I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable being thanked for my service; typically I wave it off with some reference to the wasteful, frivolous, and dangerous way that I spent much of my enlistment. I don’t like to talk much about what my service meant to me, and there are so many amusing stories to tell instead that I tend to just focus on those.
In reality, the Army saved my life. I enlisted through the delayed entry program shortly after I turned 17 because years of being told I was useless, lazy, and that I would amount to nothing had convinced me that it was true—that I had nothing of value to offer the world. I make light of it now, but I reached out to a recruiter because I wanted to join the infantry and die alongside the soldiers that were currently in Iraq and Somalia. It’s not that I especially wanted to die, it’s that I didn’t much care if I did, and this seemed like a way to be of value on the way out. It was a way to bring value to a valueless existence.
A recruiter convinced me to leverage my experience with computers and enlist as a software analyst. Rather than to join as infantry, that I could be of more value plying the skills I’d learned through years of writing little stupid programs. Reluctantly, I agreed; in my naivete thinking that army was army and I was just as likely to go fight as a 74B as I was a 11B.
In the military I found a purpose. I slowly learned that I wasn’t as useless and lazy as I’d been lead to believe. I learned that I had talents and that I was capable of growing them. I found camaraderie among a group of largely thrown away people as well. My alcoholism deepened considerably during this time, but my battered self esteem grew to the point where I generally felt worthy of life.
So it’s uncomfortable to be thanked for my service each Veteran’s Day; when I shipped out in the summer just before my 18th birthday I was volunteering life that I didn’t want and didn’t think had value—and what I got in exchange is a tremendous part of what makes me who I am today. I definitely won that exchange.
Thank you to every member who served honorably, regardless of why you joined or what your duties were. I am proud to have been among you.