For several years, I was a soldier-medic in the U.S. Army. I saw countless military and family members. Now I am a veteran looking back.
Get ready for something bizarre
The Army is a fascinating experience. But now and then things get very bizarre--the only thing to do is shake your head and laugh.
These are the times when everything is a Catch-22. Things grind to a halt as you figure out just what's going on. While everyone is shrugging their shoulders there's not much to do but take a step back, scratch your head and go for another facepalm.
It's not simply about "good" or "bad." If you want the good, ask any recruiter. If you want the bad, ask any soldier. Everything else? Keep reading.
This article will look at the Army because that's the only branch I served in. Also, I will refer to the soldier as "he." This is to simplify my sentences. Don't forget that women have proudly served our country since its founding.
7. You will likely never be president
Quick: What do John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bob Dole, and George HW Bush all have in common? If you said that they're all members of the Illuminati then you're reading the wrong article. You can still hang out here but only if you take off your tinfoil hat and promise not to post any comments below.
For everyone else, if you need a hint look at the subtitle: They are all combat veterans and they were also defeated by a civilian when running for president.
George W Bush's situation is especially unique. There has been controversy surrounding his National Guard service from the very beginning. Despite this, he defeated Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, both of whom served in Vietnam. It's as if America met Bill Clinton and has been trying to tell our veterans something ever since.
So this is probably a military thing and not an Army thing, right? Well, let's take a look back further. Almost every president in the Post-War Era has been civilian or Navy.
There have only been three Army presidents (only one of them a combat veteran):
So if you want to be president after serving in the Army you have to ride the coattails of one of the greatest presidents in American history or be the God of War or the Holy Spirit of the neo-cons.
I'll sum it up for you: Look back 20 years and it's civilian 4 and military 0. Look back 60 years at military only and it's Army 3, Navy 6.
Now I'm not saying that a veteran automatically deserves the highest office in the land. Still, it's difficult to figure out what's going on. It's just plain weird. It's become so out of hand that a PAC was started to stem the tide. The Combat Veterans for Congress was founded in 2009. Of course, it only focuses on combat veterans... who are Republican.
Is it all in my head? Well, you can always prove me wrong next time around.
6. Motivation changes in an instant, but it goes either way
I use the word "motivation" here as it applies to the personal goals people have as well as national defense. It does not apply to any service member's commitment to defending his country. That is called "loyalty" or "duty." I will never, ever question that. OK, let's move on...
Civilians join the military for many reasons as well as defending their country. Before signing that dotted line, everyone has his own idea of how the future will play out. He will get this rank by this time, he will join this and that, he will leave on this day. Then, as a veteran, he will go for this program and then that one. And so on... Not a problem.
However, in the military there are so many variables and moving parts, these dreams will change. They are still easily attainable but they are often put aside when the civilian becomes a soldier. New experiences bring new goals. Again, not a problem.
What is truly bizarre is that the motivation changes. It is only natural for soldiers to compare themselves with others of their rank. By doing so, some things become super important to fulfill and other things can be put on hold.
For example, when I enlisted I had already had a BA. I wanted to get my MBA after I was discharged.* When I met other junior enlisted soldiers with only GEDs and married with children, that goal didn't seem so important. Another soldier with a BA saw the same, and it scared the heck out of him. Long before his discharge, he was studying for his LSAT.
At the same time, I don't like physical activity. I never have but when I met lower-ranking soldiers who were older than me with better PT (physical training) scores, it made me want to exercise more frequently.
Goals change and motivation changes. A friend you met in BCT (Basic Combat Training) a couple of years ago will be totally different today. A friend you served with in the same company could be totally different today. The frequency and extreme that this happens blow the mind.
* To this day, I don't have my MBA.
5. Life changes from company to company
You were in one company and are now assigned to another. Your rank or job hasn't changed but why has life changed so much? There's no PT in the morning. No field training (camping in the woods). Almost no time downrange (rifle training). You work in a cubicle 9 hours a day and only met your company commander once. In fact, it's almost like a civilian job. What's going on?
There is no guarantee that every company does the same thing every day. Aside from a few requirements (uniform, maintaining physical training scores), your military experience will always meet the needs of the Army first.
For example, a medic who is part of a unit that may be deployed at any time will have a completely different experience than a medic in a hospital battalion who patches up the wounded returning stateside.
Another medic might be in an overstaffed department and will be an underpaid secretary his entire time in service. Well, at least he won't have a problem with the office's dress code.
It is up to the commander (usually his rank is Captain or higher) to address the needs of the Army as they apply to his soldiers in the most effective way possible. One captain might do this by intense physical training every morning before the workday. Another captain might leave PT to the soldiers and give "leadership courses" twice a week. And so on.
The bottom line is not to get too comfortable with any routine. Start a class or start dating a civilian at your own risk. It can all go upside down instantly. You'll never see it coming.
4. Anyone can get on post
OK, this is as bizarre as it gets. This is the most shocking thing I've noticed. It shocks me to this day: Anyone can get on base.
Remember when military bases were castles? Literally, castles. They had massive stone walls and huge moats full of mermaids with tridents. There were crossbows and flaming oil on hand to repel the goblins who would ride down the hills every spring to steal our fish sticks. What happened to all that? Now it's just a chain-linked fence with barbed wire. Similar security measures are in place for the dumpster behind your local Taco Bell.
To be fair, there are numerous guards at each gate and they check everyone out. But all it takes to get by them is a quick detour to the Visitor Center nearby. Seriously, fill out half a page of paperwork and show some civilian ID to get a day pass. This day pass will give you access to any and every part of the base for the rest of the day.
Some people don't even need a day pass. I once heard from a friend of a friend of a friend who was stationed at Fort Middle-of-Nowhere. The story is that in 2004 some crazy civilian went up to the gate "feeling sick." The guards immediately took her to the closest hospital... which was ON THE FREAKING BASE! Once in the ER, she showed her appreciation by killing herself with the handgun she had in her purse.
I always thought this was some half-baked urban legend sergeants told the junior enlisted to keep them on their toes. Then I came across this!
Soldiers and family members on post can get civilian fast food delivered to their door piping hot, day or night. They often do. Considering what Americans go through at our own airports, it's difficult to see why our nation's military bases take such liberties.
I can only hope that if someone is delivering a "pizza" from a smoking van headed toward the missile silos, the MPs will be there.
3. There are a lot of obese soldiers
You may have actually heard this one by now. After all, it isn't an issue the media is ignoring. They are pleased to report how obesity is affecting the fighting strength of the Army. They also report the extreme measures soldiers are going through such as laxatives and liposuction.
We all know that many Americans are obese so I won't bore you with statistics. That means I'd have to put down my super-sized tub of cheesy, deep-fried, high-fructose, bleached flour dough. What nobody is telling you is that there are so many fat soldiers in today's Army--and things aren't getting much better.
Now, to be fair, it's easy to fall into the ranks of the flabby. Many soldiers work long hours behind desks in combat support roles. The job is vital and stressful but it isn't always physical. It's up to the soldier and his immediate supervisor to make sure he stays in shape. However, this is easier said than done.
All this seems odd because the Army has physical standards. It has rigorous strength and weight requirements. To complete Basic Combat Training, each soldier has to meet these requirements. Then, to stay in the Army, each soldier has to meet these requirements at least twice a year, every year he is in the service.
If a soldier can't cut it, then he has to join his company's fat camp which means a lot more exercise along with his daily responsibilities. If he still cannot make it, then he is discharged despite his rank, experience, and expertise.
On the other end, recruiters aren't making things easier by letting obese civilians into the Army. As eternal war rages abroad and civilians at home get fatter, the Army has to fill the ranks by relaxing requirements. While it makes life easier for recruiters to meet their numbers, it gets harder for drill sergeants to crank out combat-ready soldiers.
2. Don't drink and drive!
Well, of course, you won't drink and drive! What idiot would do that? It's dangerous, and it's against the law. Yeah, but for some reason, it keeps happening in the Army. I just can't figure out why.
Today's Army has the most intelligent, talented, and hardest-working people I've ever had the privilege of working with. It was an honor to serve with them. But at least once a month, some idiot drives up to the base's gate hammered beyond recognition.
After a quick sobriety test, the soldier gets tossed into the Army cooler for drunk driving. The guards call his commander who picks him up and drops him off at the barracks. My guess is that the offender goes to civilian court later and faces the music. The commander also does something administrative on his end.
How do I even know drunk driving happens as frequently as it does? The same way we all know: Every time this sorry crap goes down, every company in the whole battalion has to wake up at 0500 hrs, drag himself over to HQ and watch the same DoD (Department of Defense) video that we saw last time. It was put together in the '70s telling us why it's wrong to drink and drive.
Me: Hey, I know. We all know and we all agree. Can we go back to sleep now?
Army: No because screw you. Screw you all.
We all know that civilians drink and drive as well. But they don't get the same kind of attention from their employers for drunk driving. Civilian employers do not own their employees all day, every day. Also when alcohol begins to affect a civilian's job performance, the easiest way to solve the issue is to just can the drunkard.
Instead, the Army chooses treatment. This is much appreciated considering the stress of long hours and frequent deployments. In the end, company commanders and medics are always listening, always ready to help any soldier.
Oh, by the way, don't drink and drive.
1. You will never be a hero (but you deserve to be one)
I'm sure this will get me some super-vicious comments but let me explain.
Look all over HubPages, and you'll see all kinds of articles about military heroes and support the troops and on and on. These are all great and I love them all. They are about service members from all branches doing their best, some of them giving the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, no one will tell your story. Or if they do, it won't last long. Allow me to explain.
Service members don't see themselves as "heroes." Those who are stateside certainly don't. Exercise, work, prepare for deployment. Wash, rinse, repeat. Ask them if they see themselves as heroes and they'll immediately think of their friends overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan or the next hotspot.
Go overseas and ask the ones in combat: the ones on patrol everyday. They'll immediately think of their friends who died beside them or in the infirmary with injuries I don't even want to think about.
Marine Sergeant Major Brad Kasal was interviewed in July 2007. He discussed a book about his life as a Marine,My Men are My Heroes. The title speaks for itself. Throughout the interview, he repeatedly acknowledged the rest of his team as well as all Marines fighting in the war.
All of our service members are heroes (well, except for me). They just don't always get the attention. Those who do accept it quietly and with great humility.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Bizarre enough for you? Did I miss anything?
Sara Krentz from USA on December 21, 2012:
My best friend is ex-army. I, too, was baffled at how easy it is to get on post.
Phoenix2361 on October 12, 2012:
I spent seven years in the Air Force and this is all too familiar. Good lens.
anonymous on August 28, 2012: