There are more. Here are 13:
1- I’ve never duplicated the relationships I have that came out of serving together. No matter where or when, seeing someone I gutted out a deployment with brings a smile to my face and a feeling of attachment I don’t have with anyone else. Even though it’s been decades in some instances, I still feel an innate responsibility for those that trusted me to lead them. I hope that never goes away. I’m told it doesn’t.
2- Counter to common narrative, on the margin, I got more than I gave for my service. This is a common reality for those that served over the last 20 years.
My undergrad, grad school and my wife’s second grad school were all payed for by the DOD. The best medical care my family has ever received was in the military. I stayed in the reserves for five years after separation because care the DOD provided for special needs families was something I couldn’t duplicate on the outside. I transitioned out of the military twice and took substantial pay cuts both times.
By the time I was 26 I’d been around the world twice and had command of a combat element. I was financially independent and owned my house.
No benefit received was dependent on anything other than minimum service requirements. Not performance. Not number of deployments. Not pay-grade.
3-In 2004 I completed a deployment with no internet, no mail and only MREs for food. It was the only experience I wish I could repeat.
4-Physics and my own judgement were the greatest risks to my safety on every deployment. Sometimes the bad guys got a say but that came and went. The other two were always there.
5-Chicken Cavetelli and Chicken with Tai Sauce were the best two MRE meals and I will fight anyone who says otherwise… No one did anything with the meal heaters except make explosives. Tabasco makes everything better. And by better I mean it makes it taste like Tabasco.
6-Being cold and wet is the worst sort of torture. Life’s whole purpose, any life not just human, is to stave off entropy. We are complex systems designed for one purpose–to keep our cells organized. The first type of disorganization is to lose the heat that separates us from our surrounding temperature. Being cold and wet accelerates that. It’s entropy. It’s the great equalizer of man.
7-I struggle when people thank me for my service. I appreciate it, but it takes conscious effort not to correct them in saying it should be me thanking them for the opportunity to serve. I don’t say that to signal some kind of over zealous stoicism within me. I say it because there’s no competitive market for those of us wired with the urge to do the things one can only do in the military. That’s what it is. It’s an urge. It’s an urge to identify with and do the types of things one can only do in the military. There is no other way to do it.
I served most of my time in Special Operations around men who could do anything that they wanted to do. The only thing any of them ever wanted to be were SEALs, Green Berets or Rangers, or at least former SEALs, Green Berets or Rangers. If not for the unique opportunity of service, where does one live that life? There is no alternative to SOCOM. Or Naval Aviation. Or the Marine Corps. Or 101st Airborne. None of us chose to play for America over another team.
8-I’m incapable of choosing where to eat.
9-Combat service and combat related mental injuries are rare relative to the broad scale of the military community. What is not rare are the impacts of deployment cycles and the rigor of normal military living. A life knowing you are never more than 18 months out from leaving your family or your home for months or years takes its toll. There’s an impending pain that one simply lives with. And there are things that shut off when one goes away that don’t necessarily light back up again.
Once the externalities of that cycle go away, the internal strife remains. The most common risk for vets when they separate is not what most think. It’s not the bad memories of friends dying in their arms, mostly. It’s the inability to spin down from the cycle and the order. It’s more Brooks from Shawshank Redemption than it is Deniro from Deer Hunter.
We do a terrible job of telling people it’s hard to stop. It leaves the overwhelming majority of service members spared from the worst of combat operations wondering why they’re struggling and feeling shameful for that struggle when they separate.
10-There is no short term beating like what an 11 Meter RIB can deliver to the human body. And there is no more grueling beating than life on a ship can deliver to the human mind.
11-The line between a culture that holds its military in high esteem and one that uses support for the troops to divide politically isn’t that fine.
12-There’s something to the dehumanizing of the enemy that’s more specific than dehumanizing an entire culture. Service in a war zone doesn’t create malformed views on other people and cultures. It magnifies what was there already.
13-Every operation I ever participated in didn’t matter to the interests of the United States of America ten years after it happened. All territory was either never in question or lost several times over after we won it. All wars have continued without end, America or not. No Americans, other than the ones executing the missions, were safer as a result of what I did.
I can’t be honest about the rest of this without being honest about that.
2 thoughts on “Honest Thoughts on Military Service”
I’ve never been in the military. My dad served in the Navy at the end of the Korean War years but I think his experience was relatively peaceful. His dad, my grandfather, served in World War 1 and was said to suffer from what was labelled “shell shock”. Whether from shell shock or other factors my grandfather struggled with his mental health in the days before there were better treatment options.
#9…We have a VA Hospital locally which seems to have a portion of the population that has mental health issues, veterans who have had a difficult time bouncing back after their service. I am glad that you say that these effects are rare.
#10 Since my dad served on a ship I’ll have to ponder that one.
#7 Interesting remark about passion for what one wants to do.