Why I Joined the Army And What I Learned From The Experience

When I was growing up my mom made certain that my sister and I understood that Veteran's Day and Memorial Day were not just days out of school to be lazy or a day off work for adults to barbecue and drink. They were days to reflect and be grateful for those who sacrificed.

She was a young woman during the Vietnam War and had been deeply affected by the way veterans were treated upon return and had a high school boyfriend take his own life after coming home from war. She knew the price that people paid for our freedom and used military holidays as an opportunity to pause and give thanks.

I remember visiting my great grandma's house as a little girl and feeling so much admiration for the men in uniform on her mantel. They looked so tough and handsome. The old man who lived across the street had served in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, etc. He gave me many of his Army medals and ribbons and told me G-rated war stories. I found it fascinating.

I remember sitting in my high school history class thinking that the common theme in most of the stories was the Army. Many of the people in our history books that made a meaningful impact had served.

One afternoon during my senior year an Army recruiter approached me and asked if I was going to college and how I was going to pay for it. I said yes to college and no idea of how I would pay. She told me to go home and ask my mom. So I did, and her answer was, "I guess you better get a job." Ha! I had one but wasn't making enough to afford college.

I went back the next day and told the recruiter I wanted to join. My mom knew nothing of this, in fact, I spent weeks getting physicals, taking tests, picking what job I wanted and when it came time to sign an 8-year contract I apparently wasn't old enough. Oops!

The recruiter called my mom and asked her to come sign a waiver. She was stunned and said no. I got on the phone and reminded her that it was her fault I was patriotic and if she didn't sign now I was just going to join when I turned 18 anyway. She reluctantly came to the office, signed the papers, and proudly took pictures as I raised my right hand and I swore in that day.

Oddly enough, I didn't use the GI Bill or any military benefits. I turned down the $8K bonus if I'd become a nurse to be a diesel mechanic instead. The military was never about the money, it was about the service and the experience. I took a lot of pride in being a part of something so big with so much history. It was an honor to give back to my country.

Those years taught me so much about life, discipline, how to "suck it up" and push to my breaking point and beyond. There were times I was full of pride and times when I hated every second of it. I learned how to deal with sexual harassment, what it felt like to be a minority, and how to work as a team with people even if you do not like them personally. I learned about integrity, and honor, and doing the right thing even when no one is looking. And, as a Drill Sgt, I learned how to make it look like you have your shit together even when you don't.

I got what I wanted from the Army. The sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, and the feeling of pride for being part of what makes our country so great. On days like Veteran's Day, I feel a sense of nostalgia for that time in my life, being a part of this incredible group, and gratitude for all of the people who served and continue to serve.