In a tough enviornment studded with pitfalls, DeForest Talbert relaunched his young life in a way that turned young heads and dropped the jaws of older folks. According to the Washington Post:
He was raised by a single mother in a public housing complex in north Old Town Alexandria. He spent much of his freshman year skipping class and talking back to teachers. He was bright, athletic and good-looking -- and he knew it, recalled Carolyn Lewis, principal of the Secondary Training and Education Program, which supports students who aren't doing as well as they could.
"He was really in trouble in the streets," Lewis said.
So when Dee won a military scholarship and admission at West Virginia State University, it was as if the sky opened up over Alexandria's meaner streets.
"Here's this kid who went through so many hurdles growing up in the inner city," said Jill Lingle, a George Washington Middle School resource police officer who knows Talbert's family. "Even the younger boys I know at the school would talk about him. They'd say, 'Did you see what Dee did?' Everyone knew he'd gone on to college. He was definitely a role model for these young kids growing up in the same way."
It was a two way street. When his unit got deployed to Iraq, Principal Lewis and the young people at TC Williams alt.ed. sent care packages and correspondence to Dee, making him the envy of the unit for the volume of mail he got.
A notable aspect of this war is the flurry of nearly instant communication that accompanies it. Not two nights before the routine patrol that would be his last one, Frances and Dee were instant messaging. Just texting a normal conversation about Deontae, about missing each other. That next day Ms. Lewis had another e-mail from Dee. "Just want you to know that I'm fine," it read, "It's still hot."
Then too that night in Iraq, within moments of the IED blast, tinny voices conferred in chattering transmissions that crackled over walkies and radios. Not a few of the condolence posts left for Dee at Fallen Heroes Memorials mention that they got the news about Dee through those overheard strained exchanges. The posts themselves are recent, three and four years out from July 27, 2004: testament that while communicating such news is quite nearly instant, processing that news can be the work of a lifetime
It's not unusual to read in veteran's accounts how news of a comrade is learned first through just such tinny but frantic voices remote amid the electronic blizzard of our interconnectivity. The veterans especially rue and ruminate upon that burst of information, of communication, followed by a silence made all the more utter and complete when the sender terminates transmission.
That's especially true in Dee's case. A great many folks rue the silence shrouding Dee's voice. Throughout his short life, DeForest Talbert, that most unlikely of success stories, fully utilized every medium at his disposal to stay in touch with a community eager for tips from any trailblazer who could find his way out of a situation frought with missteps and perilous false starts. He maintained a broadband communication with his home, signalling back lessons learned and wisdom earned to ease the way ahead for those hoping to follow.
Not long before OIF, an observer could pick up a lot of chatter about the mission of America's military. Since the '90's when the US got involved in Bosnia and on the fringes of the situation in Haiti, the pros and cons of "nation-building" became a topic for pundits and talking heads.
Wherever anyone stands on that discussion, it seems quite clear that before deploying to Iraq, DeForest Talbert had already dedicated himself to just that mission: nation-building right here at home.