Save Yourself

Filed under: — lana @ 10:49 pm

It is too late for some of us, but not all…

A friend contacted me recently, commenting that he is considering joining the Army. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do, but is leaning more and more towards the infantry.

I am not one to stop someone from joining the Army. I will tell it like it is, naturally, and point out that it isn’t all AK-47s and roses, but that I think it is a very beneficial experience for some people. I think that everyone, regardless of who (whom? I was never good at that), should have some sort of public service in their life in their formative late-teens to early-twenties. Be it military service, Peace Corps, Teach For America, USAID, Habitat for Humanity, or even a Save the Sea Lions campaign or local YMCA service. I strongly believe most Americans live out their lives in sheltered bubbles and that we would all be better off if everyone realized that they actually are not the only living things on the planet and that the world isn’t around just to please you and you alone. Serve someone else a little bit and then sit back and get an underpaid cabana boy to shave your bunions, because you will appreciate it more.

Digression aside, I still felt the need to ask my friend if he had recently lost his mind. Being in my age group, he is at or around 30 years old by now. I have a husband with one fully operational body part, largely because he joined the infantry at age 25. I maintain that he did it because he had something to prove, with his two brothers being Marines. Had they not done that, he might have done something a little less hard on the body and a little more developmental of the talents he already had. Joining the Army was not the silly thing; it was a 25 year old with back problems from construction trying to keep up with 18 year olds running around in soggy North Carolina woods while training for long days in 140 degree sand pits and 10 degree dirt heaps.

His response? He wants to serve his country, feels that infantry gives the most pride, it “feels right.”

Sure, and it’s going to feel just cozy in your knees, back, hips, and shoulders while you are realizing that you have very coherent memories from the day some of the Soldiers that outrank you were born. I am still entertained by my Soldier in his late 30’s who did his first Army stint when I was conquering long division, but who I now get to take out the trash when it needs it. And naturally, his knees are bad. He was smart enough this time around to stay away from going back into the infantry, and to serve his country instead by following my orders.

In the end, of course I support that my friend should join the Army. He feels it is best for him, he feels it would benefit him and his life, and I agree that it most likely would. But a 30 year old joining the infantry? Someone who has talents and brains and patriotism going into something that aside from security jobs has little future outside the military? That benefits no one. We need the infantry, in all shapes, sizes, ranks, and brains, and I need someone to kick down that door for me if someone I want is inside. They do a job I can’t, and I recognized that long ago. But it isn’t for everyone, and may not be the best way to benefit the Army, you, or the country. If you have talent, by all means use it in the Army. Build bridges, do finance, collect intelligence, analyze data, whatever. But remember that the Army isn’t forever, and that by 35 you should be setting a path, and that your body will have to accomodate and that an 18 year old body can do a lot more than even a 25 year old body. People forget that, particuarly as they get older but don’t want to admit it, and it’s scary to watch. I have had Soldiers that were a bad fit for my job, particularly in the more infantry-like parts of my job and also in the career aspects, and they were a nightmare and every day I wished for someone in admin or pharmacy or anywhere else in the Army to swoop in and offer them on-the-job training for anything outside of my proximity. It never happened, and instead the Soldier suffered and so did the Army.

I understand the overwhelming need for some people to go infantry. I married one. People feel that that is the “real” Army, that they do the “real” work and see the “real” deal. People forget that it is other people telling them where to go to find the bad guys, and where they can expect to find bombs along the way. People forget that you can serve your country by shooting bad guys but you can also serve it by finding the bad guys in the first place, or guarding those bad guys once they are caught, or serving eggs in the morning to the people doing the finance for the admin guys keeping the truck driver’s paperwork straight. I serve mine wandering through fields and poo-canals hoping to catch a glimpse of the jerk that woke me up with mortars the night before, right alongside the infantry guys who provide me with a secure escort to find that jerk relatively unimpeded. I also serve my country training other Soldiers how to avoid walking directly through a poo-canal by double-checking the map before a 2am departure. I have not had to fire my weapon in combat, despite having been fired upon, but I have locked up my share of threats and have not had one Soldier walk through poo to get to a village since I had the fortune. So I have done my part, and it is a part to which I have continued to commit for a few more years. I use my brain, whatever remains of it, to help the Army, myself, and my country, because quite frankly I am just no good at kicking down doors and would just get in the way.

I hope my friend makes the best choice for himself, because that is really the only way to make the best choice for the Army. Despite all of its faults, I have a perverse loyalty to the organization and a desire for it to change for the better, and as such hate to see potential wasted. Some of us made mistakes in our time, either by career move or just missing the turn while on patrol. Hopefully others can learn from those and save themselves from the same.

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