By Army Sgt. Jody Metzger
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2008 - "Well boys, should we fix the table or make skis out of it?" the father asked, glancing from the broken wooden table to his two young sons. He had chosen to teach a lesson to his children instead of reprimanding them for breaking the table.
Army Maj. Lance Hamilton, who serves here with the 4th Infantry Division, smiles with fondness when remembering moments like this that remind him of the happiness he shared with his father, Stan Hamilton.
Growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the Hamilton brothers batted, swam, ran and tackled their way through their younger years. Thanks to their civil rights activist father, they remained steadfast and loyal to academics. Stan's philosophy for his sons was that if you didn't get A's, you didn't participate in sports.
Hearing that ultimatum as a boy motivated Hamilton to pursue scholastic endeavors for the reward of being able to play sports. As gifted athletes, Hamilton and his brother, Harry, were excellent football players, playing all the way through high school. Harry earned an athletic scholarship to Penn State University; Hamilton wasn't far behind.
After graduating from Penn State, Lance Hamilton went on to study law at Yale University. He serves here as the 4th Infantry Division's deputy staff judge advocate. Looking across his desk nestled within the main headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad, he said he knows his hard work and his father's deep-seated faith have paid off.
Hamilton said he had not set out to join the Army. In fact, after graduating from Yale with a law degree, his dream, like many other young lawyers, was to work for a big law firm. In 1991, shortly after graduation, Hamilton began his clerkship with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Petersburg, Fla. Following the clerkship, he went to work for a law firm.
Then, in 1996, a restless Hamilton got a phone call from his brother, Harry, who surprised him with the news that he had just enlisted into the Army's elite Staff Judge Advocate Corps. Idolizing his brother, Lance set out in his brother's footsteps for a second time in his life and joined the Army.
Looking back on his decision to leave civilian law, he emphasized that he couldn't have made a better choice.
"I had a renewed sense of vigor when I left the private sector and felt like I was serving the greater good again," he said. It's been like living in his father's household again, he noted, "always helping and serving and doing for others."
"And finally being able to do it has felt for me like being put into an elite class," he added.
Serving in the Ivy Division family, Hamilton said, he's found it easy to relate to concepts the division commander, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond, espouses. They're influenced by lessons learned on the football field, a background they share and take great joy in remembering.
Just as his athletic background taught him to succeed as part of a team on the field, those influences have also lent themselves to the staff judge advocate office, Hamilton said.
"Every time I'm in charge of anything or keeping an office of valuable people, I have always taken it back to my athletic roots as far as building a team [is concerned], because if you have a cohesive team working together, then it is much easier to accomplish your mission," he said.
Hamilton said he is captivated by the strong leadership style he sees within the 4th Infantry Division. He noted that Hammond's influence on the division mirrors his own ambition of success and teamwork.
"That is where we get motivation in the office – having good leadership, which always helps," he said. "It's easy for me, because SJA is great. The chain of command, all the way up to the [commanding general], is really oriented about the team concept and taking care of one another."
Army Capt. Liz Waits, an attorney in the staff judge advocate office here, said Hamilton encourages everyone in the office to maintain a balance of work and play.
"He has a great attention to detail," she said. "On one side, he really pushes us to meet a high standard, and on the other, gets us out and playing flag football."
If athletics shaped Hamilton into a success, it was his father's belief in helping others that separate him from the rest, the major said. His father's community service and sense of justice while single-handedly raising his two sons and their young cousin were remarkable, Hamilton said. "My dad always reminded us: 'I don't care how many yards you ran or how many tackles you've done, if you don't think about your fellow man and do something for those less fortunate, than you are nothing in my eyes,'" Hamilton said. "He was always looking for what you are doing for the greater good for society, for your country."
Stan Hamilton -- father, military veteran and civil rights activist -- gave more than he took. His teachings to his sons came from the back-breaking idealism of a street minister whose goal was to help others less fortunate.
"It is all I remember him doing," Hamilton said. "He was running street programs for various churches throughout the community, looking to help those who have fallen through the cracks of society."
The ministry his father spearheaded was dedicated to helping people whom the social services had forgotten or overlooked. Social services, for as much as they helped the community, could not help everyone, Hamilton explained. As a result, the ministry was dedicated to helping those who were left behind.
"My father would do it in a fashion that went beyond what the social services could do for the people. There are a lot of people who didn't qualify for the services. There were always those that wouldn't fit somewhere in the middle, those that have children and are working but not making the cut, and they fall through the cracks. "
The freely smiling Hamilton has won many trophies in his life. Yet, "being the son of an incredible man" is his most treasured reward, he said.
"One day I hope to be half the man he was, and if I am half the man he is, than that would be an accomplishment," he said. "If my sons would feel half as much about me as I feel about my dad, I would leave this place a happy man."
(Army Sgt. Jody Metzger serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)