This post has nothing to do with computer science so if you read my blog only for that reason quit reading this particular post. It is Veterans Day. I have a tendency to think about things I want to forget on Veterans Day. Sometimes people write things down just to get rid of thoughts. Me, I am just happy to have thoughts.
On January 9th, 1974, forty years ago, I joined the United States Marine Corps. After four years and four months of “adventure” I get out, wait a year, and join the Montana Army National Guard. On November 2012 I retired out of the Guard. That is about 38 years of military service; three operations involving combat, a bullet in the leg, two ruptured disks from a jump out of a really low airplane, some lost friends and some really bad dreams. After 38 years it is hard to adjust to not being part of a rather exclusive men’s club. (Yes, I know, there are a lot of women in the military but I was always in combat arms units that did not allow women.) I am not adjusted yet. Whenever I hear the kids complaining about their day I ask them “Did anybody shoot at you or try to blow you up on the way to school today?” Most people do not understand this outlook. Perspective, it is all perspective.
I had a chance to see a lot of the world on the government’s bill. Thailand in 1974 was very, very bad. My first encounter with losing a close friend and I learned what “combat” means. Training 2nd Lieutenants for 2 years at Quantico, Virginia was a vacation. That is what got me thinking about being a teacher. Okinawa in 1977 was interesting most of the time. A month in Korea in 1977 was good and bad. Visiting with the Korean people and working with ROK Marines was great. Chasing North Korean infiltrators was bad. I visited the Philippine jungle for a week in 1977. A helicopter crash resulted in 24 dead Marines who I helped recover from a mountain side. Very bad week. Finishing off the USMC as a weapons instructor in Camp Pendleton, CA was a summer camp. A beach house in San Clemente and a sports car; what more could a 24 year old need? After the Marines I had the money and the desire to go to college. After the Marines college was stupidly easy. I tried ROTC for a year. I had major issues with 20 year olds that thought combat would be an exciting adventure. At the time I had not managed to deal with some left over issues. Now it is called PTSD. Back in the late 70’s a lot of combat veterans drank a lot due to left over issues. I did not drink. I sat on hilltops by myself. Cheaper than drinking. My doctor says I still have issues but any combat vet that thinks they do not is fooling themselves.
You would think the last thing a veteran would want to do is go back in the service after an event filled four years. Robert E. Lee has the gist of it when he said “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.” Certain aspects of the military can be addicting. So into the Guard I go. At the time almost half my Guard unit was made up of veterans. It was more like the Boy Scouts than the military for many years. In the 90’s the Guard started to change. It became much more focused and more serious. We sent Guard troops to Kosovo and the Sinai and it was apparent things were getting hotter for the Guard. 9/11 really woke things up. Instead of drills on just Saturday and Sunday, Friday nights got added on. Instead of two weeks in the summer it was now three. In December 2004 I am off to Iraq for a year. By that time about half the units in Iraq were Guard or Reserve. My unit was on the northern edge of the Sunni Triangle. It was called “very active”. Lots of IEDs and lots of snipers and more lost friends.
Hard to believe but I really do miss the military. There is a sense of camaraderie involved that cannot be found in any other environment. Being shot at or having people try to blow you up is a bonding experience like no other. And there is no rush like going into a hostile territory knowing the probability of getting shot at is pretty high. It adds a certain appreciation to life. The military has provided me with some of the best moments of my life. It has also given me by far the worst moments.
By today’s rather vague definition I was and am a geek. I look like a geek and talk like a geek. I have been called that for years and I pretty much consider it a badge honor. I read Kipling in Thailand (after all, India was only a skip and a jump away sort of), carried Shakespeare with me to the field in Quantico (the Sonnets, not the plays) and sat in the barracks playing with math for fun. None of my buddies understood any of this. I was also a geek who could put a bullet in a cantaloupe sized object at 800 yards. I was a geek who survived several close moments were enemies did not survive. I was very good at a very non-geek profession. Maybe it is in the blood. My father started fighting wars in 1939 as a volunteer with the Finish Army during the Winter War with the USSR, was a destroyer man and UDT member in WWII, a regimental scout in Korea and a 1st Sergeant for an infantry unit in Vietnam. A total of 26 years in the military.
I cannot get away from who I was and what it has made me. I really do not want to escape that past, it is me. Being reminded of that 40 year date gives me a weird feeling. That is the date that the events that made me started.