I originally posted this commentary as a response to a soldier with whom I had served in Cold War Germany. She had asked as a comment to my status update of 12 January 2016 (Please refer to "Being All I Could Be; or, I Was Like This Before I Enlisted"), "Why in 'thee' Hell didn't you do 35 years!?!?!?" My response achieved a potency all its own and definitely merited rescue from the certain doom of Facebook obscurity, so I added it to Facebook Notes on 29 February 2016.
Being All I Could Be; or, The Best of Both Worlds
by Matt Wallace
This page was last modified on 1 March 2016.
Ah, sister, that's complicated, as you well know.
I seriously considered a career path which included becoming a linguist through the BEAR program, then later, after E5 or E6, OCS and MI officer. I reconsidered after running into "careerist inefficiency": a battalion S2 NCO biding his time until he could retire who always offered the excuse of being too busy servicing the battalion commander that he never had time to help an E4 get the security clearance he needed to get retrained in a critical MOS. When the battalion reenlistment NCO suggested getting the clearance through DISCOM, she confirmed my intuition that the ultimate problem was our toxic battalion headquarters which almost every soldier in the battalion distrusted for good reason. I read the writing on the wall and realized that no matter how good a soldier I was, I was always going to spend too much of my career getting around those who weren't. Maybe I should have gone around the battalion as suggested, but I decided to simply complete my original plan of doing my time to the best of my ability and returning to school having earned my Army college money.
When I was three or four months from ETS at Ft. Lewis, I ran into an E6 who had been in Tech Supply with me until he was promoted from E5 and got an intrabattalion transfer. As he always had, he greeted me, "Hey, Professor, you're getting really short?" I answered, with some enthusiasm, "Oh, yeah!" He responded, "So, you're looking forward to being a civilian again." I immediately corrected him, "I can never be a civilian again." His only response was a pained expression of concern and confusion. To help him, I elaborated, "After four years on active duty, I can return to civilian life, but I can never be a civilian again. I'm a veteran now." His face lighting up in joyful recognition was his only response, no other being needed. He clearly understood that while I was returning to the life I had lived before and was leaving soldiers like him to carry on for 20 or 30 years, I would never forget that I was a member of the American Brotherhood of Arms and that my allegiance would ever be with my brothers and sisters.
As does everyone who completes an enlistment contract and accepts a discharge, I sometimes think maybe I should have been a professional soldier. After all, I was a very good soldier which allowed me to readily complete the goals I had set for myself within the time available (Please refer to "The Compleat Heretic's Autobiography: Vital Statistics: Military Service"). No doubt I would have continued to perform at the same level had I pursued the career path described earlier. Even so, I had gotten everything I needed from the experience, and the time for my next experience had arrived. As a citizen-soldier, I paid the true price for freedom which allows me to more fully enjoy the blessings of liberty. As a citizen-soldier, I am a link between the military and the overwhelming civilian majority who have never served. As a citizen-soldier, my greatest duty is to help civilians understand that freedom isn't free. That, and to not choke out "damn civilians," those civilians who just do not get it and deliberately so.