Advice for New Enlistees in America’s Military

I’m writing this to add some encouragement if not a little incentive for those of you who are looking for a reason to enlist. Or maybe you are worried about what to expect once you take that oath, sign that bottom line and don that uniform. Whether you are joining to help pay for your education or to get out of your little one-horse town and see the world, you will be making a big decision for the direction your life will take.

“So, you want to be in this man’s army?” is what my uncle asked me when I told him I had enlisted. His eldest and third children had also enlisted. Before our generation there was no record of anyone else being in any branch of the service on my father’s side. My oldest brother was in service. My mother’s father and at least one of her brothers all served in the military. Then four of my cousins (that I know of) all went to serve their country. I guess you could say there was a pretty good chance there would be some appeal in it for me. Yeah, I wanted to get funding for college.

Did that mean I was prepared for what the Army had in store for me? Not at all. I had heard some pretty horrific stories about things that happened in basic training, as well as some of the head games that you are put through. I will also say that a lot may have changed in the minute details of my enlistment from 18 years ago to now. But, there will always be constants in the way the armed services takes young men and turns them into soldiers. Of course, for reasons of security, I cannot divulge much more than what is encompassed within the basic training period. I really don’t want to have to hunt anyone else down and kill them.

First of all, know that you are doing the right thing. Don’t enlist if there are legitimate reasons for your being excluded from serving. Any of the conditions to not accept your participation in the draft is for a good reason. Once you get there, not knowing your condition because you lied could cost you your life or someone else’s. I’m not saying that a slight hearing impairment (if that is still one exclusion) is the same as being completely deaf, but they will test you to see if it’s bad enough. On the flipside, one doesn’t expect a heart murmur to really kill anyone in a quartermaster’s position.

Next thing you should do, if this is your attitude in life it will be hard, is drop the whole John Wayne act. There will be some one bigger and badder, and more willing to whoop your country butt from one side of the post to the other. Not that you shouldn’t stand your ground, heaven knows that’s what it’s all about. But going into basic training looking for a fight will earn you one. The most likely enemy you will draw with this attitude is one of the many drill instructors who are in charge of keeping the whole company safe. They will teach you so many things about being a team and surviving on your own, and when to do which one. But they can also teach you that a hero never has to look for his/her reason.

Oh, the many things you’ll learn in the ten weeks (is it?). When I served it was eight weeks. But then, I trained at Fort Dix, NJ and I read that site was shut down. They’ll teach you to tell time by the sun, how to save lives (within reason), all about chemical warfare, recognizing the war craft of other countries, putting together and cleaning weaponry, to making your bed. Most of you only think you know that last one! Of course there’s much more learning to do after basic training, when you enter the advanced individual training (AIT) where you learn mostly about your MOS, hopefully as a PFC which calculates to more on your LES and you can buy better POV’s and BDU’s, and not have to eat any more MRE’s. Yeah you’ll learn what all that means too, just don’t feed the gum to your friends or family. That’s a laxative!

And trust the drill instructors. There will be more with you in AIT. Their experience not only has valuable pointers, but also the “know when to quit” mentality. If they can see you just aren’t capable (yet) of doing what you are being pummeled in the head to do, they will react accordingly. They had to go through training as well, just to be able to say “Drop and gimme fifty, maggot!” They will give you so many reasons to want to quit. From berating you with the most profane language to making you do things you wouldn’t have done if your mom did give you permission. They will make you feel like you did the wrong thing because humans just shouldn’t treat each other this way. But notice what I said . . . . . They are human too.

Don’t fool yourself about what the military is. It is our nation’s defense. I won’t comment about the political aspects I hold onto so loosely, but there is a chance that killing someone with a weapon, taking life, might not be within your capacity. But it sure is within the enemy’s. That is the whole reason for your training. Protecting yourself in a war and serving the country may come to a point where they are not the same. It is also a job, just like the one every other man and woman in America clocks in and gets paid to do every day of their lives. Though it can change how you look at yourself, as well as how the world views you, it really shouldn’t change who you are.

But most importantly, be true to yourself. That most definitely IS still allowed in serving your country. Yes, I know it’s a personal decision, I’m not writing this to tell you it’s the right thing to do, or that you’d be a fool not to. I am simply letting you know from personal experience that I know what it’s like to stay awake at night halfway through basic and wonder “What the hell have I gotten myself into?!” Now I can say it has given me many advantages through decisions and actions that before I never knew I was capable of. So push, challenge and reinvent yourself. But . . . . . Be All You Can Be!

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