Friday, May 30, 2008

The Journey Begins

The fun part of my decision to join the Guard came when I had to bring it up with The Wife. (Who read the blog last night, BTW, and asked me to assure you: she STILL thinks I’m an asshole!) I knew that wasn’t going to be an easy conversation. Of course, knowing that didn’t prepare me for her initial response, which went something along the lines of . . . “Are you out of your fucking mind? No way in hell! No, no , NO,NO NO!!!!!!!” As I recall, she stormed out of the room after that, refusing to speak to me for the rest of the night. Luckily for me, The Wife is a rational woman. She came back to me to discuss it the next day and we had nearly a ten second conversation before she said something to the effect of . . . . “Are you out of your fucking mind? No way in hell! No, no , no, NO, NO!!!” We set it aside for another day, then took it up once more until . . . “Are you out of your fucking mind? No way in hell! No, no , no!” This went on for a week or two until The Wife finally reduced her emphatic statements down to the simple, yet poignant: “You’re an asshole, but if you need to do this . . .” Now, she just shakes her head a lot and uses the short form: “You’re an asshole.” Luckily, she smiles when she says it (usually!) That’s when I knew it was all gonna be cool. She’s been calling me that for twenty(+) years now . . . If she ever stops I’m gonna get worried.

The next step was to contact a recruiter. I’d been hanging about on the National Guard discussion board for the better part of a year and there was a recruiter from NJ on there who seemed pretty knowledgeable and with zero tolerance for bullshit (a man after my own heart!) so I shot him an e-mail with my basic info. He called me the next day and his first question –after seeing my age- was: “How serious about this are you, really?” Seems the man had been burnt by a few guys my age who were just mid-life crisis-ing and bailed before taking the oath, after he’d put in months of work getting them squared away. I assured him I was 100% on board and we moved forward. The first step was paper work. I have come to realize that there is no organization on the planet as fond of killing trees as the U.S. Army. Holy crap! I filled out at least 20 different forms, all of them with hundreds of questions before I could even consider starting the enlistment process.

The Recruiter scheduled me for a trip to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) on a Friday. That meant we had to be at the facility by 4:00 on Thursday night. I was warned that since I had to have an “over 40” physical that I couldn’t eat anything after 6:00 p.m. that night. No worries, they serve dinner to you at the hotel. Yea well, not so much! We got there at 4:00 and I was immediately pushed into the MEPS process. I had to sign in, get ID checked, etc. Then they took me straight down to take the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB is a series of tests in different areas (math, algebra, reading, mechanical knowledge, etc.) that tell the Army what types of jobs you are equipped to handle. Each Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), or what normal folks call a job, has a minimum score requirement for the tests that correlate to the position. For example, to get a job as a 68W I had to get a min. of 105 General/Technical score (combo of math, science & reading – I got a 142) They also total up/average out all your scores on the various tests to give you a percentile score (AFQT) that shows how you did in comparison to everyone else who’s ever taken the test. I got a 97, which means I tested out in the top 3% of everyone in the military. Yup, I’m da man!

Anyway, the Asvab took about 1-1/2 hours, and then I had to wait another hour for the bus to the hotel, so I didn’t get there until after 9:00 p.m. so guess who wasn’t allowed to eat dinner? To top it all off, I had to share a hotel room with a young man who was shipping out the following morning. He was nervous and couldn’t sleep so he had the TV on all night. He also had his cell phone on and his family and friends kept calling to wish him luck/say goodbye one last time . . . ALL FRIGGIN’ NIGHT! As it was, I didn’t get into the room until after 10:00 and I had to be up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the bus back to MEPS for my physical. I think I managed a total of ten minutes of sleep that night. Of course, when we got downstairs the hotel had breakfast for everyone before we left . . . for everyone except yours truly of course. No eating allowed for my ancient ass! By the time we got to MEPS at 5:00 a.m. I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and feeling just a wee bit cranky. What a way to start off my military career, huh?

The day at MEPS rates its own post, so I’ll sign off now and dazzle you with that next week.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Post #3

Ok, this will be the last of my “Why” series (cuz it’s starting to get WAY too whiny and preachy!) – and I call it the PRIVATE WHY!

Am I the only one who feels the need to DO something with their life? The need to make a serious difference that only I can make? The need to add something to society that is uniquely ME? Maybe not . . . maybe I am (as The Wife tells me) just frikkin’ nuts.

The Wife likes to point out that I’ve made a unique contribution to the world by being a father to The Boy; that I’ve added something to him and what he’ll do that nobody other than me could have. That’s true, and I’m really proud of that. I think he’s a remarkable kid who is going to have a major impact on the world. Still, there’s a part of me that finds that . . . limiting? Maybe it’s just ego, but the idea that my only reason for existence is to enable someone ELSE to do important things is disquieting to me. It makes me feel like I’m the guy who makes the rubber gaskets they use for the space shuttle – important, sure, but pretty much replaceable and mundane, ya’ know? It doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t think that’s the scope of my existence. I feel I should be helping other people. I feel I should be giving something of myself to more folks than just my family and friends.

I’ve been a fantasy writer for years now because I’m drawn to the ideals that are so common in the genre: courage, self-sacrifice, honor, honesty, and determination. I’ve been looking for a place to live up to those ideals for my entire life. I tried churches, sports, schools, martial arts, leagues, work, and volunteer organizations. All of them (‘cept maybe church . . . but y’all know how I feel about that!) had some part of what I’m looking for but nothing seemed to have them all. The only organization I know of that tries for all those things is the military. Oh, don’t misunderstand; I’m no starry-eyed kid expecting a perfect world in the military. I understand the levels of stupidity and pointlessness that exist therein! Here’s the thing though: the military are the only ones who try –and I mean REALLY try, not just say it- to reach those ideals. Too many of the things I’ve been involved with have actively been opposed to those ideals. They’re about self-interest, advancement, and personal glory/power. That doesn’t work for me.

This country was established by men who thought the ideals of the greater nation were more important than their own comforts. They sacrificed everything –even their lives when needed- for the sake of an idea that we are one people who will stand for and defend each other, even unto death. Too many in this world see that sacrifice as a joke, the stupid actions of morons brainwashed into an unthinking patriotism, that is nothing more than the pretty lies of the ruling class.

Sorry, I don’t agree.

We stand and fall together. If I won’t protect you, how can I expect you to protect me? How can I expect you to defend the ones I love? Not everyone will see that . . . not everyone will step up to do their part, but I believe enough of us will. Enough of us will stand and that is how the nation goes on. It’s how we grow, improve, and expand. Remember the old shampoo commercial: “I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on . . . and so on . . .”? If I stand, then someone else will also . . . and so on . . . and so on . . .

I’ll end with two quotes that I think sum it up nicely:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
- Voltaire

From here on out, the details of my journey: beginning with my first call to the recruiter.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Why Post #2

This one we shall call: The Public Why!

If you've been around here a bit, y'all know I'm active with my son's Boy Scout troop. It's a great program, with a lot of fantastic kids and adults involved. We are -naturally- pretty focused on civic duty, personal responsibility, and citizenship with the kids. I've spent 4+ years now teaching these young men about what it means to be an American and how they should take personal responsibility for themselves and their communities.

Strangely, some of them actually listen.

One of the boys I taught is now a Lance Corporal in the USMC, expecting to deploy to Iraq very soon. Another is a Midshipman at the US Merchant Marine Academy. He'll be graduating as a Marine Corps officer in another two years. One of my boys is a volunteer in the local Civil Air Patrol squadron. Four of them (including The Boy) are involved in high school ROTC programs, three with the intent of attending US Military Academies (again: The Boy!) and the other considering the idea. Some of the younger boys have expressed interest in the military as well. Now, I'm not saying I caused this. Hell, I don't even think I played a very big part in their decisions ('Cept maybe The Boy), but I know I played some very small part. So, part of my decision process came about because I had to answer a very simple question:

How could I encourage children I care about to do a dangerous thing I'd never done myself?

The answer of course is, I couldn't. People shake their heads at my age and think I'm crazy for doing this but I think just the opposite. Crazy is sending 18 year old kids, who've barely had a chance to begin their life, to do this stuff. The argument I hear most often is: "But you're married! You have a kid!" Yea, I am and I do. To me that means I have two very good reasons to do everything I can for this country. It also means that I've had twenty years to enjoy with a woman I adore (and adores me, though she still thinks I'm an asshole!) and fifteen years to spend with the greatest kid any father could ever hope for. That's a damn sight more thatn most of these kids putting on a uniform and going overseas have ever had. Hell, most of them haven't even had a chance to get their first legal beer yet! (and trust me - I've had WAY more than my fair share of those!)

Fact is (though The Wife hates when I say this) in my view I'm a lot more expendable than those kids. If I die, I have savings, security, and insurance out the ass to see my family through. If I die, my wife and son will be heart-broken but they can both understand the reasons behind it and they'll survive. Can you say the same about parents who'll never see their child again, or infants who will never know their mother/father? I also think folks my age are better equipped (mentally) to deal with the intensity of war. We have more life experience to draw on, we've lost loved ones already, been through tough times and learned to bounce back. I think that experience can help the young folks I'll be dealing with. I think they'll feel safer knowing there's somebody nearby with some age and experience behind them. I definitely think they'd like that in their Medic.

At the end of the day, I understand the physical demands of a soldier's life are best handled by young men and women. It sucks that they have to bear that burden so young but I get it. Thing is though, I'm one of those few guys (Now! Last year, not so much . . .) lucky enough at my age to be in shape to handle the physical demands. So how do I sit on my couch watching the Yankees every night while young kids do a job I could do just as well?

I don't. I get off my ass, raise my hand, and take the oath.

And that's what this ol' boy did.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Post #1

The "Why" question deserves some attention. In point of fact, I have a feeling it's going to require more attention than just a single post (Ooooh! I smell a series!!!) So, allow me to break this down into components. We'll start with the first reason, which we shall call:

Patriotic Why! (ya' know, cuz it's my blog and I'll call it any damn thing I want, so there!)

I'm a fan of this country. No doubt about it, I am a dyed-in-the-wool, flag wavin', Star Spangled Banner singin', John Wayne movie watchin', fan of the U.S. of A! I think this is the best place and time in all of history to live. I truly do.

Of course, that has damn-all to do with why I joined the Guard.

Seriously, patriotism was the last thing on my mind. At least, not the hand over your heart, tears in your eyes as Old Glory goes by, kind. My style of patriotism is a little more . . . intellectual? Yea, that's a snobby word but it's the only one that comes to mind, so it'll have to do.

America, to me, is less about the country than it is about her people. This is a nation of generally decent folks. (Even though I can think of a few dozen right off the top who I wouldn't mind seeing hit by a large truck . . .) It's been the People in this nation who have been there to help me whenever I needed it. Not just family and friends mind, but total strangers at times. It's been the People in this nation who've fought the causes I was passionate about (but too damn lazy to get off my own ass to fight for). It's been American People who've stood against enemies, stood against their own government, marched when it was needed and sat in the streets if that worked better. Americans have rushed to give money, food, and medical supplies to every tragedy across the world and they done so just cuz it was the right thing to do. People in this nation have made sure everyone had a chance at an education, the possibility of a better life, and a basic standard of living that most civilizations throughout history would call opulent. It was the People who did all this, not the nation, nor the government, but the People.

My People.

I owe them for that. I've lived with the benefits they provided without ever once in my life doing anything to thank, repay, or at the very least do my fair share of helping move this democratic experiment of ours along. I figure it's about time I stepped up and did my part. I've never been one to enjoy owing a debt. Not to credit card companies, utilities, and most especially not to my People! (Yo, props to my peeps! Sorry - had to be done.) Time to pay up. These People have given me a fantastic family, a life far happier and secure than someone with my background had any right to expect, a damn good job, and the ability to do what I want, where I want, when I want, in any damn way I want.

I figure that rates a few years of wearing a uniform to call it even.

Yup, that's about as patriotic as I get. The rest is more personal and comes in the next few "Why" posts!


Monday, May 19, 2008

Where It Began . . .

(cue Neil Diamond music, please!)

The first thing everyone says about my decision to join is always: "Why?" Now, I guess everyone who joins the military gets that question but I think maybe I get it a bit more. Few of them ever actually say it out loud but I can hear the rest of the question they leave unspoken: "Why, at your age?"

It's cool, I don't take offense. From most folks "rational" viewpoint, I'm an asshole (and yes, in case you're wondering, The Wife has used that word many times during our pre-joining conversations!) They see a reasonably successful, middle-aged guy, who has spent most of his life waaayyy overweight, sitting about on his ass, and they instantly think "Mid-life crisis!" What the hell do I know? Maybe it is, but I don't really think so. I think it's me finally having the right circumstance to do the only thing that I (and by that I mean ME and not the me other folks wanted me to be.) have ever really wanted to do. It's funny . . . I remember a conversation I had with The Boy a few years back and he asked me if I had anything in my life that I regretted. There was only one thing: "I never got a chance to be a soldier." At the time, I thought my chances were gone, because of my age. Turns out fate had other plans!

Let me back track a bit to give you an insight into how this all played out for me. Let's go back to when Jim was in grade school (picture a pudgy dork with long hair and horn-rimmed glasses, ala 1972 . . . yea, that's the kid!) I had one goal that I kept with me all through my school years. I wanted to attend the Air Force Academy. I wanted to be a pilot. (Fighters, of course . . I was heart broken when I found out my vision would never allow for that!) Well, when I was 14 I left high school (and home . . . if you need details, go back through older posts!) so that ended that plan. My next decision was enlisting in the USMC at 17. I needed parental permission for that and my old man refused . . . he hated the military. He was a disabled Korean War vet and wanted his children nowhere near the service. He spent the next year talking me out of the military life, and I was young enough to listen . . . for a while. My next go-round with the Corps came when I was 20. I met with a recruiter and was all set to head off to MEPS for my medical & swear in. I ran into one problem though - I was dating this fantastic woman who flat-out wanted no part of a military life. This woman (aka: The Wife) was pretty firm on that and I had to make a decision: her or the military. (To be fair, she knew nothing about my intentions, so it wasn't like she gave me an ultimatum or anything. I just knew that choice -at that time- would have ended our relationship. I think I made the right choice there!)

So, I put the entire thing aside, but I still thought about it a lot. I remember when Desert Storm happened, telling The Wife that if the President put out a Call To Service I was going. She wasn't happy, but she understood (sort of!) That didn't happen so again, I put it aside. Then came September 11th, 2001. I don't have words enough to cover that, so I'll just say I decided to join the National Guard and do my part. The enlistment age at the time was 36 (or 38?) and I was only 34 so I figured I was set. Well, fate stepped in again. I had to change jobs and I wasn't in a position where I could leave for an extended period. Just to be sure I got the point, fate threw a second round of cancer at the wife not too long after. By the time I'd cleared all that, I was past the maximum enlistment age. I was disappointed but I figured it was just something that was never meant to be and I moved on with life. Still, it was my one and only regret.

Fast-forward to June of 2006 and I visit the doctor, find out I'm a heart attack/cancer patient/diabetic/corpse waiting to happen and I decide to make some major changes to my life. I become a vegetarian, start losing weight, feeling better overall and that prompts me to start exercising. No biggie, right? Just trying to keep myself alive and have a better life but then something odd happened: in a casual conversation with The Boy, he tells me a buddy of his told him the Army had raised it's enlistment age because of the war. It was just a passing statement, but it caught my attention. I jumped online and voila! The Army is taking old farts like me, up to age 42 and my useless self is only 39 (at the time) woo-hoo! Well, I decide I'll give it one last shot. I didn't tell anyone at first because I didn't see any point. I needed to lose nearly 100 lbs. (yup, you read that right: a one followed by two zeros!) before they'd even consider me. I didn't have the greatest track record when it came to weight loss so I figured why start a ruckus when the chances of making it are so slim?

Well, obviously, not as slim as I thought. With the motivation of finally getting to do this, I kept working out, kept on a careful diet, and dropped enough weight to consider contacting a recruiter. There were a lot of things besides the weight that might have kept me out as well (many of them financial in nature!) and I wasn't getting ahead of myself. I figured I'd leave it up to fate without an argument. If it was meant to be, the dozen or so problems would resolve themselves. If it wasn't, then I'd just shrug and move on, no harm done. Hell, at least I was walking away thinner and healthier, right? Well, what can I say? Every damn thing fell perfectly into place -like a neat row of dominos- and I'm a soldier. (Well, soon to be anyway!)

I guess that gives you the pertinent facts of "how" but I didn't really get to the "why" of things, did I? Oh well, I have to leave myself something to write about in future posts!!!


Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Site

Well, I promised you a BIG announcement (ya' know: the three of you who still take the time to read this blog!) and here it is:

As of 20080513 (March 13, 2008 for you non-military foks!) I enlisted in the NJ Army National Guard as a 68W (pronounced: 68-Whiskey) "Health Care Specialist". Better known to most folks as a Medic.

You now see why I have been so intense about the exercise and weight loss portions of my life, as well as the attitude changes. This is a huge step for me and I'm as excited as hell! I realize it's not usual for someone to join the military at age 40 but then, those of you who've been reading my crap here for the past few years know I'm not a big fan of the "usual" anyway. :-)

I ship out for training at the end of January, 2009 (Yea, I know it's a ways off but it's the soonest I could get a 68W contract.) to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina where I'll spend 10 weeks trying to keep up with 17-year-old kids in Basic Combat Training. After that, it's of to Fort Sam Houston in (You guessed it!) Texas. There I'll have 16 weeks of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) on the 68W side of things. I'll graduate from there as a fully certified EMT-B with an extensive focus on trauma and combat injuries. Who knows? When I get home, I may even join the local volunteer EMS squad!

The focus of this blog has changed dramatically (ya think?). It's no longer about my writing, instead I'll focus on the journey ahead of me, from the very beginnings of how I reached this decision and -hopefully- I'll have the time and opportunity to let you in on the "Making of a Medic" at every step along the journey. Where the path leads, I have NO idea, but for now I'm thrilled to have taken the first steps onto the path.

My upcoming posts are going to focus on how I got to this point (ya' know: how I got my fat ass skinny enough to even consider this!) and what I've done so far in my three day old military career! :-)

Stick around folks, this could be fun!