If I had one thing to do over in life, I would choose to serve in some capacity. The only two times I ever considered it was right after high school graduation, and again in the last weeks of law school. The first time, I was unemployed with no direction during the summer after high school graduation. Michigan’s umemployment rate was probably near an all-time high. A buddy who graduated the year before entered the Marines and was temporarily a recruiter. He called me twice and tried to talk me into it. I was a young punk, and fearless (or just stupid), but there were no wars going on. The Democrats had already sold out the South Vietnamese and Saigon had fallen the year before. There was no draft, and no law then even requiring young men to sign up for the draft.
I admit it, I was somewhat influenced by the Hippie movement–I’ve since thoroughly rejected those influences–and at that time the military was not held in high esteem by such folks. I didn’t “loathe” the military, because my father had been in the Korean war, but I just never seriously considered enlisting, despite the fact that I was a military fanatic growing up, always pretending to be in the military, and always watching and reading about the military and about prior wars. I just sort of moved in a different direction.
Fast forward over a decade. A friend and classmate in law school joined the Navy J.A.G. Corp. He had his assignment lined up, his future for the next few (3?) years set, and was gung-ho about getting me to tag along. I still did not have a job offer, and did not know whether I would be moving back to Michigan, back to Florida, or staying in North Carolina. Being a transplant to N.C. seemed to be hampering my job search there. I was getting a little desperate. So I gulped, and said OK, I’ll take the first step, I’ll go have a physical and start the process to see if they would accept me.
My buddy got me all the information I needed, and lined me up and sent me off to Raleigh, an hour or so away. The Navy had some hotel where they put up potential recruits for the night, with the physical set for early the next morning. All I remember is being thrown in a room with some kid at least 10 years younger than I was, and he invited several other kids from nearby rooms to our room to play “quarters.” That was back when I did not hardly drink at all, let alone play drinking games.
I lasted until about 11:00 p.m. All these young kids. The thought of some doctor peering up my butthole (not sure that is what they do, but that is what my buddy kept saying that they did to him). And the thought of having my freedom of choice stifled for at least the term of the enlistment. I bolted. I just walked out without telling anybody and drove home. And surprised my wife, who was extremely grateful–she despised the idea of enlisting from the start–and I never looked back.
Oh, yeah. As a young lawyer I had a boss who was in the Virginia Army Reserves (or National Guard, I don’t recall). He would go away to “training” two weeks a summer, and a few weekends, I can’t recall the details. As I recall, his biggest duty seemed to be giving free wills to the other troops. It did not seem very challenging, or interesting, at the time.
Now, I’m too old to enlist. I get a lump in my throat just seeing a
man or woman in uniform. I want to go up to each one and shake their hand and thank them. I don’t, I figure they will think I’m some old dork. And now that I’m too old, “how convenient,” many would say, that suddenly I wish I had enlisted.
But seriously, I think we have things backwards. We should get older men like me to do the fighting, men with less to lose. I”ve lived my life, raised my family. Give me a little training, a weapon, the right equipment and send me and others similarly situated with little left to lose, to find those al Qaeda hiding in them thar mountains.
It’s not that I am braver than when I was younger, it’s that I just don’t give a shit any more. I’m ready to die. Why have doing the fighting kids with their whole lives to live, with young children and spouses back home? Let’s raise the age of enlistment. Granted, I could not take the physical stress as well, nor do half as good a job as the kids now, but I sure can shoot just as well.
I can see it now: “The Old Farts Brigade.” Leading causes of death, heart attacks and strokes. OK, so we would be less effective to the nth degree than our crack troops now. But so what, since we would also be more expendable? How hard can it be if an old grey beard with a kidney problem can hide out in the mountains for years and not be caught? Never mind. HARD. I’ll just keep fantasizing and probably be sorry I even wrote this. What a dumb ass.
p.s. OK, here is the article in The Wall Street Journal that prompted me to write this. “Judges Consider New Factor at Sentencing: Military Service.” The money quote: “As more soldiers return home from combat overseas and end up in the criminal-justice system, a number of state and federal judges are deciding to show former soldiers leniency in light of their service. Some veterans are receiving probation coupled with psychological treatment, generally for nonviolent crimes that normally would land them in prison.”
My only question is: What the hell took them so long?