aka Before It’s Over, I Have to Say Something
I usually write a post on Veteran’s Day. Last year, I couldn’t. I’d watched a friend get shipped off and returned a few days later, and had quite a lot of subsequent conversation with him that left me dry.
He had really high expectations of himself. He went through his education and training with honors. He knew where he wanted to be, what he wanted to do. He’d planned his entire life around his career in the military, and everything was going to be okay.
When he finally got to Iraq, however, anxiety took its toll. Sent home, he felt like a failure, like he hadn’t lived up to the expectations his family had. Though all of them were supportive, he felt that they didn’t, even couldn’t, understand.
More than that, even, he wanted the respect of the people with whom he’d served, and knew that he’d let them all down.
Through the course of the conversation with him, I tried to put it in real-life terms, hoping he could get his perspective back. I told him to think of it as a job, and nothing more.
It was a job he was trained to do, and, many times, trained through repetition. His job, a lower management position, was to manage and train others, often by repetition, as well. Sometimes, no amount of training can prepare you for the reality of the job.
I explained that it was like going to McDonald’s and training to be a run the drive through, and being thrown into it busy as Hell on the first day. Things will happen, mistakes will be made. People will be upset at you. Some will even hate you. But you do the job until you either get better, or you’re laid off, or you quit. At either of the last two points, you find another job.
“But you know,” I told him. “What you tried to do carried with it a lot more prestige than some crappy job flipping burgers, or even selling advertising a company who’ll never last two years. You were part of something bigger than yourself, and went duty-bound into something that most people are terrified to even think about. And that, right there, is why you haven’t lost anyone else’s respect. Not even the guys you served with.”
It’s one of the things I always enjoyed about Military. Guys who worked together consider one another friends. Sometimes, they only see each other in an aeon, but will still have a clandestine beer, perhaps even in silence for the friends they knew and lost.
That fact was driven home for me even more over the next few months. Pretty much all of my uncles were in the military, and I just never was cut out for it. But I’ve worked with and around them in a civilian capacity for quite a while.
In December last year, a few of them looked for me, found me, and all but twisted my arms. “Mark, what? Man, you were right there with us. Get your ass out of that damn house!”
I was going through a really rough time a year ago. If it hadn’t been for them, I was so stressed I might never have left the house again. I never really told them what was going on, and just took the opportunity to get away, to get out of Knoxville, even, if only for a little while.
Almost exclusively, it was just a bunch of us sitting around in a hotel bar. We told stupid stories about each other, making sure to exaggerate as much as possible, smoked cigars, bitched about politicians, drank copiously and laughed a lot. And then, there was always the silent drink to the ones who weren’t there…
Philip, Joe, Terry, JD, Nate, John, Larry, Joel, Paul, Tony, Dennis, Neal… and I know there are more, but I just can’t remember right now… You guys don’t even know what you did for me. And I thank you all.
Those little road trips always ended the same.
“It was great to see you again, man. If you ever need anything, you give me a call. I mean it!”
There’s an unspoken rule of mine, and that is that I respect them too much to ever ask them for anything.
To my surprise in January, “Mark, I’m shipping out for Afghanistan. You fixed this Xbox for us, so, uh, we won’t need it, figured you’d want it? And give me your address… we’re gonna send you some games when we get tired of them.”
So now you know the root of my other time-waster / stress-reliever…
And so, back to Lt. Cpl. Jared…
Jared, you didn’t get to serve your entire time, but you were let out honorably. You did your job as best you could, and I seriously think it was just bad timing. But for all that worry, all that being down on yourself, and all that crazy shit you were thinking back then… look at how you’re doing now.
You’ve got everything together, just like I told you would. 😉
And those people you crawled through mud and walked on sand with, even the ones you sat at a computer next to, or sat around all night in the barracks playing Xbox with, they are the salt of the earth.
And I’ll guaran-damn-tee, after they’re back, given a little time, they’ll call you up and wanna go out for a beer…
Jared … and everyone else … Happy Veterans’ Day, my friends.