Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day

Well, the weekend is upon us, and I suppose we should all run out and buy some furniture, appliances, a new car or something. When are we going to have the "Really Big Tuesday" sale, followed by the . . . well you know what I mean.
It is fun though, to contemplate the reason we have these big sales, the soldiers who have served to give merchandisers something to do on hte first weekend of summer. As a vet, I have noticed that since 9-11 when people find out that I served, they always want to thank me. The problem is, I feel really uncomfortable, and don't know what to say. (Imagine, me not knowing what to say).
I originally joined for selfish personal reasons. i.e. I wasn't going to college, and there were no decent jobs available, and it seemed like a ticket to go see some place other than Montana.I first joined in 1973, and went to basic training in Ft. Polk, LA. Talk about your culture clash. I went in knowing all that there was to know about the military. I had watched the movie M.A.S.H. and had read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Unfortunately, my drill sergeant obviously did not go to movies or read books. He seemed to have a totally different view of the military. Those were the days when the last of the draftees were seperating, and the All Volunteer Force was coming into being. Talk about a cross section of America! Okay, we didn't have any rich kids, or really smart kids, or, well, you know.
In the mid 70s, soldiers were instantly identified by their haircuts. You have to remember, that was the low point of American civilization what with disco and all.
We were often discriminated against, even when we were in civies. I was even spit on by one woman who called me a baby killer. Seeemed kind of ironic to me, since I was training to be a medic.
What really changed for me though was my attending Airborne School at Ft. Benning GA.
Jump shcool is a volunteer school. That means you have to volunteer to go, and can ask to be washed out at any time. The first day there I ran 7 miles, something that I had never done before. The problem with quiting, however, you coudn't do it until after PT. Well, every morning, me and two buddies would get up and stand in formation, and promise each other, that as soon as PT was over we would quit. Course, after PT, you got to do the fun things, so we would always change our minds and go do the training. Finally, jump week arrived, and my buddy asked me if I was going to quit, and I said "Hell No!" I was ready to go see what falling our of a plane was like.
Now jump school is physically tough, but not impossible, what they do is to psych you up to the point that you honestly believe that if you go out the door of the plane, and your parachutes fail, you are such a bad ass, that the ground will get out of your way. OF course, that notion is quickly disabused after the first jump.
Took me two jumps before I realized I was closing my eyes and holding my breath when I jumped. It really is pretty cool to see the tail of the plane going over you and other jumpers coming out after you.
From there, I learned how to rappell off a cliff and out of a helicopter. I switched to the USAF and became a Survival Instructor where I learned how to live off of the land, which is a tryly useful thing to know. I ended up leaving that job and going to collegge, where I majored in Anthropology. I really had no choice for a job, and wanted to see Europe so I went into ROTC.
From there, I served three tours in Germany for a total of 10 years, and got to travel to a lot of different countries. Including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Fly by= Drive by shooting called Desert Storm.
During my career, I was fortunate to almost always be in a job where I was basically unsupervised, and could do what I want. You want autonomy? do something that no one else knows what to do.
I guess the point of this nostalgic trip is, that I got much more from being in the military than I ever would have thought. I have seen people under the best and worst of circumstances, and because of that I have hope for the future of our country.
If you get a chance, go ahead and thank a vet, but don't be surprised if they just mumble something like "thanks." I am pretty sure I am not the only one who got more out of serving my country than I thought I would.

2 comments:

Dave Budge said...

Hey Steve, Thanks - from the bottom of my heart.- no reply required.

Sarpy Sam said...

I agree with what you say about being thanked for serving. It dumbfounds me and gets me confused. When I joined there were no other jobs available, the economy was in the dumps and the military was not respected at all by the general public. Now to be thanked for it is really confusing to me.