I was in the US Army from 1999 to 2003. I only stayed for my initial four year enlistment and elected not to reenlist after that term, mainly because I was a new mom. As a single parent, I didn’t think that the military would be the best lifestyle for raising my child, due to almost constant deployments.
I would love to be able to say that I enlisted because I was a patriot and I wanted to fight for my country. I’d love to say that, but it’s not true. I mainly did it because I came from a working class family who couldn’t afford to send me to college. My grades in high school were middle of the road and my after school activities were nonexistent. Scholarships weren’t an option and the GI Bill seemed like a good alternative.
I went to boot camp at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. It was hard, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. My advice to those heading there? Keep your mouth shut, your head down, and never stop trying. Also, lose the military glasses you were probably issued at your first opportunity. They will make you go blind.
I enjoyed my time in the service. I made lifelong friends that I am still in contact with. I also saw a lot of things I wish I could unsee. It was a double edged sword.
My job in the military was a combat support job. I set up communication networks for the soldiers on the front lines. Our military is always involved in conflict, regardless of whether or not the US has declared war. I worked with NATO on occasion and frequently got sent to countries I didn’t even know existed. Every night we went to sleep with the sounds of gunfire in the distance.
After September 11, everything changed. Our barracks were covered in rows of barbed wire. There were armed soldiers at every entrance and bomb checks for every vehicle. I once spent 6 hours with an M16 aimed at an empty cardboard box in the parking lot of the base commissary. My life had become one of constant vigilance, mixed with just a tinge of hysteria.
I don’t regret the time I spent in the service. It gave me a sense of responsibility. It also made me appreciate the freedoms I didn’t even realize I had. Soldiers don’t call out of work. They don’t go on vacations whenever they want and usually, they don’t know where they’ll be a year down the road. It is a life of constant change.
For anyone deciding whether or not to enlist, I say, choose carefully. Make sure that you’re ready to commit. Military service isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not a lifestyle you can back out of if you get bored with it.