I recently received the nicest email from a reader that just made my day. She was considering joining the military and asked me if I had any advice for her. What was initially intended to be a few lines ended up turning into a long, rambling reply on my part. (There goes that rambling problem of mine again.) I only wanted to tell her what I had wished someone would have told me a long time ago. Perhaps it would have helped prepare me a little- as I had felt quite clueless. Then again, sometimes I wonder if I survived as a result of not knowing the long road ahead. Ignorance is bliss?
As most already know, the military in general is not a bed of roses. In fact, it’s going to suck. Really badly some days. It's not for everyone. In fact, only 1% of the country's population raise their right hand to swear to defend and protect our constitution. The secret to success is simple: you have to really, really want it.
You will wonder what the hell you were thinking on about 250,000 occasions. This is normal. Keep going.
You will essentially be living out of a bag and everything you own will fit inside of it. You will miss the comforts of home and simple pleasures in life such as walking barefoot on grass, listening to music, and eating chocolate. Even if you aren’t religious, go to church. It is the one place in which you will be spoken to like a human being and it will feed your soul and help you to go on.
The food will also suck, but it nourishes your body and gives you energy. So just eat it. But eat quickly.
You will run in boots. They will give you blisters. Your blister will get blisters. But keep running.
You will do pushups until your arms shake and feel like they will fall off. But keep doing them. I assure you, your arms will not fall off.
People will yell at you. You will be lonely. So very lonely. And you will cry. But when you’re done crying, you will feel better.
And one day- you will graduate. Your family will come and smile at you and it will be the proudest moment of your life.
But then your life will keep going. Days will suck again. But there will be good ones too. You will struggle and fall. Whatever job you go into, you will develop life-long bonds with friends surrounding you that no one else will understand. Your life will depend on these people that you work with and you will be responsible for theirs. A trust will be formed that is unbreakable.
Most days are not very glamorous. You will wax floors and paint ceilings. You will scrub toilets and pick up crap. Literally. You may end up in Illinois, or you may see parts of the world you never knew existed. You may see many sad things and realize how much we take for granted in our country.
You will work hard and you will play hard, probably drink too much and many occasions. You may even fall in love. You may get your heartbroken.
Your life will continue on- but you will carry a secret. You will have this secret inside of you for the rest of your life and no matter where your life goes- if you decide to get out after one tour or if you continue to do 20 years, you will know. You will know what it’s like to have signed a promise to do whatever it takes to protect your country and your fellow man working beside you. You will know something that only 1% of the population knows and understands. You will stand for something selfless- for something that is bigger than you. You overcame these obstacles and found a strength within yourself that you will draw on for the rest of your life. You will have served your country and therefore you know now that there isn’t anything you cannot do.
Some days you may spend scraping food into the trash, or doing paperwork. But every now and then you will have a moment where you will be walking out to your plane, ship, or tank and realize what a magnificent machine it truly is. You may end up saving a life or thousands of lives. You might be a significant part of ending the war on terror. Or save your fellow shipmates from enemy fire. Whatever you do, do it well and with pride.
And maybe one day when you're running through the airport trying to not miss your flight to your next duty station, someone will stop, look up at you, and say "Thank you for your service." And you will stop. Smile. And say, "You're welcome." Because you will be that 1%.