Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not your typical U.S. Army recruit. Although, I would hope that recruits come from all walks of life, I have a creeping suspicion that I'm a one-of-a-kind case, which should make for an interesting experience in Basic Combat Training (BCT).
Needless to say, I'm enlisted and oath'd and in the delayed entry period — which I think breaks down, at least for me, into two phases. Rumspringa and Work Out Until You're Ready To Work Out For 10 Weeks.
Right now I'm in my proverbial Rumspringa, which is a fancy word for when Amish teenagers and young adults are entitled to leave their parents' home for a short period of time and do whatever they want. Granted, I'm not running around like other Amish young people on Rumspringa, doing crystal meth and getting an STD in Brooklyn. I'm just trying to enjoy my last few days of indulgence before the work begins.
OK, I'm not even Amish — I'm the furthest thing. In fact, I'm lost without my iPhone, laptop and various other time-wasting devices. That should also make for an interesting experience at BCT. And the extent of my indulgence is basically oversleeping my alarm clock — sweet mother of God, I woke up at 12:30 p.m. today and was almost late for work and didn't care — and eating fried everything and pasta and pizza and candy and anything else I really have no interest in eating again unless I'm offered a last-meal on death row or get a terminal illness.
That's not important. I joined the Army for a number of reasons, many of them personal. It certainly wasn't an easy decision.
But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, either.
I can’t quite remember how these guys recruited me — I think it was winter 2007 and I was sitting alone in a community college eating those terrible over-processed chicken nuggets that are nothing more than a fried shell surrounding a white sponge. And like a sponge, I was sitting alone, people-watching, writing, and passing time before my advanced music theory class. A tall recruiter with short black hair and a peaceful smile sat down next to me and asked if I had ever considered a career in the U.S. Army.
Just give them a short, quick “no” because they’ll own you, and if they draft you we’re moving to Canada. Grandmom has family in Canada. Remember our fun trip Niagara Falls? Canada isn’t so bad. You won’t get drafted. Just don’t join the Army. I think that was essentially the advice I got — being the first-born child — from my post-Vietnam era parents. I’m sure if I had said “yes” to that recruiter, their reaction wouldn’t have been as receptive as it was the third time around.
They called me a few days later and I told them I’d give them a call back when I had an answer.
I wasn’t just blowing smoke, either. I did, in fact, stand by my word and give the recruiting office a call back.
Seven years later.
Cut to somewhere in 2012. I’m no longer a pathetic community college student. I have a better taste in food — though I still kind of do like crappy chicken nuggets, which would be awesome if they serve them at BCT — and I’m a little more independent of mom and dad. I was 25 years old, had a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and already had been working professionally in the news industry for three years. I had just finished up a two-year stint as a newspaper reporter and photographer, having the time of my life in the best, most educational job ever. I had been promoted to Web Editor of our regional publication, covering the lower half of New Jersey. It was a good job with leadership roles; pay wasn’t awful, and I didn’t have any outstanding student loan debt. And then I got an email about public relations jobs (which are closely related to my field of work) in the Army — specifically the Public Affairs MOS.
So, as I said I would, I called them back. They didn’t remember me. It wasn’t even the same recruiters from seven years prior. But I called them back and we discussed the job opportunities and the benefits and set up an appointment and I cancelled the appointment and chickened out and then the real dilemma began.
The opportunity was on the table for the taking. Yes, I’ll do fine on the ASVAB and qualify for the MOS. I wasn’t worried about that. I remember the moment I hung up the phone when I told the SGT recruiter that I wasn’t interested, taking a sigh and saying “OK good. I’m not joining the Army.”
Then the regret set in. Normally, recruiters will call you back — or so I’ve heard — and try to twist your arm, but my recruiters were good. They let it go. For a few months the regret set in.
I told myself: I’m 25-years-old. The clock is ticking. If I don’t join the military and serve my country now, then I never will. And then it will be too late. And then the regret I’m holding in now — which is eating away at me — will be with me my entire life. Every day I’ll look at my life and recall how I never took the opportunity to join the military and serve my country. I’ll be too old. I’ll never get that chance back. I’ve only got one life to live. Get on that damn phone and call that recruiter back before it kills you. Because, no matter how many times I say “I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!” at basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., the regret will only be momentary — unlike the lifetime of guilt from knowing I could have joined the Army and didn't. Suddenly, the question of “what if I do join the Army,” became a lot easier to swallow than “what if I don’t.”
I told myself: You’re single, Jim. You’re in your 20s. You live with your parents. Take some initiative with your life. Yeah, you have a great job. Yeah, you have a fun life. Yeah, you have a full portfolio of news writing, two state-level journalism awards, two plays produced and published in book-form, a photography and filmography portfolio, the list goes on, etc. But there’s something missing.
Early in 2013, I called the recruiter and told him I was interested in setting up an appointment. We did. I met with him. We discussed the Public Affairs MOS — that it would build my portfolio for a career in journalism. Problem is, I already have a good portfolio and already had plenty of success with a career in journalism. Getting out of the Army and entering a dying industry wrought with uncertainty was not something I was looking for.
Then, he mentioned military intelligence. Foreign languages.
Now, we’re talking. Scored relatively well on the ASVAB. Scored high on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB), and made a choice to completely change my life, leave journalism, and become a Cryptologic Linguist for the U.S. Army.
So. That escalated quickly.
I’m shipping to Fort Jackson on Nov. 19, 2013. My entire family was supportive. The majority of my friends were supportive. When I told my co-workers and managers about the career move, they were shocked, but congratulatory and happy for me. I’m now in my last week of a career that I began in 2008 as a college junior.
I’ll miss it. I’ll miss my family. I’ll miss my friends. My cat, oh I’ll miss “Kitteh” terribly.
And I finish my proverbial Rumspringa on Monday to begin my physical training pre-boot camp. On Wednesday, I meet with the recruiter again — a former drill sergeant, himself — to plan the physical training and start training at a local park nearby the recruiting office.
Since I don’t have a newspaper to write for anymore, I’ll be writing about it here. I hope what I did inspires someone else to not be afraid of completely changing their life.
I’ll let you know how it goes.