Civilian employee earns one of DOD's top honors
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 27, 2009 1:50 AM
Greg Hare, 2009 Department of Defense Employee with a Disability Award winner, poses with his wife, Jackie, in their Nahunta home. Hare was paralyzed in the early 1980s, when he fell out of a pecan tree.
In the crack of a tree limb, Greg Hare started toward the ground.
"I was shaking pecan trees for a friend. We shook the smallest one first and decided to do the biggest one second," he said.
"When the limb broke ... I just ran out of room as I was falling. I couldn't land on my feet."
Instead, the then-20-year-old's back met the ground.
"It was instant," Hare said. "I was paralyzed."
It has been nearly 30 years since that seemingly simple fall -- one that left a Nahunta man who spent much of his childhood competing on ballfields bound to a wheelchair.
And in the time since, he has not allowed the accident to derail his determination to achieve something extraordinary.
So Hare's co-workers inside Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's 4th Fighter Wing Civil Engineer shop were not surprised when he received the 2009 Outstanding Department of Defense Employee with a Disability Award earlier this month for an exemplary body of work that dates back more than two decades.
But what those airmen don't know is that he might be more inspired by them then they are by him.
"A lot of people don't really realize the sacrifices they make," Hare said of his military counterparts. "Like my friend ... over there, she's about to deploy. I mean, it is Christmas. I'm going to be home with my family ... and some of them aren't. I think some people take that for granted."
Nov. 21, 1981, started like an ordinary day, Hare said.
"I was working at a friend's house. He had seven trees to shake, and the deal was if I helped with that, he'd make breakfast for me and my wife," he said.
So the men got to work, not knowing that within moments, Hare would be lifeless at the foot of one of those pecan trees.
"I don't remember the actual fall part," he said. "I guess it was pretty traumatic."
And so were the four months of rehabilitation that followed.
"I was probably one of the worst patients who was ever (at Pitt Memorial Hospital). Those four months were tough," Hare said. "I just hated on everybody. I guess (paralysis) affects everybody different."
But something inside him changed when he returned to Wayne County with his wife, Jackie.
"When I got home, it wasn't necessarily a revelation, but you just got to the point where you didn't see a lot of options. I said, 'Well, you can quit or go,'" Hare said. "And Jackie, she's been the rock. We just celebrated 29 years."
By day, he has spent the majority of those years as one of many civilian employees on Seymour Johnson -- scheduling work orders for the projects airmen complete in-house.
And at night, he remained a dedicated husband and father.
So don't ask Hare if he wishes he could go back to that day in 1981.
He would rather celebrate his two families -- both the one he has found on base and the one that resides outside the installation gates.
And don't call him an inspiration or a hero.
Those titles, he reserves for the men and women donning uniforms who surround him every day.