Why I joined
Today, unlike in 1965 when the Vietnam war began, all of us that join go into the service under our own will. I was no different. Nobody made me walk into the recruiting station and join; I did it under my own willpower. I joined for a multitude of reasons: to pay off college loans, get a job in what I thought was electronics, get military experience, get a security clearance, start a tradition in my family of military service, get away from in-laws and my own family, make more money than I was making, and to seek revenge against people who attacked my country.
Upon learning that I came into the army with a Bachelors of Science in Electronic Engineering Technology, many people ask me, “why did you join at all and if you insisted on joining, why didn’t you join as an officer?” To answer these questions I must back my story up a little bit. The attack on the United States happened on September 11, 2001. I was in my sophomore year at DeVry University and there was a lot of talk about how bad the technology field was. This hardship on the electronic engineering field continued all the way up to graduation day. Those who started looking early for a job, only were met with a super-saturated job market. I was working full time at SAM’S Club warehouse as a supervisor and I hated it. So as soon as I was able to, I went in and signed up under the Delayed Entry Program. I felt good about joining up. While all my classmates were scrambling for jobs, I was set up with a guaranteed paycheck and better yet, I would have 100% of my college loans paid off. Not only that, but I would also be able to get my Masters Degree while I was in, and that would be paid for as well! So why didn’t I go in as an officer. Well, first of all I knew that being an officer was too political of a position for me to be in. Secondly, I like to work with my hands versus working with paper all day. Third, and most importantly, the Army will not repay your college loans if you go in as an officer.
My Recruiting Experience
My recruiter really didn’t have much to do with me. They didn’t call me up and convince me to come in and talk to them. I pretty much walked in and said, “I want to sign up, what can I do?” I took a practice ASVAB test and scored almost a perfect score. I’m sure that the recruiters were a little confused of why a “smart” guy would just walk in and practically demand to join. I must have baffled them so much that they thought they were dreaming.
After I passed the practice test, I was scheduled to go downtown to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to take the real ASVAB, get a physical, and to pick my job (which is called a MOS, or military occupational specialty). I went down to MEPS a few weeks later and took the test and of course passed it with a score that I was told, “can get me ANY job I want in the military.” I also passed my physical. But we cannot forget, MEPS is not an in-and-out shop. Your recruiter drops you off at 5am and you get to stay there and wait around in the waiting room until about 6pm. Remember this, because you get to pick your job after you have been sitting in a room with nothing but Bibles and magazines – lets just say you are not completely with it when you are finally about to sign your life away.
When I sat down with the counselor it was a bit intimidating - tons of fairly high ranking people sitting behind desks with paper everywhere. Where are my papers and how can you possibly keep track of them all? They asked me what I wanted to do and I told them that I had a degree and that I wanted to put it to good use. They immediately snapped to and whipped out their little MOS description book and pointed to two signal MOSes. And let me tell you, even though I have gone through the training for the MOS that I picked, I cannot tell you that I did what that book said I would do. It may have been written in some African tribal language because I didn’t understand it. But the counselor guaranteed me that it was THE job that coincided with my degree the most. Why would I disagree with him, after all, his job was to place me in the correct spot, right?
I decided before seeing the counselor that I wanted three things – a guaranteed first duty station in Germany, my loans to be repaid in full, and a sign on bonus of $6,000. So after I walked out, I went back to my normal life. After all, I had about 355 days to get ready since I was in the DEP due to me still being in college.
My Basic Training Experience
I left out of Phoenix and arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia on 30 June 2004. It was actually pretty liberating. I felt like I was about to start a great journey in spite of my knowledge of the difficulty that lay ahead in my training. Being the 4th of July weekend, I got to stay at the processing center and essentially eat, go to formation, eat, and then sleep. So instead of me being in and out in 4 days, I was there for almost 2 weeks.
Anyone that has gone to Basic Training could never forget their first day with the Drill Sergeants. They came to the processing barracks where we were all sitting on our duffel bags. They looked really nice. They didn’t even raise their voice. They just called out our names and we filed onto the bus. The trip from the processing barracks to the basic training barracks was probably about a 2 minute ride, but it seemed like 2 hours and was pin-drop quiet. When we pulled up, we all knew we had just entered Hell. The Drill Sergeant turned around and screamed at us to get off his bus. We all were scrambling to get out, but with 2 huge bags to carry and all of us instilled with fear, it wasn’t a pretty site. Now that I think about it, it was much like when the Holocaust victims got off the cattle cars. If you were too slow, you were either trampled or yelled at to start doing pushups. I remember the guy in front of me tripped and went straight into the concrete sidewalk.
For the rest of the day we did pushups, held our 80lb duffel bags over our heads, and did jumping jacks. They let us know that we were less valuable than dirt, a fact that wouldn’t change even when we graduated. For the first 2 weeks we ran shower drills where we were only allotted 30 seconds to shower or if the Drill Sergeant was feeling nice, then we got 15 minutes for the whole platoon, which was 63 men.
I suppose I could go on for pages of my Basic Training. But all you really need to know was that who ever you walked in there as, you were no longer that person when you left. You no longer knew your first name and everyone else higher than you was called “Sergeant” or “Sir/Mam.” The physical part wasn’t hard. Heck, even the mental part wasn’t hard. What was really hard was being completely cut off from the world – no news and occasionally a 5 minute phone call home. Not enough.
It was in Advanced Individual Training (AIT) that I first began to question what I was doing in the military. But I just laughed it off, after all, I was just scared of going to an actual Army unit right? My thoughts continued to race through my mind up until I graduated AIT. Upon graduation, I was awarded Hometown Recruiting since I did well in my AIT schooling. So I went home and tried to help out my old recruiting office. It was here that I realized that a lot of people didn’t view me as a hero. And so I questioned myself even more. I felt so uneasy about me trying to get other people to join the military when I myself was unsure that I quit my hometown recruiting after only the 4th day. It wasn’t until March 23, 2006 that I finally came to my senses and realized that what I was doing was wrong.
I came into the Army as a Christian. The church I attended (non-denominational) said nothing negative about war, at all, ever. In fact, it was very supportive about the whole thing. And I felt no different than they did. But after March 23rd, I realized that if I was to call myself a CHRISTian, then that would mean that I would have to be a complete follower of CHRIST. I couldn’t pick and choose what I wanted to believe. If Jesus said do this, then that is what I had to do. And it is really clear to me now of what the Bible says – love your enemies, do onto others as you would have done to you, etc. It doesn’t say go fight people who have wronged you or that you don’t like.
It befuddles me to wonder how Christians, myself at one point, could say that they were a peaceful religion and yet support war. It baffles me to see people justify something so horrible. Simply put, I refuse to be a follower of a peaceful Jesus and continue my service as a cogwheel in the war machine.
Nobody joins the military knowing exactly what they are getting into. I surely didn’t. The military is a huge machine and they know how to make people do whatever needs to be done – even if you don’t want to do it, the military knows how to make you do it. It was a sickening feeling knowing that at one point I was a sheep and did whatever I was told. I never questioned, I never spoke out when I heard stuff that I though was wrong, I never thought for myself. If people did think for themselves and questioned everything, then the military wouldn’t be able to exist.
I joined for the wrong reasons. And as I look back I feel like such an idiot for not realizing this earlier. Even after I had my epiphany, I waited around hoping that I would quit having these conflicting thoughts. Life as a conscientious objector is not a fun one, at least not when you are in the military still. As you sit here reading this, something brought you here. Maybe you too think that you are a conscientious objector. Maybe you just disagree with this Iraq War. Maybe you are totally for this war and just want to see what “weirdos” are out there being conscientious objectors. In any sense, I guess this is all I can tell you to do. Do your own thinking. Don’t let the military think for you. If your conscience weighs heavy with what you have done or might be asked to do, then maybe it is time to stand up and declare what you really think.