In 1993 I was faced with the same dreaded question of what to do next like the other approximately 2.5 million high school graduates. I knew that the days of sitting in classrooms and cramming for tests were over for me. College had no appeal to me and with the local mills and mines closing down there were not enough jobs for everyone that lived in the area. Living a life of financial struggle had no appeal to me and with no set plan; I along with approximately 12,000 others joined the military.
Through all the recruiting hoopla, the benefits outweighed the pitfalls. Three meals, a roof over my head, free medical and a guaranteed paycheck up against a few bad breaths screaming at me and a heavy dose of physical activities. They even tossed in free clothing and free boots! The boots seemed to have their own battle on the pro and con war front. They may have been free but you were bound to have flat feet after wearing them for a year.
Something left out of the recruiting brochure was the traveling that I was about to experience. Visiting states that were never on my radar such as Georgia, Washington, Nevada and Texas to overseas places like Cuba and Panama was an unexpected perk. Thinking that the travel was a perk could be feasibly argued by many of my brethren as most of these destinations were not the preferred tourist locals most are accustomed to. Let’s just say, every state or country has an area that only the foolish would decide to live in with very limited resources.
A great benefit that I didn’t expect was the lifelong friends I would find. The mix of cultures would seem to clash in any other setting yet the military has a way to bring them all together for one common cause. We all spent the same cold sleepless nights digging ditches and getting smashed in the face by tree branches while on night marches through forests. For many years the misery is a mutual experience and knowing the guy beside you was able to complete similar challenges develops a respect that is hard to break.
After four years of service the education I learned about myself was more valuable than any degree I could have received and the awareness of how the rest of the world really is would have been lost if I would have never left my small town. The military provides a great opportunity that should be considered in conjunction with college or jumping directly into the work force. I got out with the ability to go to college and not have to pay for it and every job since has always seemed more like a vacation. It is understandable that wearing camouflage is not for everyone. For me, the military was the most valuable experience I have had.