A couple of days ago a woman contacted me to say she was conducting a background investigation on the son of a friend of mine, who just enlisted in the Army; she wondered if I were willing to meet with her to share what I knew about him.
The young man in question had aced the ASVAB like a boss, and as a result had opportunities of the more sitting-in-front-of-a-computer, intel variety available to him. It makes sense they'd want to check he had a clean background and that upstanding citizens were willing to vouch for him if he were going to be involved in any kind of classified work.
Even so, I was surprised at the speed at which this thing moved. The investigator was willing to meet with me any time, anywhere. The US Army don't mess around. My friend told me that after asking her a bunch of questions, the investigator called to say she'd neglected to ask one thing, and that she drove all the way back another day to do so because the questions had to be asked in person. With that kind of seriousness abounding, I was naturally curious to see how this whole thing would go.
I'm not allowed to discuss the questions I was asked, but I can say the quick transition from mundane to life-or-death was truly startling. It was a little like being on a first date and having the conversation go from "What kind of music do you like?" to "Would you like to join me on a second, naked skydiving date tomorrow night?"over the course of a single bread stick. Lil unnerving. Still, I was happy to help out.
Yesterday morning I got a message from my friend, the young man's Mama, which was sent out to a bunch of friends and family members; in it there was a link to her son's Battalion's Facebook page. Yes, you read that right. The US Army has joined in the fun of social media, which I find both odd and a little reassuring. Odd, of course, because the ass-kickin' fear-inducing boot camp days seem a little tempered if there's somebody taking pictures of it all and posting them online, where proud Mamas and Papas and friends and family can make comments like "We miss you Benny!" and "C U doing rope things!" And they do. Of course they do. You can bet I would too, if that were my little monkey out there, but probably only because I'm sure they don't let the actual enlistees read these comments. Not yet anyway. I'm sure it wouldn't bode well for the cultivation of fearless soldiers.
I'm sure the balancing act is an incredibly challenging one, but I'm happy to see that the Army is doing what must be necessary to attract and serve well the people who have volunteered to serve for them--people who could have chosen so many other, less dangerous options.
I was talking to my friend's son just before he shipped off and after he'd already had to do some online training at home. What he described were videos of the "power of positive thinking" variety, which, I think, caught him a little off-guard, but which I was happy to know were now part of the drill. I mean, c'mon...who could argue with the idea of positive thinking? I found it much more appealing than the idea of drill sergeants standing with a foot on the neck of some terrified, floundering kid, screaming obscenities and insults about his Mama. I mean, that's probably part of it, too. But again...balance.
It seems that all the way around, the Armed Forces are learning to grow and change with the times. I was talking to a customer the other day and learned that he's long been a pharmacist for the V.A. I told him I imagined he's seen a big increase in prescriptions related to mental health over the years and he shared that he had indeed. This made me sad, knowing that so many soldiers return from service suffering the effects of PTSD, but it also gave me some sense of comfort to know that mental health care is finally being offered. Because, of course, it's not that soldiers haven't been returning from war with PTSD for many hundreds of years; we just didn't know how to diagnose and treat it.
As I write this, controversy rages on over a viral video depicting US Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. It's terrible, embarrassing, disgraceful. And the only upshot I can see is that it did cause outrage, and that the Marines identified in the video will likely have charges brought against them. I'll call that a certain kind of progress.
I don't know that I'll ever sort out how I feel about the Armed Forces. I will always, always advocate for the advancement of peace wherever there is conflict. I will likely always think our tax money would be better spent educating children than getting involved in foreign conflicts (with a few exceptions). At the same time, I do have a certain admiration for people who are willing to risk their lives fighting what they must believe are just wars, on behalf of others. I may not agree with them, but I know I'll never embody that kind of selflessness or valor. And though I'm not sure how it affects their ability to cultivate fearless soldiers, I have to say I do like the kinder, gentler version of the Army I'm seeing.
And to my surprise, when my friend told me about a year ago that her son was considering enlisting in the Army, I was shocked to find myself in strong support of the idea. He wasn't interested in college at this point, didn't know which direction he was headed, and could use a little, I don't know, molding. It was a big plus that he did so well on his exams, he was able to go into a field that will likely keep him out of combat. I am an auntie to this young man. I want him safe. I want his talents utilized. I want him happy.
I was especially proud that the young man, whom I've watched grow up from a little boy sitting in pajamas playing video games, to a teenager sitting in pajamas playing video games, to a young man, fresh from graduation and with the whole world of options available, was able to make this decision for himself. Proud that he took a step in the direction of his future--one that will hopefully help him discover some among what are sure to be many callings throughout his life.
And I feel lucky that I'll be able to be among the supporters seeking out his young, still-full-of-trepidation face among the other full-of-trepidation young faces in photo albums on the Battalion's Facebook page. I wish all those among them the finding of fulfillment in the midst of this phase of their young lives.
Is this an appropriate time for a battle cry?