Playing Soldier

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Military
Tags: , , ,

First, my disclaimer.  This post in no way reflects the opinions of the Army, the DoD or any government agency.  It in no way reflects anything other than my own personal opinions and reflections.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, I can get down to the heart of my rambling.  What will follow is some of the things, as I move into the final couple of years of my career, that I have recently begun to reflect back on.  Sometimes it has been reflection to re-live a certain time, and at other times it has been to try and understand a little bit of what has allowed me to endure the years of soldiering.  For some of you out in the civilian world who are my peers in age (relatively speaking) and may have kids who are looking at their options in life, maybe this can help you understand a little of the draw to the life.  For others out there who may be looking all on their own for the path they need to travel, well your story may be very similar to mine.  If you do follow the path their is no guarantee the journey will be the same though.

I have spent the majority of my adult years in the Army.  It was not something I did out of patriotic calling or any other selfless act (although I was raised in a patriotic household and was patriotic).  My reasons were actually quite selfish and I have discussed them before.  There were more than one reason, it is not so simple to break it down and pinpoint each and every reason I made the decision, each and every one contributed in its own way and carried its own weight.  This is not a rehash of the reasons behind my decision to enlist, so I will move on a bit.

One of the most awesome things about enlisting in the military is the stories behind why people do it.  Like fingerprints, no two stories are the same, each has its subtle difference to it.  Those differences and the circumstances behind the reasons all play a part in the success and longevity of a soldiers career.  It is not very easy to break that down and I do not know if I have the ability to do it, it is just one of those things that you have to be involved in, and have the desire to see, in order to understand.

Diversity is another area of amazement after all this time.  Being in the military expands your thoughts on diversity far beyond the most common definitions.  You have mates of not only different, religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, but education levels, desires, age, skills from the civilian sector, and birth place; the list of difference is endless.  The most amazing thing of all about this diversity is that the Army (and the other sister services) have been able to take this differences and mold them into cohesive units that are capable of not only carrying out dangerous, life taking operations, but develop leaders from this pool of diversity to move from, within and through the ranks.  It is a system that has small applications in the civilian sector but can never be completely integrated because of the amount of personal freedoms that must be given up (initially at least) in order to bring the disparities together.

Training and education.  There are so many types of training and education opportunities available.  Each and every day is a learning event that includes physical training, individual training, collective training, certification training, and leadership training.  There are civilian education opportunities and the possibility of your military skills applying towards credit of your civilian educational pursuits.  Common task training is for all soldiers:land navigation; physical fitness; basic leadership; marksmanship and a host of other topics depending on rank and duty position.  There is your job specific training and skills upkeep.  Then just when you think you have that mastered you are made to learn some parts of the other skills that make up the whole.  Oh, and by the way, you become the teacher for those particular sessions.  One of the ways the Army has figured out how to make us smarter is by making us teach our skills to others.

I can honestly say that for the last 18 plus years I have been getting paid (keep that statement in context please, remember 24/7/365 duty day, long deployments etc.) to do things my civilian counterparts have to pay for if they were to do it on their own.  I have free gym memberships all over the world on any military installation.  I have awesome guns that I get to shoot, am expected to shoot, and be good at.  I get to use recreation facilities with my family.  I get paid to jump out of airplanes as part of my job (think D-Day movie paratrooper, not sky diving).  I wear a uniform and get an allowance for maintenance.  There are a host of things that, as a part of what is required of a soldier, are re-embursed or simply provided.  We can look at the news over the last few years and see some disparity in that statement and there is in fact some truth in the disparity, but it has gotten better, it has evolved and there will never be enough of what you need, when you need it when it comes to a military career.

War is what we train for.  This is not meant glamorize war in any way.  In fact there is absolutely nothing glamorous about war.  All the effects of violent confrontation are quite hideous as a matter of fact and they stay with you forever.   When you are a soldier you are not playing, you are doing.  You are expected to perform.  There are times when you have to take the overwhelming fear of what may happen, move through it, use it if that is what it takes, and move on the completion.  Then when it has physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted you, you are expected to do it again, and again, and again…  Training for combat has its fun moments, especially in the initial more scripted portions of training.  As you and your mates move through different training scenarios and things become less controlled and more free flowing and chaotic, as it can be in combat, you begin to feel the draw of it and even to a point feel the loss of it when it is not around.  During training you learn a little bit about moving through your emotions and to a point recognizing some of the physiological reaction that can prevent you from being effective on the battlefield.  Adrenalin for instance is something to be both embraced and overcome when it is at the most dangerous of times in your life.

Soldiers are most happy when they are soldiering.  I spent the first decade of my career preparing for war and hoping that whatever unit I was in would be called upon for each and every conflict America embedded herself in.  Since 9/11 I have gotten to do this too many times.  I have trained soldiers for war long before I had any experience in it, I have trained soldiers for war after I received my experience(s).  I have trained soldiers while at war.  I can honestly say the soldiers who perform the best are the ones who get what they came in for, leadership, discipline, training, something or someone to aspire to, direction, motivation, purpose, and most of all to have someone who can guide them when it becomes too much for them.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned many years ago, long before I experienced the rigors of combat was that the biggest problem a soldier can ever have is to not recognize their fear.  If you ever approach something dangerous and it seems routine then you will make mistakes because you have lost the inner check you need to insure you do not miss something during the execution.

I hope that when I retire my children choose to not enlist.  It will not hurt or offend me in any way.  Like many career soldiers, I hope that the sacrifices I have had to make will not need to be repeated by future generations.  If my children do choose to enlist though I will try to pass on my encouragement and as much “wisdom” as I think can help them.  Being a soldier is not a game, it is a career, no matter how many years you serve.  It comes with cost, it can and should be fun whenever possible and it has endless possibilities open to each and every serving member.  Once you become a soldier, you are no longer playing soldier, you are living a life of one.  There are endless opportunities in the military.  Whether you do two years or 20, there is something each and every day.  Ever changing, always the same, that is a day in the military.

  1. After spending 24 years in the Army I can totally relate. Great story!


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