I started off today in a very 'Murica fashion. I woke up at 4:30 and went to shoot some guns as the sun came up (because, you know, Army). As I sat waiting for my turn to fire, I started thinking.
Today, 23 February 2021, I officially hit my 18 year mark with the Army: 18 total years of active federal service. 18 years of my life (13 years of AJ's life and 11 and 7 of the kids' lives) thus far spent traipsing around the country. 8 permanent change of station moves to 6 different states ranging up and down the eastern seaboard, a brief stint in the Midwest and Hawaii, 10 different address (and counting), visits to two continents, 2 island countries, multiple deployments and several cumulative years spent away from home/family, countless family events missed, passing of family members missed, multiple injuries (both emotionally and physically), unlikely yet lifelong friendships forged, many laughs and adventures had, working for this, more often than not, good-intentioned organization. I've been terrified by jellyfish when swimming in the Gulf of Arabia, Rode camels on the sands of those beaches and rode dune buggies through the sands of Qatar. I've been terrified again by lion fish while snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean surrounding Okinawa and also visited the breathtaking Ryukyuan gusuku Shurijo Castle. I have visited 23 of the 48 contiguous United States
in either a permanent, semi-permanent, training or visiting status and now here I am, staring down the barrel of my inevitable retirement. All I can think is what the F*** am I going to do next? I will trust the process.
18 years has sailed past but I gotta say man: When I initially joined the Army in January of 2000, a lost little misguided kid with a shitty attitude and a life plan to match, graduating high school on a wing and a prayer (with a little help from summer school for Algebra II), I never imagined myself ending up here. At best, my plans for life included working at Wal-Mart for the foreseeable future and maaaaaaaaaaaaybe going to college; though I did attempt that initially thanks to my dad and, short boring story short, it was not a fruitful pursuit.
I took a crash course in growing up in the December after high school. My life was going nowhere and my motivation to course correct was nowhere to be found. My dad convinced me to speak to some military service recruiters. After speaking briefly with a couple branches, I was STOKED to join the Air Force. I totally qualified and, as I did Air Force JROTC in high school, it was going to be a great fit. I remember walking out of the recruiters office, hearing someone call out to me, then turning to face the guy who was asking me if the Air Force was giving me any cash bonuses to sign up. As offering cash incentives has never been the Modus Operandi of the only branch of service with people basically knocking down their doors to join, I was essentially being asked to answer a loaded question. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm getting on a bus headed to Fort Sill, OK for Army Basic Combat Training.
To be clear, I never had aspirations of being a career Soldier. I wanted to spring board myself into adulthood and, to be perfectly honest about it, I assumed this would be the easiest (least amount of effort), albeit somewhat traumatic, way to accomplish that. I was going to use the Army to give myself purpose, then bail at the first opportunity. Plus the GI Bill and $6,000 cash bonus were nothing to be upset about. So I decided to spend four years of my life chasing discipline, instilling in myself a higher purpose, and guaranteeing a free ride through college when the time was right.
And that is exactly what I did. I spent a little over 4 years in the Army (an extra 6 months was built in there at the end for a dual purpose: to join my friends on a quick and lovely tour to beautiful sands of Iraq (right on the banks of the Euphrates), and to pad my wallet for the impending financial shock of civilian life). I returned from the armpit of the world, processed out of the Army and went home in June of 2004. I was free from the constraints of military life and ready to dive into the civilian world and pursue whatever I chose. For all intents and purposes, I was basically a newborn, I left behind the rigidity and structure provided by the military at a full sprint and fell flat on my face. I enrolled full time in college (dropped out shortly thereafter and went in debt to the US Government). I went back to my same job at Wal-Mart, changed to a different, bigger store, was offered a promotion of sorts, accepted it then almost immediately quit when I realized how much some of the employees hated me simply because they did not get the job. It was almost a situation of: leave before I knock someone out and get fired for it. I began job and career field hopping, most of it in the customer service world, some in sales, ultimately ending up unemployed as I couldn't (or maybe wouldn't) let the civilian life work for me. Thankfully, at this point, AJ had a great job which supported us well enough.
I first realized I was going to end up back in the Military in August of 2007. Anyone who knows me well can agree that I'm pretty impulsive and when I get an idea in my mind, I'm going to figure out a way to follow through with it. I started to realize that my current working situation (better known as unemployment) was not going to get my anywhere and I needed to, once again, make a change for the better. I did not want to dive back in to full time Army but I absolutely missed the camaraderie and structure of military life. So I decided to join Diet-Army, or Army Lite if it were a beer 🤣. I was in the Army Reserve for a grand total of about a year before going back to MEPS, begging to be put back in the active Army, snatching up the bestie, packing all of our stuff into a uhaul and embarking on the second half of this grand journey.
Today, 14 years after driving to Fort Gordon to push the restart button on our lives, I made the first in a series of appointments which will span the next 24 months and ultimately lead to us separating again, for good this time, no looking back, no reversals, no "oopsies, I messed up, will you please take me back". Just Donezo
The idea is both a massive sigh of relief (we're tired man, and all of this moving is really starting to screw with the kids), and one of the biggest pucker moments I've had in my life so far. We will be fine. Til next time peeps. I'll keep y'all updated on my journey.