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Why Join The Army When You Don’t Have To

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I must begin by apologizing for my long absence, unlike the rest of the world the northern prairie only has two seasons.  Winter’s Here and Winter’s Coming.  During Winter’s Coming you must expend all your energy preparing for Winter’s Here.  It’s a genetic, instinctual action, by September there will be a killing frost and then or shortly after then will come snow asshole deep to a tall giraffe.  If your not ready you die and that is Winter’s goal, to kill you.  So now during Winter’s Coming I’m gardening six tenths of an acre of wimpy fruit bearing plants.  Weeds are hardy, they even survive my fearsome fossil fuel burning tiller.  The damned things are like rooted zombies, they can’t chase you but you can’t kill them with anything but a shot to the head, or the root as it is.

Vassar recently asked “Why do kids who don’t have to join the Army?”  I have my own story and my own understanding and a shitload of anecdotal evidence, I can lay it out for y’all.

I was born in 1963, my parents were high school sweethearts who are still together 55 years later.  I grew up during the civil rights era.  When I was twelve years old I rode two plus miles on my bicycle to the nearest town because a friend had called our party line phone to tell me there was a real live black man in town.  The party line phone meant that if the phone rang four times it was for us, if it rang three times it was for the neighbor down the road, five was for the neighbor up the road.  The thing was you were never sure if you’d heard the first ring or the second.  So you’d run for the phone every time you heard it ring, three or four or five rings later you’d answer, breathless and discover it was for your neighbor.  Then you’d all talk for fifteen minutes ‘cuz you hadn’t talked in a few days.  My eleven year old granddaughter saw the old wall phone in the kitchen of my house and asked “Grandpa, what’s that?”  I explained it to her, after I’d gotten my bladder under control.  It was a close thing there for a minute.  Anyway, the guy was cool, he thought a bunch of half a dozen country kids who’d never seen a black man were entertaining.

I graduated high school in 1981 with plans of becoming a famous artist.  That turned out to be considerably more difficult than I had envisioned.  Seven years later I realized my life was a Hank Williams song, my marriage was over, my job sucked ass and my only options were not good.  I thought seriously about this one…

I’d be out on parole by now…

By 1988 I’d had enough of entry level jobs in the local agriculture based economy that required winter lay-offs.  Those were some lean times.  I was “Pouring Whiskey On Pain” and needed a change.  I could have gone any direction but there was one thing in the back of my mind.  From my earliest memories there were veterans standing tall.  My Dad used to let me play hookie from Sunday School so I could sit in the duck blind with him and his buddies.  They let me lick the drops from empty bottles of Peppermint Schnapps and listen to their “wahr stories.”  One of Dad’s buddies often told of his time in the Army.  He was stationed at Ft Campbell, KY but not part of the 101st Airborne, which at that time was still on airborne status.  He told of the day his unit went on a heinous four mile run, just as they were all about to lie down and die they heard this terrifying screaming and shouting coming up behind them.  A few seconds later they were passed by a well-disciplined group of Paratroopers in formation singing songs on their daily run.  I lived that wahr story for twenty years and thought of it almost daily as we passed POGs (Personnel Other than Grunts) and other associated weak-dicks during our daily homage to the gods of war.

One of my shitty barely making ends meet jobs had a boss named Del.  He was deaf as a post and wore two huge 1980’s era hearing aids.  He had been a tanker in WWII.  He spent D Day and the next three days in a livestock transport ship that had been mostly, kind of washed out, the smell of 10,000 hogs is hard to wash out, especially under short notice.  After being herded out of his hog transport he rode a Sherman tank till early ’45 when his tank took a direct hit from a German 88.  It blew out both his eardrums but what really pissed him off was the four duffle bags of Nazi uniforms, knives, swords and paraphernalia that was destroyed in the blast.  Del was a wheeler-dealer by birth, that hadn’t changed forty years after the war.

There were vets everywhere and as I tried to earn my way up the social employment ladder I kept finding them.  They always stood straighter, spoke with authority and knowledge, they deserved respect and accepted nothing less.

I began to realize I’d missed something. By ’88 I’d decided I needed a change.  I was still pouring whiskey on pain and that only increased with my new chosen career, but, bottom line up front, that’s why I joined the Army.

By ’94 I was a Staff Sergeant “on the trail.”  I heard a shitload of reasons for joining the Army.  There are those who follow a family tradition but they’re the exception not the rule.

I once had half a platoon of trainees from Guam and other pacific islands.  Service was more than a family tradition with those kids.  Every adult male was in their National Guard unit, service was considered a requirement, failure would result in social banishment.  Those kids worked hard and performed to their utmost on a daily basis.  I saw more than one cry because they didn’t qualify expert with their rifle or some other such silly shit.

There was a 34 year old small business owner who’d sold his successful construction business and joined because he felt so strongly that he needed to give something back to the country that had been so good to him.  I said, “And you decided to join the Infantry?  What have you been smokin?”  I was smiling when I said it, he caught the joke.  His age and wisdom was a boon for the kids in that platoon and I have no doubt he had a glorious career for however long he stayed in.

There was an Orange County, CA Sheriff’s Deputy who’d worked with an Army unit during the Rodney King riots and decided he liked their attitude and needed more of it in his daily life.

Triple volunteers were every Drill Sergeant’s dream.  They’d volunteered to join the Army, then they volunteered to jump out of “perfectly good” aircraft then they volunteered to go to the Ranger Regiment.  Anyone who want’s to be all that works hard to earn it, that’s all it takes to succeed in the Army.  Hard work.  That’s all it takes to succeed in America, its just that so many people aren’t willing to put in even a minimal effort.

After the trail I was privileged to work with a couple former Russian Commissioned Officers, the stories they told about that organization were mind-boggling.  The Russian NCO Corps is utterly incapable by both training and regulation.  These kids (they were kids to me by this time) were constantly amazed by the power wielded by American NCOs.  By their descriptions Russian NCOs were yes men who needed constant supervision like a poor performing American PFC.  Theoretically my Lieutenant outranked me but as his Platoon Sergeant I held veto power over anything he wanted.  We always worked together with the goal of completing the mission but my LT’s understood it was my platoon, they were just “in charge” for a few months.  That shit blew those Russki’s minds.

Currently I work at a John Deere dealership, washing the cow shit off tractors.  Its one of those jobs Americans won’t do, you know.  Apparently illegal aliens won’t do it either, I’ve got some serious job security.  The last two summers a local high school kid has come in and helped in the wash bay.  The techs call him my minion.  Its funny in the kind of rough teasing way that the Army accustomed me to.  He told me he’d been talking to USMC recruiters and was planning on joining.  The first thing I told him was “Good for you!  That’s a fine place for a young man to get a start.  My wife is a Marine.  Just make sure you learn a skill, be a helicopter mechanic, be a UAV (Unmanned Ariel Vehicle) pilot, Don’t be an Infantryman and end up washin’ cowshit off tractors after you get out.”  He looked at me wide eyed and nodded north-south like he understood.  He didn’t hear a word.  A couple months ago he came and told me he’d signed the papers, he was goin’ in the Corps.  As an Infantryman.  He listened to every wahr story I ever told and never heard a lick of the good advice I’d offered.

I got a call from my youngest son last week.  He’s 21, lives in Tennessee near his mother, my second ex-wife (Hank Williams, I blame that on you.)  He’s leaving for basic training on July 16th, the day after my 55th birthday.  Going to Ft Benning, GA to be trained as an Infantryman.  While the thought “What a dumbass” runs through my mind a smile spreads across my face and my little grinch heart expands just like in the tv show.  I wonder if I know anyone who could get him into Jump School after he graduates from basic training.  I wonder if they’d let an old dumbass jump with a young dumbass at Jump School.  I know lots of CSMs and a few of my old LTs are now General Officers.  Its not out of the question but it could be ugly, I’m not broke but I’m badly bent.

I believe, based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, that these kids want to grow up to be like us.  Looking back at my life and looking at me now, it seems a foolish endeavor but they could do much worse.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of my time in service for anything, I worked, lived and partied with the finest human beings America has to offer.  What could be better?

What ever their reason for joining the things those poor bastards find once accepted into the hallowed halls soon take precedence.  The thought of the selfless service I provided was immensely satisfying.  Thoughts of the flag, patriotism and love of country never flittered through my mind while I was being shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Training kicked in and I reacted accordingly.  Once I’d survived the contact those patriotic thoughts grew proportionally, we fought Chechnyans, Uighers, Taliban, every big name terrorist there was and kicked their ass in typical 82nd Airplane Gang fashion.  If terrorists from all over the world were coming to some desert shithole to shoot at me they weren’t going to America to shoot at anyone.  That was satisfying in itself.  Killing them in droves with superior skills and firepower was just the cherry on top.  We had shitloads of cherries.

This post has drug on for days and I haven’t even touched Vassars post yet.  I’ll publish this and hopefully leave you looking forward to part two.  Soon, I promise. I’ll leave y’all with the joy I feel knowing that one of my sons will grow up with every bad habit his heroes ever had, apparently me included.  You can’t beat that with a stick.

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About the Author:

I joined the Army in 1988, served in the 25th IL (L) , 24th ID, The Infantry Training Brigade, The 82nd Airborne Division, Ft Polk and again The 82nd Division until I retired in 2008. I was a mortar maggot and retired with the rank of Master Sergeant.
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Comments

  1. Vassar  June 22, 2018

    Now the fat’s in the fire. You raised several talking points, Allen, one of which you’re more qualified to talk about than me, and that is Kipling’s sergeants. Only America and England ever had a strong non-com corps, and only America had an officer corps that didn’t rise out of the elite class. My dad and step dad both served with Brits in Europe, and love the Tommy and hated the officers. Had it not been for Kipling’s sergeants the troops would have shot their officers. Tom Clancy mentioned, in Red Storm Rising, that one of the reasons the Red Army failed in invading West Europe was their poor non-com corps, which was systemic. This really pissed the Soviets off at the time. Five years later, the USSR was no more, but I’ll bet, on the front lines, no better. Boys-in, men-out, beats boys-in, minions-out every time.
    I’m making notes.

    reply
  2. Allen  June 22, 2018

    While I on the Trail we had a dozen or so Czeck Officers come to Ft Benning and shadow us for a week. It was during Basic Rifle Marksmanship which is a couple weeks of long swamp-ass infested days on the rifle range. Long days for a drill sergeant stretch out into 18 or 20 hours, the Georgia sun is brutal the humidity is like living in an armpit. If you want to see Drill Sergeants at their “Full Metal Jacket” best that’s the time. I kept hearing from my partners that the Czecks thought we Drill Sergeants were Commissioned Officers wearing NCOs uniforms. One of their young Captains asked me about it one blistering afternoon. I unloaded on him like he was a private, he snapped to attention and just took it. We used to tease NCOs who went “Green to Gold” and OCS that they’d gone over to the “dark side” I considered his question an insult. Even our Brigade Commander told us the last thing the Czeck General said as they were leaving was “I know your Sergeants are Officers in NCOs uniforms.” I’d have liked to apply a light coat of sweat to his general officer ass, Officers don’t have to vocabulary I weilded like a two-handed sword.

    In the Airborne community there is a phenomenon known as the LGOP. Its one of my favorite acronyms meaning Little Groups of Paratroopers. You see in the middle of the night a Drop Zone is a dark confusing place, units are separated, scattered, spread to the winds. Everyone has to find their way to their Assembly Area, while you wander around trying to figure out where you are so you can figure out where to go you meet other poor lost souls and gang up. What you end up with is a bunch of pissed off 19 and 20 year olds who remember the Commanders Intent from the Operations Order as “Move to the sound of the guns and kill everyone NOT dressed like you.”

    LGOPs have been the secret to the Airborne’s success since its inception. It grows some damn fine Non-Commissioned Officers too.

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