Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do I Regret Joining?

A question sometimes arises: "Do you regret joining the military?" ...

Wow, what a question. Do I regret doing something that has drastically affected my life for better and for worse over the past six and a half years.

There were times when I was sure that it had been the wrong choice. I vividly remember standing in breakfast chow line during Basic Training back in 2003 after getting nearly no sleep for weeks, with about 12 weeks left of Basic and AIT still ahead of me just thinking that I would never wish that kind of hell on anyone. Knowing that once I got through the chow line the Drill Sergeant would just make me throw the food away without a bite. Having no phone calls, no females, being away from family and friends. Being so certain that it would never end, and that I was destined to forever be trapped in Fort Sill.

But then as the weeks went on, I made more friends. I grew close to people and we found ways to cope and make it through. The environment there didn't seem so intimidating and I grew stronger. I learned not to be sad, not to be lonely. After 16 weeks, I came out a new and better person.

Then I came home and volunteered for deployment. After a month at Fort McCoy, hearing the news reports of the situation in Iraq, and seeing the unorganized desert training we were receiving from underqualified instructors in a bitter cold January in Wisconsin, I fell back into pessimism. Looking ahead to a 12-month deployment (or longer, who knew, our orders were for up to 18 months), I drank heavily to cover the fear.

We left in February for the desert. 

In the desert, a lot of things happened (that's another story for another blog I suppose). During the middle of it all, months since being home but still with no end to the deployment in sight, there were long periods of hopelessness. 

People were dying and nobody could tell who would be next. With so much time ahead of you, it seemed certain you'd never make it home. I was sure that God had me destined to die in the desert, far from the family, girlfriend, and friends that I used to know. And it seemed to make sense that way from the things I'd done.

But eventually the deployment ended, and I made it home alive. The only problem was that I had no idea how to behave in civilian life. Yelling, fighting, and complete disregard for the health and safety of yourself and others were now totally unacceptable. Everyone had jobs or were at school, and nobody even paid attention to the war or seemed to even know where Iraq was.

So to try to fit in, I figured I'd join school too. But that didn't make anything better, and my problems simply escalated.

After a couple years of being back accompanied with counselling and friends, I've adjusted well now to civilian life and can fit in with the best of them. I'm tougher, stronger, and more emotionally stable than I had ever been before. I have drive and ambition like never before, and love waking up every day.

But now they're sending me back. At least this time I've already been through it, so I have that strength to pull on. I just have to make sure that I help out the others that haven't been through it and have to go through this emotional rollercoaster for the first time.

To regret joining would have to include regretting the friends I've made, the experiences I've endured, the skills I've learned, and so much more. No, there's no way that I regret joining. It's made me who I am, and I can't imagine life without it.