While most people are still sleeping at 3:30 a.m., Alford Orman, 79, is waving goodbye to his wife as he begins a 100-mile work commute to McNary Lock and Dam near Umatilla, Ore.
And just like every day, Orman starts his morning with a positive attitude, which he says has carried him through the past 60 years of his working career.
As Orman approaches his federal service retirement in July, he is doing a lot of reflecting these days.
After all, he has a lot to look back on between his childhood days in Maben, Miss., where he worked on his family’s corn, cotton and sugarcane farm, his time in the construction industry, a sugar beet factory, and, of course, his 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1952 to 1972.
His military days took him around the U.S. to places like Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Marine Corps Base Quantico near Triangle, Va., working as an explosive ordnance technician on a bomb squad training FBI cadets and Secret Service members.
For three years, Orman also served as a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C. where he had the chance to train Marine Corps Reserves recruit, Roberto Clemente.
Orman said one day the baseball player received a $5,000 check in the mail so he took the Pittsburgh Pirate to the bank to deposit the check.
Clemente wanted to thank Orman by giving him and his wife box seat tickets to the 1960 World Series baseball championship against the New York Yankees. However, Orman said he couldn’t take off work to attend the game.
The Marine Corps also took Orman around the world to Europe and Asia while serving one tour in Korea and two tours in Vietnam.
As Orman looks back at his life, he says that he hasn’t done "everything … there are still a lot of things I’d like to have done, but I’ve been on a tight schedule. I’m fixing to change that."
Orman and his wife, Barbara, plan to retrace those many footprints he made in the U.S. with a post-retirement cross-country road trip to visit friends and family, many of whom they haven’t seen for two decades.
When he and Barbara were planning the post-retirement trip, he reminded her, "We aren’t spring chickens anymore."
But don’t let him fool you. This is the same man who danced the twist on his 72nd birthday even though he was fighting lymph node cancer at the time and undergoing chemotherapy.
What drives his persistence? He claims appreciating what you have plays a big role. He’s talking about his service as an electrician at McNary.
"You’re not going to find a deal like this elsewhere."
As Orman’s retirement nears he doesn’t plan for his life to slow down any.
"I see people walk out of here when they retire and come back later in wheelchairs. I ask them, ‘What did you do when you retired? Go home, prop your feet up and watch TV?’" he remarked.
Orman’s service as an electrician will leave more than 13 years of footprints, but some say he will also leave boots hard to fill at McNary.
"Working with Al for the last 11 years and 10 months taught me that persistence goes a long way," said Valerie Nichols, who Orman mentored when she was an electrician apprentice from 2002 to 2006.
"I can see him working alongside a much younger person, and Al will not show signs of being tired or getting frustrated. He just keeps on ticking like a Timex. Everyone knows that being a journeyman or apprentice assigned to Al means you have to move quick. Even though he is 79, he still moves like a teenager on a mission. One minute he is beside you, the next he is gone with a tool or a part in his hand, headed back to the job site. To this day I still have to really keep on my toes to keep him in my sights, but it is easier since I know his routines now," she said.