Become a Fan
Should I Turn Right or Left?
By Harold F. Hester
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Being retired military I was asked the other day what I thought about youth today going into the military - I gave a short, terse answer, then thought maybe I should expand that answer is the reason for this "story". Before making any kind of life altering commitment I have always felt it best to know all I could about the subject and talk to all the “experts” as I could. Never make decisions in a closet.
President Bush once said and I feel it worth repeating “We're in a fight for our principles and our first responsibility is to live by them”, I agree.
2,346 years before Bush a Greek philosopher named Aristotle said, “Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.” Again, I agree.
Because I agree with both men, I had to write this short story.
People long ago stopped asking my advice or even how I feel toward different subjects because they learned I usually told them the truth or how I truly feel about a subject. Why? Because I have found it is much easier telling the truth then trying to remember a lie. Within limits, I speak my mind, especially when someone I know is about to make a life altering decision. I have always believed that those kinds of decisions should be made after knowing ALL the facts and from as many perspectives as possible.
DISCLAMER: This story and comments are from my experiences and as seen through my eyes from a lifetime of living in or around military communities. One of my hero’s is Mark Twain and he once said “I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won't.” Neither do I.
I need to start at a point we are all comfortable, so why not define Career vs. a Job: Prior to the mid 1970’s when our government did away with the Military Draft and turned entirely to an all-volunteer military force “career” meant “lifer”. In those days the lifer’s intent was to stay in the military as long as possible doing as little as possible while others did the heavy lifting but he still receives a monthly pay check. That concept changed as the lifers died off and the military ranks began filling with youth looking for adventure and some “life experiences” and of course, at government expense and '...all-paid world-travel' would be nice.
A job is flipping burgers or any position where your name is embroidered on your shirt.
For the purpose of this story a “career” is not meant to be “…a life-time commitment” but we are merely talking about the next couple three or maybe four years, a change of pace, or a place to “find yourself”. Some would even say “…taking time off from school to see what the world is really all about. For the sake of this story we will be talking about 18 year olds that do not know their butt from third base about the world and how it works. This story will try to be gender-neutral as at 18 there is not a lot of difference between boys and girls. OK – right there I’m wrong. One has breast and the other has raging hormones. OK – wrong again. Girls and boys have the same raging hormones but in today’s world you only hear about the boys.
Following WWII president H.S. Truman pushed the military to integrate itself and by the time the draft ended so did ‘only white males’ in its ranks. If you have ever been in the Pentagon in Washington DC you probable noticed there were twice as many restrooms as needed. The reason is because the building was put up during WWII (1943) when blacks and whites were still very much segregated.
Before enlisting in the military please take a few minutes and completely read this story AND especially Rule Eleven.
Rule one: Girls are just as sexually oriented as her counterpart. Am I being sexist making this kind of statement in the context of the military? I hope not - but with the military ranks now filling with females and it is known facts their sexual drives are equal to all humans so it might not be a bad idea to address it here. The bastions of the Citadel, West Point, Annapolis, etc. have fallen and we are now all equal so this story is not about the girls but about the military and the military rules seldom differentiates genders, as does shrapnel.
Rule Two: For the sake of argument the age 18 as used here can mean anywhere from 17 to 30.
Girls and boys at 18 generally know only what they see on television, what they hear/see at home from parents and maybe a few high school classes where all experiences were from a text book. Those few things they may learn from each other is simply the swapping of bodily fluids. Depending on the programming they watch on television will tend to bend a viewpoint. For example, Fox news Bill O’Reilly’s segment is advertised as “The No-Spin Zone”. Traveling the world I have yet seen that to be true as there is no such thing as “no-spin”, everyone puts their own spin on any subject.
Rule Three: Everyone is bias. That’s not all bad, it just says everyone has their own view of the world and what they see.
Before reading further you should know where I am coming from; Born in the USA in a southern state; graduated college in the late 1950s and because the draft was in place enlisted in the military at 22; in my 20 year military career I lived in France, Germany, Korea and sunny Vietnam; I vacationed in Italy, Spain, Holland & Thailand; I skied the slopes of Austria; swan the warm waters of the Mediterranean; smelled the tulips in Holland; tried to prop the leaning tower of Pisa to the vertical, several times; witnessed glass-blowing and held my nose in Venezia; rooted for the bulls in Spain and camped out in the Louvre and on Rue Pigalle in Paris for 48 straight week-ends. During this same time frame I would see visitors from around the world trying to see all of Paris in one week and there I was 23 and living there; I truly enjoyed the co-ed saunas in Berlin; lost all bashfulness in the unisex restrooms of Europe; feed elephants in Bangkok; froze my buns in Korea; hated civilian contractor working for the military; and killed the enemy in Vietnam. I have been terrified for my life many times and truly hated to kill but that was in my military job description. See the small print on page two of your enlistment agreement “…follow orders…” That means some days you may have to either throw yourself on that grenade or kill the guy before he throws it. In my mind it was an easy choose.
My intent when I enlisted was to serve my three years mandated by my government for universal military training (the draft) and return home to Texas. My problem came when at the end of my third year I was living in Paris and the military gave me the preference of staying in the City of Lights and Free Love or going home to Texas. To stay I would have to re-enlist (give the military another three years). I was in my mid-twenties, what would you have done?
The military is not ALL bad….. Where else can you be guaranteed a job and monthly income, have only olive-drab or camouflage clothing in your closet along with spit-shined black low-quarter shoes and three sets of boots; three meals a day, a place to live, a company of others to keep you company, and not really know what tomorrow would bring? If you make it to a 20 year retirement, you receive half your base pay for life, have hospital and medical privileges for life and can have the military fit your prosthesis at most any Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. Because of your job description “your natural life” may be foreshortened by many years but when you enlist you agree to this possibility. Pay depends on your rank. First year enlistees receive $1273.00 monthly and at a 20 year retirement that number is roughly $3516. As an officer (with your college degree) first year monthly pay is $2416 and at 20 is roughly $7003.00. There are monies tacked on to that monthly pay for ‘quarters allowance’, ‘separate rations’, clothing allowance’, ‘proficiency pay’, etc. that can add another $500 or so but retirement is based solely on base pay.
Rule Four: As in civilian life you can be most anything in the military that ambitions, drive, motivation and education will take you. The military is made up of three classes; Enlisted (E1-9), Warrant Officers (W1-5) and Officers (O1-10). Enlisted are the “doers” and backbone of the military; Warrants are the Technicians and Officers are your administrators/supervisors/managers. Everyone has a “boss” and as many of my military friends will point out…. “sh*t always rolls down hill” so always try to be 'up' the hill abit.
Rule Five: No matter what you are promised before being sworn into any branch of the military you CAN NOT be an officer without a college degree.
Rule Six: Promotions are more time-oriented then demonstrated proficiently. “Time-in-grade” is paramount. While on the subject of promotions there are several sets of rules the military uses; enlisted grades pretty much will guarantee you an E-7 rating in 20 years if you keep your nose clean; officers are a bit different – for example if you are “passed-over” for promotion twice you will not be allowed to remain on active duty. Being passed over can be easier then you would think. All you need is having a bad or even a mediocre (a tad less then perfect) efficiency report. Unlike enlisted personnel you can be an average to good officer looking at normal retirement and be told you must leave the service. Weight and physical conditioning carries the same conditions – all military personnel must pass a yearly physical examination and if body fat gets out of control and your test scores do not meet the minimum, you are discharged. That is the bad news, the good news is “minimum” scores are normally well within reach if you have a “normal” body.
Rule Seven: Before enlisting, if promised a military producing MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) school following basic and advanced basic training, you will attend whatever school you selected: mechanic; armor, artillery, infantry, aircraft weaponry, medical, computers, signal, etc…etc…The last I looked there were around 620 MOS’s in over 20 disciplines in the Army. As best I can figure, the Air Force has around 174 "Air Force Speciality Codes" while the Navy has something over 200 "Navy Enlisted Classifications". BUT now hear this…the military contract you enlisted for ends at graduation of that school. Further assignments for all services depend on the military’s need for your MOS or Speciality codes or Classification skills. You asked for an assignment in Hawaii but they need you in Alaska. Pack your long underwear. Close your mouth. I have seen this happen to not only myself but every warm body in the military. Why do you think I went to Korea?
A brief word on Basic Training. Depending on your MOS, basic training is from six to twelve weeks of hell. The old saying about the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in combat is true . If you saw the movie GI Jane with Demi Moore will give you some insight. Her training was for the elite Navy Seals but normal basic is close.
A recruiter friend told me this a few years back and it stayed with me. “Regardless of what your recruiter told you, being a member of the United States Armed Forces is not just like having a civilian job. You need to understand this right down to your toes before you sign that contract and take that oath. In the military, there will ALWAYS be someone telling you what to do, when to do it and how to do it -- and you've got to do it. Sometimes they'll tell you to do something that you don't want to do, or tell you in a way that makes you angry. Failing to do it is not an option. The willful disobeying of a lawful order won't just get you "fired," as it would in a civilian occupation, it can get you sent to jail.”
Rule Eight: You can serve your enlisted time and return to the civilian world or re-enlist each 3, 4 or 6 years until the minimum required for retirement of 20 active years. Under special considerations you may be allowed to be released earlier, say at 15 years but that is not your full-fledged all-benefits retirement. You pay a price for the early out. Some that do find a home in the military will stay active long passed their 20 but 30 years is mandatory retirement. Retired pay passed 20 is calculated in two year increment but once at 26 years retirement pay of 75% of your retired base pay tops out.
Once you “sign-up” can you get out before serving the number of years you agreed to? Tough but you need to know the consequences; There are three discharges that can be given administratively - honorable, general under honorable conditions, and other-than-honorable. There are two that can be given at a court-martial (trial) - bad conduct and dishonorable. An honorable discharge is exactly that “You served with distinction and honorable – you are a good person”. Generally, the other-than-honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable will all preclude reenlisting, and most will prevent or inhibit future civilian employment. Every job application form asked if you had military experiences and they ALL ask type discharge received. If you are in the position to hire someone, would you take a dishonorable or bad-conduct person?
Rule Nine: Soldiers are second class citizens. There will be lots of disagreement to this statement but that is what I have seen. An example is coming home after a full combat tour in Vietnam and having to take off the uniform before being allowed out of an air terminal or the guard units returning from Iraq and not having their jobs waiting.
Rule Ten: Sometime during your enlistment if you are female chances are you will be sexually harassed either by deed, word or innuendo. If you are pretty or nice-looking and/or have heavy breasts you can count on it – learn to live with it. Confucius said in 473 B.C. and is true today, “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
The military is not a garden party but a life and death career where in the history of wars fought by the United States people die. Dating from the revolutionary war of 1775 .02% of our soldiers have died and over 30% were casualties of one sort or other. If the .02 number doesn’t get your attention then said another way 575,185 died of 37,772,566 that served or said another way, four complete generations in only two centuries of warfare. Very few of us who have served or serving now will or have escape with a whole body. The bulk of these causality numbers are male but bullets, shrapnel and disease are always gender non-specific. Both male and female in the military are considered “soldiers”. That is OK as the military now furnishes maternity clothing to pregnant soldiers. There is that old joke in the navy where 1000 men would put out to sea for a few months and 500 couples would come back. Women are now allowed to serve on all naval shipping so unless men or so inclined there are females around while out to sea - to chat with. The land forces do not allow women in combat units or to hold a combat MOS (i.e. 11B) but women are allowed in combat areas where remember, shrapnel is gender non-specific.
Just to made sure we are on the same sheet of music when talking about war and "fighting"....Fighting is not arm-wrestling, fisticuffs, shouting nasty words... but killing; killing the other guy before he kills you and killing anyway you can using bullets, artillery, IEDs (try not sitting next to a suicide bomber while having tea or your “body parts” will be sponged up by your buddies). War, killing is not pretty and does not smell like a rose garden. Fighting is also sitting at your post with a buddy and his head suddenly explodes because of a sniper round fired from 1000 yards away – and you never hear it. Do you know how far 1000 yards is? Over ten (10) football field lengths or imagine a parking lot 1000 yard wide and your car is parked on one side and you are on the other side. The car would look like a dark burry fuzz ball, if you could see it at all. The next time you listen to news and they are talking about "fighting" you will know the troops are out there killing and trying hard to make it home with all their parts in working order.
Every nation must maintain a ready military as someone out there is always looking to take away those things that belong to you. Following World War II the United States has maintained a strong ready fighting force ready to fight many brush-fire conflicts anywhere in the world. Today the US has 67,742,879 available forces. Of those 471,500 is active duty serving overseas and here at home plus of those 220,000 are frontline forces. Not bad considering we have only a total population of 281 million. One point here is, read the small print of your enlistment contract. If you enlist for two or three years that is not the end of your commitment as after active duty you are committed to reserve time and/or call-back for up to eight or more years.
I hate war. Wars are usually good for the economy but bad for your health. Wars are normally political or politically motivated. Mao Tse-Tung said, "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed." The United States has always defended itself against aggression and Iraq is the only war we have initiated. Some will argue without 911 we would not be at war “against Terrorizes” while others will say, and rightfully so, Americans are notorious for being patriotic and fighting for a cause. Senator Barbara Boxer said “Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity.” Having said that, Sun Tzu said in 450 B.C "All warfare is based on deception."
Unlike wars of yesteryear when opposing forces would form battle line facing each other only a few dozen yards apart and begin shooting until the last man was standing or someone with a lick of intelligence retreated. Musket ball ammunition was notoriously inaccurate over 50 yards whereas today .30mm ball ammo from an M-16 will accurately knock the eyes out of a knat at 500 yards; aircraft will kill a target over the horizon and never see it; there is no hiding from the M1A2 Abrams 70 ton main battle tank with it’s 120 mm smooth bore computer guided cannon that can move at speeds rivaling NASCAR all the while the navy can pound an area 30 miles inland with large guns and rockets no one can hide from. The US are the good guys but remember your enemy has the same or better capabilities and you too can be on the receiving end of rounds fired that you never hear. Large 120mm mortar rounds however do give you about 3 seconds of warning before impact. Remember shrapnel is not gender or nationality specific.
I often reflect some of the great quotations of history and many have to do with choice.
In the words of General George S. Patton: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
General Tommy Franks has said: “Courage has to do with controlling fear and it seems to me that focus has a way of overcoming anxiety.”
General Norman Schwarzkopf has said: “Fear will keep you alive in a war. Fear will keep you alive in business. There's nothing wrong with being afraid at all.” “Fear tends to cause you to focus, it tends to cause your adrenaline to run, and it tends to cause you to perhaps see things in much, much sharper perspective at that instant.” “There's more than one way to look at a problem, and they all may be right.” “Somebody's got to do it. And if you don't, who will?”
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said in 1995 in his book In Retrospect: "We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why. I truly believe that we made an error not of values and intentions, but of judgment and capabilities.” Some believe we are in the same place now with Iraq.
Rule Eleven: What you have just read has been one person’s viewpoint and perspective… for others and very definitive viewpoints from what some refer to as “The Horses Mouth” log onto http://www.objector.org/before-you-enlist/myths.html
If you are thinking about a career in the military your time in uniform will be exciting to monotonous to an adrenaline rush experienced by a very few, kinda like flying, ....hours of shear boredom and moments of pure terror…. What you will NOT get out of the military is wealth or even a good living but if you survive, your closet will be stuffed with memories no one will ever believe and you will sleep well knowing you gave it your all.
Rule Twelve: Following service and for the rest of your life; your eyes will pop open each morning before 0500; you will accomplish more before 0900 then most civilians do all day; you will learn to love SOS; you will use the phonetic alphabet and the military 24 hour method of telling time and be puzzled why the civilian world doesn’t already use them; Your pallet for gourmet foods will become severely restricted and you will tend to eat to ‘fill the hole’ rather then for ‘taste’; sitting at the family dinner table you will always finish your plate first and wonder who will not finish the five-mile run you have planned for everyone...
Rule Thirteen - I saved this rule to be near the last because of all things civilians can not understand about their military, the language used is the hardest to fathom - The military uses all known and many yet un-coined four-letter words and one twelve letter words beginning with ‘mother****er’. They exclusively use f*ck in its many forms as a means of expression and feelings in communicating with ALL. The reasoning is not for lack of education (you will see more college graduates in service then you will at most businesses) but is used pretty much the same as writers do when they write at the eighth grade reading level. The military’s language is meant to communicate orders and feeling in as a direct method as possible that will be understood by all. For example, if mortar rounds are ‘walking’ toward your bunker you don’t say, “…ok guy, looks like it may be time to relocate as I have a feeling they seem to have our range…” You say with explicit tone and volume, “…sh*t... move your a*ses! Let's get the f**k out of here!!!” These expressions are not easily turned on and off so these terminologies tend to stay in place – the words are not meant to be offense to anyone - just communication to the many. The next time you hit your thumb with a hammer listen to what comes out of your mouth.
Will it be "Ooooh shucks" or ".#%$^&(*()*&%^." ??
Rule fourteen: SEX. I have tried to stay away from this rule as there is no clear cut yes or no answer or advice. Sex in the military is no more prevalent then on any college campus or civilian work place. Some folks might argue with male and females thrown together in a combat area, sex would be rampant. Not true . The boys and girls have sex yes, but it by no means ‘rampant’ where the ladies need fear for their virtue at all hours of the day and night. Why isn’t there lots of sex between soldiers in a combat situation? Simple answer and easily understood for those of us that have been in combat. You are usually too tired and too dirty and you have other priorities then having an orgasm. Combat and combat areas your main concern is staying alive and keeping your buddies alive. You can have all the sex you can handle on R&R or when you get back to CONUS (Continental US – the States). The military awards all kind of medals (awards and decorations) for many things (heroism, valor, campaigns, good conduct, unit citations, service in specific theaters, etc.) but they give no awards for sexual activity – not even an ‘At-A-Boy’. If you have a daughter going into the military don’t worry about her. Just because there may be 500 males for each female doesn’t make your daughter any more vulnerable then an office with 50 males per female or any campus where both males and females ‘keep score’.
“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart” said Confucius in 551B.C. And don’t forget my friend Mark Twain that said, “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
Rule Fifteen: "Only the dead have seen the end of war" - Plato – 334 BCE
Now…do you turn right or turn left? Choose.
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|Reviewed by Chrissy McVay
|Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and some facts, with us.|