Here I sit, feeling severely depressed, angry, wounded, dejected, and just overall like a big pile of dung fresh off the cow’s butt.
It would seem to me that nobody understands what a military guy goes through once they leave service. I guess I should paint a picture of what it is like to be in the military in order to get the gist of what I am saying.
You go in at a young age, filled with ideas of what you are about to encounter. You have seen movies like Rambo, Terminator, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and more. You think that you are entering a place that will teach you some things about life, but you don’t truly understand what is about to happens, nor do you understand after it happens. Boot camp was crazy. It was weak but challenging all at the same time (the Air Force is a techie’s dream world, so the few combat positions are tougher at their technical school instead of beating up everyone during basic training). Basic is about tearing your understanding of self down and then building you back up in the mold of the Air Force core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do. I still regard these as integral to how I approach life and my interaction with it.
You leave basic training full of optimism and glad that you can now start regaining some freedom to make decisions for yourself (though you could still use more supervision than what you realize). Technical school (tech school) holds the key to your future job. The job I had chosen was all about building a team mindset, understanding the importance of paying attention to detail, conditioning the body for extreme situations, and learning everything that you could to build a solid foundation for the on-the-job training awaiting you at your first duty station.
My personal experience at tech school was not pleasant. We were getting ready to graduate when our baby flight arrived. A flight is a group of guys who are going through the class together. There were three flights going through at any given point and as each one neared graduation the new flight members began arriving. It was tradition to harass these new arrivals in some manner, midnight physical training for example. Our flight of 14 (I think it was 14) had just finished watching a show on television about the Navy Seals. Full of testosterone and mischief we decided to tie our shirts around our heads to where only our eyes are exposed and bust into the four unsuspecting airmen’s room to scare them. Nobody new what we were going to do, just that we were going to all pile into the room and go crazy. One of the new kids ended up getting hurt. He went to kick a guy off of the top bunk that was pulling at his leg and when the guy doing the pulling fell backwards he held onto the leg, thus tearing the ligaments up really badly. The kid ended up having a couple of surgeries.
We were all almost kicked out of the service. Punishment consisted of not being able to do physical training in our PT pits any longer (you have no idea how degrading this is because our identity was carved in the PT pits each morning), having to do several smoke sessions (where they exercise you until you don’t think you can live any longer), no graduation at all (which meant no dawning of the coveted black beret that we had seen two other flights earn at the end of their training), our flight flag was taken away from us (another striping of our identity), and we were essentially stripped of any pride that we had left. Needless to say, but I will say it, that I was shattered into a million pieces unsure of what to do next.
My first duty station was Korea at Camp Casey. I would return there for a second tour not long after leaving from the first one. That is the beauty of being single, full of motivation, and able to travel the world thanks to Uncle Sam’s presence in a ton of countries.
During the remaining time in service I learned a slew of things. I was taught how to be a leader, extremely self-confident, able to train men effectively in various tasks using several different training methods, how to interpret regulations and apply them to our career field, and more, so much more. The big thing was the career field itself. We, enlisted members, were responsible for coordinating and conducting air strikes for the various ground maneuver units of the Army. I don’t know of anything else to relate it to. How do you translate a job that put the burden of coordinating and executing a job that would result in the safety of hundreds of men while killing hundreds of others? That level of responsibility is daunting to say the least. You had to be sure of yourself and extremely trustworthy. The men that you served with were closer to you than family. You suffered together, you fought together, you trained, ate, slept, exercised, etc… together. You saw more of each other than you did anyone else.
The hardest part of transitioning from the military to the civilian world was the downgrade in respect and responsibility from potential employers and even from those closest to you who knew you while you were in the military. I guess you could say there was a respect factor that played into how you saw yourself and how you related to those around you. While in the service I didn’t need the approval of the outside world to know that what I did was important not only to the military but to my country and what it stands for (or so I hoped based on the political chess game). I had respect from within myself and from those I served with. I needed nothing else.
Spiritually speaking I was respected within the job as well. I was not a pushy evangelist but a guy who lived what he talked about. I was a man’s man. The guys saw me as tough, high-speed, experienced, and someone who was not afraid to lead by example even if that meant stirring burning human feces in the desert without complaining. I listened to each person as an individual and was able to relate my experiences and outlook on life to their situation. Those friendships are still in place to this day with many of the men I served beside.
Then I got out. I was bitter when I was on my way out. I was fed up with the military lifestyle. I was gone about two weeks out of any given month to train new guys. The leadership was constantly changing their minds on what deployments were going to look like and how long they would be for. The record keeping of who was certified and who wasn’t was constantly being questioned. The confident decision making I had seen in years past was eroding, but I think it was due more to indecision at the very top of the military chain of command as much as it had to do with those directly above us. Every week new information was coming down and plans were being re-finalized. You can’t run a company with a business plan that changes weekly.
But guess what, now that I have been out for over three and half years I miss it dearly. I miss the relationships, the pride, the respect, the trust, the responsibility, the exercises in the middle of winter where you are huddled down in the woods someplace trying to stay warm before beginning your night navigation recertification. I miss the camaraderie and the high speed gear that made you look like a modern day ninja. However, I don’t miss being someone else’s puppet on the world stage of politics. Personally, I agreed with what President Bush did. I don’t agree with the U.S. Congress who voted to give him the right to wage war independent of their decision. That was fool hardy and I hope it never happens again. I don’t miss being away from my wife (and especially now that I am a father, I can’t imagine missing all the “first” things that are coming up). I don’t miss the stateside training and the stress of the job in general.
So the question remains, how do I cope with mediocrity and the life of a commoner? That may sting a little to some but that is how it feels to me. I mean I currently make grass grow and kill weeds for a living. Put that into perspective: talking to the pilot of a multi-million dollar aircraft who is carrying enough weapons payload to destroy a small town and telling him where to deliver these “goods” without killing our own troops while minimizing the potential for civilian casualties and then giving him the clearance to release those munitions once I am sure everything is going according to plan; compared to working Monday through Friday 7 to 5, carrying a backpack sprayer with herbicides and sometimes pesticides in it to ruin the life of broadleaf and grassy weeds that would dare show their ugly face in our customer’s lawns. How do I not see this as a step down and as a stripping of my self-worth?
Some would tell me to put my thoughts and mindset elsewhere, such as on Jesus. That I shouldn’t try to make myself into anything more than I really am, another person in need of God’s grace and now that I have found it I am supposed to tell everyone else about. That is where my self-worth is supposed to comes from, not from myself but from Christ. Well, I am not there. I get the theology, but I don’t “feel” it. It is as the one man said, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Others would say that I need to realize that providing for my family and being a great remodel to those around me is where I can fill this gap. Yeah, maybe a little. But there is something missing that I am not getting. I used to devote ten hours of my day and sometimes more than that depending on where I was located (Korea or Iraq or TDY to some training grounds in the states) to this intense level of responsibility and of trust from those around me. This is not going to be filled very easily. Maybe I am an adrenaline junky now. Who knows?
I am learning how to deal with all of this still. I have goals and visions for life that I believe are of better value than what I was doing in the military. The big thing for me is impacting the world around me in a positive way, whether with my faith, love, time, money, etc… just so long as I leave people better off than I found them or they found me. I still struggle with my job but I think that is coming around. I appreciate all the prayers for me over the years and there is always more to a story than what I can write about it here. I appreciate the support and encouragement as I have bounced from job to job in the past three and a half years (13 in all if you count my current job twice since I left it to go to Virginia). I can’t guarantee anyone that I will not bounce around in the years ahead, after all, I am still trying to figure this out. I wrote this post for my own sake as well as to help my family and friends understand what I am going through and have been going through during this transition time. Man, there is so much more that I could tell but I hope this sums it up well. I look forward to any response that I might get.
Blessings to all,
Boris the Illusionist, a.k.a. Unabrow, Wadley Wolf, The Great White Tornado, Cuddlebug and Lil’ Bro