I don't think I have been asked one question more than why do I do this? Referring to my military service and the length of said service and the overwhelming difficulty of said service.
Well I guess right now I should take a stab at answering the question.
First, I'll go over the context in which I am usually asked this question. I normally get asked this right after I finish telling someone a story, any story really, about just how incredibly fucked up the military is or can be at times. Or, I am asked this question right after a news report plays on the TV detailing how screwed up the situation is in Iraq or Afghanistan and everyone looks at me and wonders why I would keep doing this even in the face of such an unpopular and somewhat unjust pair of wars.
So now that we have the context, my usual response is something to the effect of "I don't know, I really needed the college money and now I've got so many years in that it would be stupid to get out now when I am already half way to retirement."
Well, let me tell you, with apologies to everyone who has ever heard me say that or something similar. THAT RESPONSE IS COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT. It is just the standard, cookie cutter answer that I have come up with that serves me the best because people can't really dissect that answer or question me further. I mean who can really argue with college money and retirement?
So now let's get down to the nitty gritty. Why do I REALLY do this shit? And yes ladies, and gents it is shit. No way around it. I mean what rational person would volunteer to spend the lions share of their time away from friends and family, living in what some would call squalor, making next to shit in pay, taking orders from abused children on a power trip and sadists, fighting against other poor people in order to make more money for the rich of my own country?
Sounds singularly idiotic doesn't it? Well admittedly I am a bit of an idiot. However, I do think that there are some reasons that I have for doing what I do, and they really have nothing to do with freedom and liberty, and democracy. Quite frankly, in my humble opinion, anyone who believes that those things still exist in the traditional definition of the words is naive. Does freedom still exist? I can't even smoke in a bar anymore. Enough said. Liberty? Can the government tap your phone without a warrant? Yep, they can, just so you know. Democracy? Well if you look at it, a democratic government and a dictatorship only have one difference. In a democracy you vote on who is going to give you your orders, in a dictatorship they just skip the voting step. But I digress, that is another argument all together and a painful one at that.
So if I don't do this for the usual patriotic platitudes then what is it? Well one thing is, the guys. I cannot, nay, I will not describe to you just how close you become with the men and women you serve with. Suffice it to say that there is no deeper bond that human beings can have than entrusting their very lives to one another. And that bond drives me in that, I cannot really bear the thought of leaving them and going home while they have to go off to war. That gets me through most of it.
But not all, I am a rational person and I realize that I have paid what I owe, to myself, to my country, and to my comrades. There is no question about that. So what drives me the rest of the way down this twisted and confusing road?
You see my father passed away when I was three years old and my brother was still a bun in the oven. His death destroyed at least one life and completely altered the course of mine.
Instead of being a solidly middle class family, with the resources and comforts of that standing, my family slipped to what I would describe as upper working class. Where my mother constantly struggled to make ends meet and keep us in the house where we grew up and make sure that our lives were as stable as possible. (She pulled it off.)
Needless to say, I didn't have everything I wanted growing up, but I had everything I needed. Even though I was somewhat of a spoiled brat of a kid. But that doesn't really matter as far as all this is concerned.
What does matter is the stories that I heard about my father. I never heard a person speak ill of my father, never, not once. I met people throughout my life that knew my father, whether they be friends of his, ex-coworkers, or whoever and not a one of them ever had a derogatory thing to say about the man. In fact, they all had at least one or two stories about what a wonderful man my father was.
Then there was my family. My cousins, my aunts, uncles, and mother. These people, without even realizing that they were doing it, implanted in my brother and I an impossible standard of what it is to be a man, through the stories they would tell us about my father.
If you took my family and my father's friends at their word, (and I did and still do) my father was Zeus and could walk on water, eat bullets, and shit ice cream!
So that leads me to what that did to me. I have always thought of my life as this big ole' stairwell that I am walking up. Each step is another epoch in my life. School, sports, girls, work, college, the military, marriage, divorce, all of that, just another step.
Now there has always been someone walking up that stairwell in front of me. If you guessed my dear old daddy, then get yourself a cookie. He has always been walking up in front of me, pulling me at times, showing me the way. Looking back in disgust and picking me up off my ass at other times. But always in front of me. Never behind and certainly never even with me.
Now my father was a Vietnam veteran and a devout husband, and father and also a police officer. Which easily explains my habit of getting into law enforcement jobs even though I absolutely despise authority in all its forms. But right now we are dealing with the veteran part of the equation.
Maybe in some small measure I think that by doing what I do, and going where I have gone, and am going that maybe someday I will be able to look at my side and see my father as opposed to always having to look up in front to see him.
I don't ever want to be ahead of him, no son ever wants to eclipse their father, no son worth their salt anyway. But I do want to be able to look him in the eye and walk next to him as an equal.
Its funny too, because anyone who knew my father would tell you that, he would have told me a long time ago to get out of this shit. He would never have wanted me to go into harms way, he would've been proud of me but he never would've wanted this. I just can't seem to escape the fact that I have never seen myself as an equal to my father. I still, after all I have done and been through, have an unrelenting need to prove myself to a dead guy.
My brother (who is a lot smarter than people give him credit for) said it the best, "Dude, you have been chasing a ghost since we were kids." And I ain't Bill Murray and this isn't Ghostbusters so chances are real good that I am never going to catch that ghost.
So that's it, that's why I do what I do. I still have something to prove to someone who's approval I can never get, no matter how hard I try...