I have to pray with my soldiers, but I do have to make sure my soldiers' religious needs are met," he said.

"Religion brings comfort to a lot of people," he said. "Personally, I don't want it or need it. But I'm not going to get down on anybody else for it."

Hall leaves the Army in April 2009. He would like to find work with the National Park Service or Environmental Protection Agency, anything outdoors.

"I hope this doesn't define me," Hall said of his lawsuit. "It's just about time somebody said something."

April 26, 2008 3:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"The word "diverse" barely begins to scratch the surface here."

That was an awesome letter Jim, I’m glad you posted it here. I read it when Aunt Bea posted the link to it in the other thread.

I really got a flavor for just how rich your community must be, and it almost tempts me to just up and move there. I’ll have to visit first of course, but that read was a feast for anyone interested in "the Montgomery County way of life."

April 27, 2008 1:15 AM  
Blogger David S. Fishback said...


Please check us out. I grew up in Montgomery County and, except for a few years after college, have lived here since. It is a great place, and Jim's piece beautifully expresses why.


April 27, 2008 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, this isn't relative, but If the Jim Kennedy in the former blog is Col. Jim Kennedy who has a grandfather who is a WWI veteran from Overton Co., TN, please contact me at

May 09, 2008 3:12 PM  

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