Published 3 October 1991 in The Carolinian (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), pp. 5, 6
Army offers training, teaches self-discipline
by James M. Wallace
When I was a student here in Fall 1985, the threads of my life entwined to form a rope that I could either use to pull myself out of the pit I found myself in, or to hang myself. In retrospect, I did a little of both.
Six years ago, I found myself in college with no real reason for being there and going into debt for the privilege. I had spent the previous summer working in a convenience store and dreaded the thought of enduring another dead-end minimum wage job.
Worse, a recently graduated buddy of mine had come into my store one day and told me of his plans to spend a month or two in Europe before he started grad school. I remember thinking, "Great, he's going to Europe, and I'm stuck in North Carolina caught in the job of the damned."
Over the previous nine months, my family had buried three of my great-uncles, and my forty-two-year-old uncle had been slowly dying of cancer. Life was too short. It was time for a decisive change.
The Army offered a legitimate alternative. I had been seeing Army College Fund commercials all summer. For a four-year enlistment and $1,200, I could get $25,200 tax-free for school. While one couldn't get rich on military pay, it was better than minimum wage, and went a lot further. I could enlist for assignment to Germany, spend two years in Europe, and get paid for it. And I could finally satisfy the sense of obligation to serve my country that I felt.
I swore the oath of enlistment on September 28, 1985. I was overwhelmed by the realization that I had just sworn away the next eight years of my life, and possibly, my very existence. But I had gotten everything that I wanted, and I was prepared to pay the price for it.
Our drill sergeant had told us, "The Army is what you make of it." I endured much over the course of my four years of active duty, and not only survived, but thrived. I was eventually promoted to sergeant and was rather well-decorated for my service. I always tried to make the most of my Army experience no matter how little it seemed to be giving. In the process, I reaped benefits that the VA isn't required to pay out even if it could.
Through exercises in discipline such as marching in formation, polishing my boots, and standing formal inspections, I enhanced my self-discipline, which I had sorely needed. For the most part, I now do what I must without regard for my personal desires. My training has instilled in me a driving need to accomplish my mission regardless of the personal cost. Whether it's a class project, a course, or ultimately, my degree, I have to get the job done and done well.
My military experience also increased my self-confidence. I know that I can handle anything that life throws at me. After four years in the Army, the rest of my life is easy.
All of this served me well last year when I was called to duty for nine months at Ft. Bragg's hospital as an activated reservist during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. My country needed me, and I was grateful to be there and to do my part. It was what I had trained and sacrificed for.
The skills, habits, and attitudes I acquired in the service will be useful to me in my future professional life as well. Like the ad says, "Get an edge on life," and an extremely well-honed edge at that. When life gets tough, a nice sharp edge comes in handy.