Miss Scarlett recently directed me to a TED talk given by Wes Moore called “How to talk to veterans about war.” I highly recommend you take a listen. It made me think maybe there are some of you interested in hearing a little more about how I went from sorority girl to soldier. If you know someone who was in the military, it is always an interesting and unique story that starts with the question “why did you join?” It’s also a nice way to show a veteran that you are interested and thankful for their service.
At the risk of aging myself, I will tell you my story. I graduated college August 11, 2001. What I could have told you about Iraq was what I learned when I was in middle school while my oldest brother was serving in the Navy during the Gulf War. What I knew about Afghanistan was even less. I hope I could have found either one of these countries on a map, but I’m not sure. At the time of my college graduation, I had been stuffing envelopes with resumes and cover letters to all the big magazines in New York City. Yes there was Internet, no I don’t know why I was using snail mail. I did get a few exciting acceptance letters, but I didn’t have the money to move to New York and work for FREE.
My other brother was full-on Army (HOOAH) and at the time working in recruiting. Yes, I was recruited by my brother and yes, my recruiter lied to me too ;). Two weeks before 9/11, I signed up for the Army. It was a sweet deal! My college loans would be fully paid off and I was guaranteed to be stationed in Europe. I had never been to Europe! My brother/recruiter told me that I would never deploy and if I did I would be staying in hotel-like rooms. WHAT could go wrong with this plan??
I went back home, where I was enjoying the good life — going out with my friends, sleeping in late and enjoying the I just graduated college and I don’t have to look for a job stress-free life. When my mom woke me up, saying “We’re under attack.” For some reason, all this educated but hung-over graduate could come up with was… there were bees in the house and this woman wanted me to wake up and kill them. Charming, right? But doesn’t that tell you how it never occurred to me that we could actually be “under attack?” Oh all right, I did get up, walked to the living room, looked at the TV and sat nearly comatose wondering what the eff was happening, when the next disaster was going to happen, when I was going to see the smoke from something outside, and how this changed my life. Again, I realize this is a very very selfish view, but aren’t most college kids looking at life through a soda straw (or a rum and coke straw)?
I continued to sit on my mom’s couch for days. My brother called to check on me and see whether I still wanted to go to basic training as scheduled at the end of October. Did I want to go to basic training? I had no idea what I wanted, but I wasn’t a quitter, and I had told everyone that was what I was doing… so sure. So I went.
I would spend two years in Iraq of the five years I served in the Army. I have loads of stories that I never tell. I learned more about life and myself in those years than I ever could have anywhere else, much of it is still sinking in. Although my brother may have stretched the truth about the living accommodations, he made up for it by letting me share his bunk during part of my first deployment while I lived in a tent. I’m sure I have cursed my brother’s name more than once for talking me into the Army, but I would not be the woman I am today, doing the work I do, with the values I have if it weren’t for that decision. I definitely did get my school loans paid off, and began to see the world – just not the most scenic spots first.
I am very proud to say that both my siblings and I served our country during times of war and all made it home safely. There are certain events in life that change you forever and joining the Army at the time I did was certainly one of them. Now not only can I identify both Iraq and Afghanistan and major cities of both on a map, I’ve spent time in both.
Would I have joined the Army a month later? I doubt it. Do I regret that I did? Not anymore.
This Memorial Day, don’t tell people to have a happy Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, to honor those who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Not everyone can tell you about their experiences like I can. Remember those that gave their lives and those still serving far away from home. Try to think of them while you are spending your long three-day weekend celebrating the start of Summer while grilling and drinking with your loved ones. If you need a little help, try tuning to PBS for the National Memorial Day Concert.