Thanks to a few Senators, the Army has gotten a pretty bad rap as of late. They have tried to portray the military as a place for those who cannot make it in society. They have tried to paint a picture of a bleak outlook for those who choose to join our nation’s armed forces. I’d like to paint a slightly different picture.
As I graduated high school and headed off for college, I thought I was prepared. I had take plenty of college prep courses in high school, had built some decent study habits and had even had a few extra-curricular activities that might come in handy. Unfortunately, a life of discipline was not what I had built. When the freedom of college hit me, I took full advantage. When a professor stated that attendance was not his concern, I decided not to make it my concern.
Needless to say, after three semesters, I decided that college was not for me. I needed something else in my life. Why I ever thought the Army was that missing ingredient, I’ll never know. I guess it was Bill Murray in “Stripes” that got me thinking, “Hey, those Army guys really know how to party!” Boy, was I wrong.
From the first moment I stepped off the bus at Fort Jackson, SC, I realized I was in for the rude awakening of my life. It didn’t take the drill sergeant long to get in everyone’s face. He was barking out orders faster than I could process them, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me how slow I was or how far from home I was. It didn’t take this young man from Wichita long to realize, “I’m not in Kansas, anymore.”
To say that basic training was difficult would be the understatement of a lifetime. The hours were long. The days were hard. Sleep was in very short supply, and the food never seemed to be enough. Every day seemed to be the ultimate challenge. There were days when I was not sure I would survive. I often wondered what I had gotten myself into.
I was not the most athletic, so the physical aspect of basic training taxed me more than I thought I could bare. Yet, at the end of each day, I could look back in amazement at what I had accomplished. The long runs had not destroyed me, the obstacle courses had not beaten me, and the constant punishment had not overcome me. I actually gained about fourteen pounds during my time there.
The drill sergeants, at first, seemed to hate us. It felt as though they blamed us for every bad thing that had happened in their lives. They yelled, screamed, and did their best to make our lives miserable. Yet, at the end of it all, I actually decided they really only wanted the very best for us. Inspections were tough, training was hard, and they always expected more from us than we gave. They often told us that we were going to do enough push-ups to push Fort Jackson all the way to Georgia! All in all, it only made us better people.
I remember one day, specifically. It was Victory Tower day. Victory Tower was a wooden tower that stood as tall as any building I had every seen, as I approached it that day. It had rope bridges, swings and ladders. At the end, the only way down was to repel. As I approached this monstrosity, I was in awe that anyone could actually conquer this beast. I knew this would be the day the Army defeated me. I had survived more push-ups than I could count, obstacle courses that made my knees weak, and nights with very little sleep, but this looked to be my undoing. At the end of the day, though, I looked back with pride, having conquered it as if I were Neil Armstrong planting the flag on the moon.
Though my time in basic training was the most difficult in my life, I learned more about myself and discipline than I ever could have in college. I realized that I could overcome anything if I just set my mind to it. I learned that a disciplined life was not a boring life, but the life of someone intent on making the most of it. I learned that to accomplish anything in life, it took hard work and determination. These lessons have stayed with me for the past 20 years, and I suspect they will be with me for far more than that in the future. From that day to this, those lessons get me out of bed every morning and drive me to do what I know is right, even on those days when I don’t want to.
I guess as I look back, maybe the Army is a place for people who have nowhere in life to go. Maybe the military is a good place for an undisciplined, lazy young person. In the military, those people can earn the respect and life lessons they have been too stubborn to learn anywhere else. I know it made a great difference in my life.