Sunday, November 17, 2013 will mark my three year anniversary with the Army. It is crazy to think that it has already been three years since I was rudely awaken while still on the bus shortly after pulling in to Fort Leonard Wood in the wee hours of the morning on the 18th of November. Apparently crossing your arms while catching a little shut-eye before the biggest undertaking of your life is frowned upon by Drill Sergeants with a chip on their shoulder. He tried to explain to me, in so many words, that I was not in charge of anything, to which I felt like responding that is exactly why I joined the Army but I figured it best to pick and choose my battles on Day Zero of Week Zero. Based on the Drill Sergeant’s absence of tact I figured my reasonable explanation was not going to be well-received.
Since then, life with the Army has not always been a perfect relationship and like all others we have had our ups, our downs, and our differences. But in spite of it all we have found a way to make it work for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am contractually and legally obligated to show up every morning with a clean shave
and a smile. To mark the occasion, the Army will award me with the Good Conduct Medal for behavior so becoming they saw fit to celebrate it. In other words, I avoided getting arrested for 1,095 consecutive days while gainfully employed by the government.
If you would have asked me back in the summer of 2010 why I wanted to join the Army the list would have looked something like this:
- Serve my country
- Pay off my student loans
- Open a number of doors to future job prospects
- See the world
The first three objectives will have largely taken care of themselves over the course of my career by virtue of enlisting, but seeing the world was a completely different prospect. Considering within that list I have the least amount of control over where I go, it has taken a bit of good fortune and opportune timing for me to travel as much as I have in such a short amount of time. Need I remind you that prior to joining the Army I had never been west of the Mississippi River, let alone out of the country.
Since signing my name on that proverbial dotted line, I have become somewhat of an international man with substantial time spent in both South Korea and Egypt, along with very brief layovers in Germany and Japan. I am also holding out hope for a visit to Israel in the very near future but more on that at a later time. Even within the good ol’ U-S-of-A I have had the chance to see new and faraway lands with stays in Missouri, Georgia, and Texas, as well as a month-long stop in the shitty part of California — it counts, regardless of what you Bay-area hippies tell me.
Along the way, I have been in 15 different airports for more flights than I am able to count and I have had the pleasure of serving alongside members of 10 different national contingents. I have played golf in two different foreign countries and have been to several historically significant areas as wide ranging as the Demilitarized Zone, the Alamo, and the Red Sea.
And as enriching and valuable as all of those experiences have been, there is one positive byproduct to joining the Army I naively left off of my list some three years ago that trumps all of the rest, outside of serving my country: the relationships I have forged and the fine folks I have met throughout my time enlisted so far.
I have been incredibly lucky to have gotten to know several great people at each of my stops in the Army. I have had outstanding first-line supervisors, excellent mentors, and made friends with a handful people that I can quite easily file in the “life-long” category (you know who you are, especially if you are reading this blog), all of which are benefits I never would have fully expected prior to signing up.
The military has a funny way of bringing people together that would not have otherwise crossed paths. Through bridging those cultural and geographical gaps by putting all of us in the same room and in the same uniform and telling us to work it out, I have become friends with people I would not have normally given myself the chance to get to know simply based upon our perceived differences — stereotypes are a bitch. The Army does a good job at leveling the playing field by stripping away those socioeconomic assumptions allowing individuals to get to know one another just as people, a learning experience that I am a much better man for having had.
And beyond all of this, and equally as important, I have been able to further recognize, appreciate, and strengthen the relationships with my family members and close friends from back home over the same time period despite the many challenges presented. The importance of those friends and relatives who know you outside of your military persona and support you regardless cannot be understated, especially when you are away from home for long periods of time. You learn to not take any of these people for granted and through the mutual sacrifice you see the loyalty and dedication of those who matter most. Yet another blessing in disguise in the truest form.
While it has gone fast, the first three years of my time in the Army has certainly not always been easy. The Army will never tell you that any of it will be a cake walk but it could have been a whole lot tougher so I have few complaints. Sure, there have been some long days, a few long nights, a handful of cold showers and even long periods without one, but that IS the Army. There have also been many missed holidays, birthdays, weddings, and parties since November of 2010, and I am positive there will be even more time away from friends and family before this wild adventure is over, but all of that is a part of the sacrifice I knowingly made when I signed up. And without signing up I never would have had so many amazing experiences or been positively impacted by so many awesome people along the way.
So to say I have been blessed so far is an understatement.