When I was 18, I cared more about the glowing blue lights on the bottom of my 1984 Toyota Supra than I did about school, a career or anything else for that matter. I paid a few hundred dollars for classes at the local community college just to drop out a few weeks later.
I was going nowhere. I’m sure you all know people just like the 2003 me. Not bad people, just guys and girls that lack direction and drive. Thankfully, an old Air Force veteran from my church at the time could see I needed some guidance and took me to Pope Air Force Base for a round of golf.
He was sneaky. I wondered why the golf course was two hours away. He used the car ride to talk to me about the Air Force. When we arrived on the base, we took the scenic route. He showed me the gym, the base store, the running trails and the people my age that looked sharp in uniform.
Maybe you have a lazy grandson who could use some accountability. Maybe you have a niece that just can’t seem to get past an abusive ex-boyfriend. Maybe you’re a single mom and want to be a part of something that you know will provide a better life for you and your children. Maybe you are in a low-income situation and staring down the barrel of crippling student loans if you choose to go to college. Maybe you’ve already gone to college and have a decent job, but lack purpose. Managing that rug warehouse not giving you that warm fuzzy feeling about your role in this world? If you associate with any of these statements, or any myriad of others, the military may be a good option.
Back in 2003, when the idea of the military was proposed to me I laughed.
“I can’t take orders,” I said.
I was already taking orders, the orders from my supervisor that summer I tweaked my back digging the earth to install aboveground pools. The orders from the snooty couple at Red Lobster as I brought them their 10th serving of endless shrimp just to get a $2 tip. We take orders all day and every day. It’s no excuse.
“I don’t want to die,” I said.
Now I want to be careful here. All military members take an oath to support and defend at the risk of paying the ultimate sacrifice. That should not be taken for granted.
What I’m saying is that when you look at the raw numbers, being in the military falls somewhere between truck drivers and construction workers on the fatalities per 100,000 workers scale.
Of course, statistics can be deceiving. Combat specific specialties in the military have higher numbers of fatalities, but many times those jobs are signed up for, not forced on people.
More than 95 percent of military members will never see direct combat. Most military members learn a skill. A skill that is translatable in the civilian sector — aircraft or vehicle maintenance, logistics, communications (IT), health care, or others. Military bases are structured like towns. Those towns need the same support functions that every other town needs — gyms, hospitals, restaurants, financial management offices, and anything else you can think of. Most of these functions are done by military members. Typically, when the folks doing these jobs deploy, they are doing the same thing, but in Kuwait, or Iraq or Afghanistan.
Since the day I left good old Winston-Salem for the military, I have stepped on five continents and nine countries. I have flown an airplane, jumped out of airplanes, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree (paid for by Uncle Sam) and worked with some of the greatest people on the planet.
My path is a bit unique, but everyone makes their own path. Many people may just do their four years and get out. At a minimum during those four years you will get trained in a skill, get full health coverage for you and your family, be paid a wage that can at least pay the bills, get out of your current situation (whatever that may be), and get three hots and a cot (as the old man told me on the golf course, referring to three meals and a bed).
If this resonates with you, give the military some thought. Feel free to reach out to me for any guidance.