I remember sitting in Spanish III, listening to the Army representative describe the most wonderful program I could imagine. They would take me to a school in Colorado, I believe, and I would learn another language. That would be my job–to become fluent–and every day under their instruction I would get closer and closer to that goal.
Looking around that room, I knew I wasn’t the only one who was excited. We all leaned forward in our chairs, smiles stretched across our faces; learning another language was exciting for this group of over-achievers.
Until someone asked the rather important question:
“But would we have to join the Army?”
“Yes, you would have to fulfill a commitment to the Army,” the young man explained.
We all groaned audibly, flung ourselves back in our seats, and the young man smiled, a smile showing his disappointment that the program he had described so beautifully, grabbing our interest, would not become a reality for anybody.
We weren’t going to join the Army; we were going to college.
Of course, no one ever really explained what joining the Army or any branch of the military would entail. In the community where I grew up, the military was reserved more for those who couldn’t get into college or for those rare few who participated in ROTC in high school.
I remember when the Marine ROTC program came to our school; I, actually, contemplated taking the classes, but I always found another course that I had to take instead, a reason ROTC wouldn’t work in my schedule.
So I never understood that the Army or any other branch of service was more was than the horrors of Basic Training I had seen in movies. I didn’t understand that not everyone would have to fire an M-16 at the enemy. I didn’t understand that I could still go to college and actually get money for college if I did ROTC at my university.
I was ignorant.
I did talk to a recruiter once, but I had no intention of joining the Army. I grabbed every bumper sticker and pamphlet from his table, put them all in a bag with the giant letters across it spelling ‘Army,’ and I convinced my friends I was going to join. My boyfriend whispered in fear, “If you join the Army, I’m going to have to break up with you,” and I remember thinking to myself You are so stupid. If I want to join the Army, I will whether or not you break up with me.
Of course, I was the stupid one as I continued to date him for another year and a half.
And I was the stupid one for having not sought out that hidden interest until a college degree had been under my belt for a few years.
But on days like the other day, as we celebrate as a community,
driving our old cars,
waving our American flags,
and remembering why we have gathered,
I find that familiar stirring again.
I don’t pray for my children to inherit the stirring, but if they have it, I will support them. And I will make sure that they understand.
Many, even within our own country, would like us to think that America is nothing special; we’re the same as any other country. I couldn’t disagree more. We have our periods in history that I wish we could go back and erase, but when I listen to the news and hear of the atrocities committed elsewhere, remember the reasons our young country was founded and the principles for which young men and woman continue to die in order to protect, I think we’re pretty darned special.
Special enough to catch the ears of some spoiled juniors in a Spanish III class.
Was joining the military presented as a realistic option to you growing up? Would you encourage your own children to join?