5 Things They Don't Tell You About Being In the U.S. Military

It's important to note, this article has two purposes: to make light of some things and allow me to vent. That's all. I'm sure it's shot through with political feelings that not everyone will agree with. If that's the case, I encourage you to go whatever website it is that only posts things you agree with 100%. Also, this post contains the most offensive phrase I have ever heard. 

5. Nothing can prepare you .  . . for all the singing

Basic Training, Boot Camp, or whatever the branch you join calls it, has more singing in it than a Broadway musical. The first two to three weeks you barely go to the field. Mostly it's classes about the how's and why's and history of your branch. You get three meals a day and every time you march to the chow hall, you will be singing your fool head off. It's the same five songs over and over and over again so it's like radio in the late nineties if they never got past Rag Time.

You know Do Wa Diddy? Thanks to the movie Stripes that's still a favorite. Some cadences have been sung since the 1940's. You know that song Candy Man by Christine Aguilera from 2007? They literally use this track as the sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbhBxonligU

You know when you hear a song from your adolescence and all of the sudden your transported back summer 1998, when cartoons were cool, comic books featured Maximum things, from Carnage to Clonage and life was pretty chill?

After basic training, every time you hear a cadence, you think it's time to march to someplace where there is food.

"I wanna lead a life of Danger. I wanna be an English Major"

4. We're really good in a crisis. . . and that's about it

Basic training colors every aspect of military thinking. This an awesome and terrible thing.

It's awesome because now everyone thinks the same way and communication is ten times easier. It's terrible because the only way to get anything done is to portray it as though it's a life and death crisis.

Such attitudes makes it impossible to prioritize and it makes people look absolutely bat-shit insane. Think about it. If everyone is behaving as though everything is equally important, then nothing is important. If making sure your squad has enough ammunition for patrol is treated with the same degree of rigor as whether or not  today's power point has inoffensive clip art and a pleasing layout, and you're going to in the same amount of trouble if either one doesn't get done, how on earth do you decide what's important? Obviously you'll arm your squad right, but then if that goddamned stick figure guy shows up again, you could be removed as squad leader. 

Conversely, if you are in charge and treat the power points you need for a presentation on Thursday the same way you think you would act during a firefight with Nazi Al Qaeda Robots, things will be shitty for everyone. Acting like somebody's gonna bleed out unless a trooper TYPES THE SHIT OUT OF THAT SUPPLY REPORT will lead to someone seeing your behavior for what what it is and throwing a monkey wrench into the works by just not producing that day.

This makes a deployment doubly ridiculous because you have this unholy combination of actual life threatening situations like indirect fire, IEDs, convoys and helicopter rides an hour before a sandstorm coupled with the mundane stresses of paperwork and corporate meeting wank-fests.


3. But you get used to it. . . until the deployment ends

This is not to say everyone's going to come back with PTSD, but after moving at a pace of 6 and 1/2 days a week for 12 hours a day, having a normal 8 hour work day or even a 10 hour work day can feel like not enough time to get anything done.

That's just the beginning though. When you're deployed, water is free, food is free, housing is free. When you get back, especially if you're a reservist, you have to devote at least part of your time to acquiring at least two if not all three of those things.

Nothing quite says "Welcome to this old life that's now alien to you" like going grocery shopping. Say what you will about The Hurt Locker being inaccurate, the scene at the end of the movie in the grocery store was spot on.

I was actually concerned about that happening to me as I was browsing in the local Ridiculous Monument to The Ease of Western Life and for awhile I was doing okay. And then, Duran Duran's Ordinary World started playing over the store sound system. I mean, c'mon!  Of all that songs that might make me feel like the adventure was over, and I was suddenly this grizzled old combat vet, that comes up at random? The screenwriter to my life is totally fired.

Speaking of screen writing, screen plays and such. . .

2. No military fiction will ever be entertaining again

Anyone in who has been in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit will tell you that The Hurt Locker is a bunch of bullshit. Complaints vary from nobody that crazy would still be on active duty to no unit would see that much action during a rotation. Even as the argument was just made by me that the movie is "emotionally true," it will never be up to snuff.

In movies or TV shows, you will see sixteen things wrong with every actor portraying a soldier you see. There was an episode of Lie to Me where they go to Fort George G. Meade, Md., where they supposedly mobilize troops to get ready for the combat zone. Meade is not a mobilization station. That's the first a long series of "This is wrongs" that I saw during that episode, Tim Roth's in and out American accent not with standing.

This is twice as true for Call of Duty. I used to love Call of Duty and now I can't stand it. I can't stand the stark contrast between some of the most realistic graphics of any game and the astonishing behavior of the players. When I last played online a 10-year-old wannabe said "Your fucking father sucks faggot nigger cocks!!!"

Think about that phrase. I do not repeat it lightly, it is literally the most offensive thing I have ever heard in my life. Military conversation can be a little rough, with "mother fucker" spoken where commas would be printed, but The Phrase I'll Never Type Again was beyond any combination of words I could conceive of. It was shouted at me because me and bunch of military buddies won a fictional battle with actual team-work and strategy rather than everyone running around spraying and praying.

See, the military teaches you to be precise, because one failed mission will make the news faster than three hundred successful ones. This important because, probably due to media portrayals like the Hurt Locker and Call of Duty, people have this idea in their head that military deployments are like a million round boxing match with a heavy metal soundtrack. So, naturally they think all of our problem solving skills involving shooting, hitting or blowing things up, so they conclude. . . 

An UNMOUNTED MK14 topped off with the most OUT OF REGULATION HAIRCUT I HAVE EVER SEEN. The fact that Edward Norton turned into a giant green dude I'll buy, but there IS NO WAY you are going to tell me Brodsky wouldn't have been knife handed all the way to the over-priced barber on post buy the nearest sergeant major. 

1. People Think You Want to Fight about EVERYTHING, when you really don't

People have this idea in their heads that if a person is willing to fight for something as abstract as Freedom © or something more concrete like "The Safety of the People of Iraq" that you will also throw down over the most petty of bullshit.

It could something as mundane as whether or not the Yankees suck. Everyone has their opinion, and let's be honest it's quite common to hate the Yankees. Equally common is an irrational belief that the Yankees are somehow not Major League Baseball's answer to the Empire from Star Wars. I was pointing this out to a friend mine, half jokingly in between us exchanging anecdotes about the wacky, wacky times we had, I in Iraq and she in Afghanistan.

A Random Yankees fan, likely lured by the heady cocktail of trash talking George Steinbrenner and people talking about triple digit whether and close calls with explosions, just had to tell me I'm wrong and further more that the Orioles suck. Which is usually true, except that at the time the Yankees wee 4-6  and the Baltimore Orioles were 8-2 and making them second their regional conference and head and shoulders above every other team in the American League.

I explained all of this to the Yankee Zombie calmly, even as I'm well aware this is how it is every year, the O's start strong and can't make the play offs. This is why we love spring in Baltimore City and generally get bummed in July.* I fully expected him to just bring up this fact and then I say "touché" and we return to our drinks.

He asked if I wanted to step out side.

All the joy drained from me, ladies and gentlemen. I've never taken sports that seriously, and I certainly don't regard sports standings as a reason to fight. And I told this guy as much. My exact words were "No, I don't. I'm not going to fight you. I'm a professional. I don't fight people over factual numbers, and I certainly don't need to fight you to prove the Yankees are the worst thing to happen to baseball since the handlebar mustache went out of style."

Everyone in the immediate vicinity thought the remark was hysterical, in part because it broke the tension, and the guy was completely deflated. I believe it was Sun Tzu who said "The supreme art of war is winning by making your enemy look like tool box."
Yes, I want to use my tax payer funded training to fight some jackass who likes SPORTS TEAM! 

*The O's Are still doing well this season. 

1 comment:

Micah Pearson said...

Nice article! I stopped playing all Multiplayer games with strangers when that kind of dialogue became common.

It's funny you mention the Hurt Locker. I was in the store yesterday and almost picked up the Blu-Ray.

Keep up the great posts!