Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Farewell to Arms

I have written before about how often I find myself dreaming about being in the military again. One of the things that was impressed upon me when I was in the Army was the intensity of the pressure that was brought to bear on all levels of leadership to "carry out the mission" - whether the mission was the challenge of the day, the week, or of several months. For the rank and file, of which I was just one small part, there was an awareness that one's position was distinct from one's identity, and that one could easily be replaced by someone else in uniform. I have photographs of myself standing in formation that, were it not for the framing of the shot, make it hard to see exactly which one of the uniforms is inhabited by me.

When I left the Army in October 2000, my unit had just completed a six-month deployment in Bosnia. This particular "mission" had occupied everyone in the unit (the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment) for at least six months prior to the deployment. And when I departed the unit, it was still heavily involved in easing its way back into the routine of garrison life, with more mundane tactical objectives like training evolutions and vehicle maintenance, of updating physical training records and weapons qualifications.

I will not soon forget the last formation in which I stood with the unit, prior to my "final out." I was way in the back and ignored in the pre-dawn light, wearing BDUs while everyone else was in PT uniform. Upon falling out, I walked away in the direction of my car. I stopped and turned around and said "Good luck!" to the soldiers being marched away for yet another six-mile run.

Some things I learned in the Army:

1. That I should never have joined.
2. Not to talk with my hands (a sniper may be watching).
3. That I could drink more alcohol than I did when I was in the Navy.
4. That I had to drink more.
5. That pain is the sensation of weakness leaving your body.
6. Just how old I had become.
7. How to evaluate a casualty.
8. That the worst part of a 25 kilometer march is stopping.
9. That US ARMY stands for Uncle Sam Ain't Released Me Yet.
10. That hell together is better than hell alone.
11. That I could endure anything.

(I may have known some of these things before the Army in the abstract, but their truth was brought home to me by the experience of being a common soldier from April 1997 to October 2000.)

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