Life sans ego
When you’re in the custody of the military entrance processing station (MEPS), waiting to get on your flight the next day to begin your term of service, it’s a sort of strange feeling. You’re still a civilian, in your town, or near enough to your home town so that things are still familiar. I guess you could liken it to the anticipation of a roller coaster, when you’ve just been clicked in. There are a few moments of calm–stuff is going on around you, but you’re just sitting there, waiting for the rest of the situation to prime itself to hurl you down a strange and physically taxing set of circumstances.
They doled out the hotel rooms I guess alphabetically, though I don’t remember the name of the guy I shared a room with. He was a quiet guy, one of those play-it-cool, severe type of cats. All I got out of him was that he was going to Fort Knox to be a scout. We both crashed early, avoiding the train downstairs that the only girl in our group agreed to. We had an Air Force guy and a few Marines in our crew out of Lansing, Michigan. Maybe a sailor…don’t remember.
The next morning they bussed us to the airport, handed out our lunch coupons and cut us loose. I didn’t see the girl to see what sort of shape she was in, but the other guys were beaming, so I guess it went well for part of the party. Some guys had already started to bond, sharing phone numbers and stuff. As a military kid, I knew that was a little ridiculous. We’d all be meeting hundreds of people in the next few weeks and months, trying to “hold on” to every face we saw would be impossible. My roommate and I gave each other a head nod and we went to our separate gates.
Some dozen hours later, I was sitting in Fort Jackson in a shuttle from the airport. It was night, raining. I held on to my bag in the dark, watching some of my first unfriendly military types yelling at people filing off of a coach bus. Someone hadn’t done something fast enough, so all were doing push ups–you know the type of hard-ass atmosphere.
A minute or two passed and the unfriendlies got to my van. Our door slid open and we got the same tirade. “Out! Out! Out! You need to hurry up! Get those bags in a line! Get on your face! Too slow! You want to play games with me?! Let’s see how you like playing this game!”
And so it started. Life sans ego. Sometimes it was me staring at pavement, sometimes it was just being yelled at. An enlisted person in the military is about as close as any Westerner can get to a complete and utter lesson in humility. We lost our first soldier that night. About three hours into the process of getting us registered, at half past two in the morning, a sassy girl snapped. “You can’t talk to me like that! I’m tired of people yelling at me! I am NOT going to read my book! I am NOT going to just ‘wait here!’ I’m tired! I’m NOT going to take this sh*t!”
The cadre let her go off for a few minutes before escorting her away. Not like they capped her or did anything crazy–this is the sensitive Army nowadays, remember. She probably got some counseling or maybe they let her go home, who knows. Regardless, I remember a lot of us looked at each other and shrugged–silently, of course, we were already on lock down.
As a Christian man, so much of what it is to live in tune with God stems from humility–from assuming a mindset that focuses on others. Being in the Army has helped do that for me. Not that I’m this paragon of temperament and selflessness, the Army also indirectly teaches an incredible amount of slyness and self preservation; but I look back at how I used to regard myself and notice a large change in ego. In situations that friends of mine say, “Wow, I’d never let them do that to me,” I just shrug.
The journalist gig helps too. When working for a newspaper, it’s customary to be berated on the phone, especially when you write sports. I’ve been reprimanded and degraded to the point of tears several times, by sergeants major, lieutenant colonels, and everything in between. Name misspellings, battery instead of company, winner of the “large” DFAC category instead of just winner; there’s a thousand things to shred a person’s humanity over when writing for the public. And they don’t have any problem saying what a poor excuse for a soldier you are, or how you’ve systematically let down the unit, Army and country. While at first the remains of your ego might want to put up a fight; the calm, collected professional you’re taught to create takes over after a few sessions, allowing the irate individual to finish their assault.
This same calm, detached persona also kicks in every time you’re told to pick up cigarette butts, dig mucus out of urinal cakes, separate recyclables from the garbage, or any number of fun duties that arise while in service. When you’re told to “stand by,” “get it done,” “redo slide six” any of which makes you miss meals, miss dates, miss fun; you just do it.
There seems to be too ditches on the road to learning healthy humility. There’s being too selfish and there’s being emasculated and numb. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in one rut or the other.
So, I’m signing up for three more years of service as of Monday, reenlisting. You can’t beat this sort of personality readjustment.
The instructor gig went through, so I’ll be Meade bound within the next few months. Hopefully it will allow me to explore the life-growing aspects of the military, without as many beat downs and kicks to the nuts. I think being at Fort Hood for these last two years has just worn me out. The war didn’t help either. I toast to change.
We’ll see how I turn out in a couple of years!