There is Old, Then There is Army Old

Posted: September 15, 2012 in Military
Tags: , , , , ,

There is a reason why someone can retire from the military at the ripe old age of 38; simply put, war is a young mans game.  Each and every year we go past that age, you lose a little something more.  It probably is not even readily apparent, and for those who seek out the hardest, toughest assignments, the thought never even crosses the mind.  After all, someone who chooses that route has a little something more to give.  They are blessed, militarily, in the same way that elite athletes are; they have something that is not shared through the common ranks of their peers.  Elite members of the military may seem to contradict my earlier statement, but it in reality it does not.  It just happens in a manner that is proportionate to their peers, despite the fact they operate at a higher level.  There are some other components that are learned of the art, it comes with the age and maturity.

This was a trying week all around.  The end of the week could not come soon enough and once it did, the physical, emotional, mental, and for lack of a better term, spiritual, senses were ready for the early bedtime that came.  I say spiritual because there was definitely a lack of center, the part of me that is me, that cannot really be described, but is such a vital part, was out of whack.  A great part of that was rectified with more sleep than I would normally get, a light breakfast and a couple cups of coffee  Just a few years ago, the ability to run for days on end would never have even begun to tap my reserves.  Now, I realize how much more work I need to do in order to make sure those reserves are actually there.

I recently had the privilege of seeing the younger generation make their way into the breach.  Some, if not most of my civilian readers may not understand why I say privilege, you may not even get it after a thorough explanation.  Simply put, it is an honor to see those you have helped train and watch excel to carry the mantle forward, to place as much, or more, of themselves as you have into the profession of arms.  It is humbling to see those who are now doing what you once did, day in and day out as they now answer the nation’s call.

For every facet of Army life that you give yourself to, something is taken.  Time away from family and loved ones, for many of us that has been more of a constant in our lives than has making it to important events.  Every ounce of energy that you put into your physical self eventually results in injuries and sidelining.  At some point principals you hold deep come into question and you begin to wonder if you are making a difference what you do.  Wounded friends and fellow warriors can only go to so many memorials before the faces of loved ones stick with you long after the services are over.  All this and much more adds years to your biological age, so even at the young age of 42 it is quite possible to feel much older, and even suffer the effects of someone with more years under their belt.

Back in the early days of my career, the Army at least, paid lip service to the mental health arena and there was very little scientific reasoning behind physical fitness and nutrition.  In that regard it was always, a balls out run and haul as much as you possibly could.  Equipment had no tailoring for different body types and often caused as many injuries as did the actual physical activity.  It was not uncommon to see “Old Sarge” retiring with a limp and in need of his VA benefits because he honestly did give his all, right up until the end.  It is less so today, meals are prepared with a better output in mind.  Physical training and equipment has undergone numerous changes based upon scientific studies and more mimics that of college level sports programs and civilian equipment.  Mental health is, or should not be, the same socially stigmatizing effort that it once was.  There are numerous programs and opportunities available for anyone who has the strength to want to make themselves better.  In some cases prevent what they may be self aware enough to recognize before there is a problem.

I joined the Army when much of this was very rudimentary at the least.  Over the last decade I have been able to take advantage of the changes, but at times it has been a rough road from the early days and the damage done back then.  As I close in on 20 years and look at the couple more beyond that, that I will do, I realize that it is time to take advantage of the other opportunities I am given.  It is time to look at developing the skills I avoided for many of the last several years.  There are many facets of the job left that I have not experienced, nor did I ever dream that I would want to.  I will have plenty of skills when the time comes to leave, the military has many marketable skills that go beyond the use of weapons and violence.  As blind of a career as it may seem from the outside, the ability to think and learn is cherished among warriors and leaders as much as the ability to put your martial skills to use when called upon.  After all, no one is actually at war every hour of every day, each and every one of us has something (sometimes somethings) we need to do in order to make this thing work.

I have experienced tired at more levels than I have ever thought could possibly exist.  I have come back after days on end of constant movement and being switched on to the environment around me to the point that what little hair I have on my head has hurt, collapsing on my uncomfortable bunk without the desire to wash the days of grime off of me for fear that it would wake me up too much to want to sleep. I, however, have no regrets over any of it.  Given the choice, based off of what I know today, I would have joined at 18 instead of 23.

There are many young soldiers, Marines, airmen and (hehe) seamen who have never known the military without a war to fight.  Many of them will not serve a day of their careers without the global threat of terrorism to send them off to war.  It is an unfortunately needed career that can have many rewards.  The time spent fighting for your country does have a certain draw to a certain kind of person when it comes to longevity. it is a calling, a calling that will eventually take its toll.  There was a saying when I came in that there are “bold soldiers and old soldiers, but there are no old-bold soldiers”.  With age comes wisdom, a wisdom built from a healthy dose of experience.  Your fears come not only from the unknown, but from the exposure you receive.  The best learn how to live with that fear and to not make the mistakes that succumbing to it can lead to.

  1. GM says:

    Great post Mark! It hits home, but you have again assured me that I’m not alone.


    • 20 years ago there were no blogs and I would never have thought about writing something like this. We have come so far with so much more to go. This outlet is a way to ease the mental age just a little bit.

      No one who has ever served should ever feel alone, although at times I can understand that it just may feel like you are the only one. It is a brotherhood, that now has our sisters right there with us.


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