I was drafted into the Army 2 days after I turned 22. I was discharged 1 year, 6 months and 6 days later. Thanks to Tricky Dick’s Vietnamization military draw down, “early outs” were the norm…and the lifers definitely wanted people like me gone.
The copy of Robert Sherrill’s “Military justice is to justice as military music is to music” that I prominently displayed at the head of my bed in the barracks might have had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the fact that Senator Stuart Syminton and Senator Ted Kennedy each contacted my commanding officer in response to letters I sent to DC. Maybe it was because I had the song that’s at the end of this piece “on repeat”…playing it morning, noon and night. (And playing it LOUD!)
The Army is not too happy about squeaky wheels…and man-o-man, looking back at it, was I ever a squeaky Spec 4!
Apparently the 1/6/6 time commitment was magical as far as being entitled to full VA benefits. (Which are still hopelessly inadequate, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan…) I took full advantage of the GI Bill during my extended time in college after the service…i was on a campus in either Missouri or Oregon for 6 of the next 10 years after my discharge. (I LOVED college….)
While I wouldn’t do it all over again if it was my choice, I don’t regret my military experience in the least. In fact, I’d support required public service for every citizen….there are lots of ways that people could serve their country without being in the military. (Note: for most elected officials these days I don’t consider what they do “public service.” More accurate for far too many would be to call it “disservice”!!)
My time in service was beneficial in several ways:
I grew up. (although 40+ years later, i’m still not all that “mature”…);
I got in good physical shape;
I got very lucky and never went to Vietnam;
I sobered up and dried out. (I was drinking entirely too much before I was drafted…);
And I learned some things.
What did I learn in the Army?
1. Clean as you go.
2. Do it once and do it right and you won’t have to do it twice.
Those are the two most important things that I learned while wearing an OG-107 uniform. That’s it. 2 platitudes. 2 simple phrases.
But don’t get me wrong. Those are both BIG deals. Really. I probably don’t go 48 hours without thinking of one or both of them…and maybe even saying one of the phrases out loud….but usually just to myself.
Oh, I did learn some other stuff.
3. Wear sunscreen…lather up. Especially at the beach. (“Breaking starch” when you’re blistered from a weekend at Myrtle Beach is VERY unpleasant!)
4. Marijuana is not a gateway drug. If there were more potheads and less alcoholics, the planet would be a much nicer place.
5. This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for shooting, this is for fun. (I also learned the definition of a buddy…)
5a. Have lots of fun.
5b. Listen to lots of music.
(Some people might look at the 5’s as “sex, drugs and rock&roll. Just sayin’)
6. I learned a lot about myself. (The learning continues…)
All the lessons from my Army days have people and/or stories attached to them.
Maybe someday I’ll tell some of ’em.