***This is rambling and very stream of consciousness...I'm tired and it was a long day and this subject has been on my mind lately for a variety of reasons. I reserve the right to edit this later if I figure out a way to be halfway articulate about the subject.***
I've said on this blog before that my dad was in the military. So was my grandpa. My dad fought in Vietnam as a combat rescue helicopter pilot, and my grandfather was aboard the U.S.S. Maryland when it was attacked, and eventually sunk, in Pearl Harbor.
I was in the military too. I worked as a personnel officer in an intelligence organization. I ran personnel programs for several thousand people and also administered military discipline in the form of non-judicial punishment, commonly known as "Article-15's" for the article which allows them in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
My dad loved his job. My grandpa loved his job. I loved my job, but didn't realize it until later.
It is difficult to explain to people who have never been in the military what it's like. They've all seen movies, and they "know someone in the military", or they talked to a guy at a bar once who was in the military, and so they think they know. And that's OK I guess. I mean, it's an all volunteer force these days, so I wouldn't expect everyone to have some kind of relevant military knowledge unless they've been in, or perhaps a close family member has been in.
But even when it's your family member, it's still not the same.
When I joined the Air Force I think it was kind of a shock to the whole family. I had just gotten divorced and I needed to get out of the city I graduated college in. It was too small for me and the ex, and I wanted experience managing people and, of course, I wanted to see the world! I know now that the divorce is what taught me I could get through anything.
Sometimes I would lay in bed at Officer Training School, on top of the blankets because we only slept under them and messed them up the night before we turned in our bedding to be laundered, and I would cry because it was so hard. No sleep. Not enough to eat. Constantly being yelled at and berated and just generally harassed until you either sank or swim...or preferably until you turned into a leader and took some action. And while I would cry I would think "There's no way I will ever quit this because, no matter how hard it is, it can never be harder than what I've just been through with the divorce." And I never quit. Fourteen weeks after I went in, I came out a brand new "butter bar"...a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Less than three months after graduating from Officer Training School, I finished my technical school and started a job where I was instantly in charge of an office staff consisting entirely of people who had been in the military for ten or more years each, and who were all at least 10-15 years older than me. I was 24.
So, there I was, an actual Air Force officer, just like I'd grown up with and it was somehow surreal. I wasn't doing a heroic job like my dad and my grandpa. I was a personnelist working behind a desk just trying to make sure everyone got their yearly performance reports and that they got promoted and got to go to the schools they needed and went to their mandatory appointments.
And then Sept. 11th happened. Suddenly, the most important thing in the world was to account for every single one of our troops all around the world. We needed to know where everyone was, and physically make sure they were there and OK. And it was my job. In just one second I went from sitting at a desk being another goofy Lt. to sitting at a desk urgently trying to quell my own grief over what I was seeing happen to my country while doing the job I had been trained to do in the most efficient and effective manner possible -- as a professional military officer.
Maybe this is the part that civilians don't understand. It's at that time, where you are called to do your duty...your wartime duty, that you feel the most alive. That's what you've trained for over and over and over again. The skills that you keep honed even though "you'll probably never have to use them" are suddenly of utmost importance.
That's why people like my dad and my grandpa are so amazing...because they lived like that all the time. For them it wasn't a few months of "I'm a warfighter", it was an entire career of "I'm a warfighter." But, in the end, I think I got a taste of it too...for just a little while there I was a warfighter.
In the course of life I come across a lot of people who know nothing about the military -- some of them want to learn and some don't...and I guess both types have the right to be the way they want to be. They think it's where people go who can't get a job anywhere else. They don't what it means when I say "I was a military officer" in terms of education, training, or experience. They don't understand the level of responsibility is often *actually* life or death instead of *figuratively* life or death. They can never understand what it means to put up your right hand and swear to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and then back up your promise with your life, if that's what it takes. They don't understand that I don't care what their political party is because what I believe in is their freedom to join whatever political party they choose and then say whatever the hell they want about it, or me, whenever they choose to do so.
See, I'm idealistic in my own way. Some people are idealistic because they think they can make the world a better place by ending poverty, or stopping crime, or ending hunger...but in the end, I'm an incurable patriot who believes that when I joined the military I did something positive for America as a whole even if I didn't end hunger or crime or poverty. I protected what I believe are the best things about America. I supported and defended the Constitution of the United States of America, not the President's ideology (but through the President as the Commander in Chief), not the political parties, and not any one special interest or another. That's what I believe and that's what I know and that's what I feel.
In the beginning I didn't set out to do anything really...except get out of my college town and get some experience. But in the end, I know that what I did changed me. I was responsible for some pretty big actions, but as M. pointed out, I was also responsible for making sure that my guys got paid so they could feed their families, and that if they died their families were notified and their bills were paid and their kids were taken care of. I got to travel the world. I sat at a desk and never seriously worried for my own physical safety more than a handful of times -- but I worried about my troops every day and every night and I think (I hope) they knew that what I valued most of all had nothing to do with my own small individual contribution, it was that we were all in it together doing something that called to us for a variety of different reasons, but working as a team to breathe life into that oath that has been said a million times in a million places by a million young men and women.
For the rest of my life I know that what I did meant more to me than maybe I can even acknowledge sometimes, and it definitely changed me forever. I'm still an incurable patriot. I still don't understand why some people hate what I did and what it means to me.
The Oath of Office
I, (Full Name), having been appointed a (Rank) in the United States Air Force, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, SO HELP ME GOD.