As if it was yesterday, I can still remember the day I enlisted in the Army. It’s like a dream that replays in my sleep every night and which once seemed like an adventure to a once young man. Now, however, being in the Army seems to be a necessary evil I can never quit.
Once upon a time I had an adolescent mindset that was naive enough to think I could join the Army, follow in my older brother’s footsteps, and bring honor to my family’s name. I thought I could become a hero that lives happily ever after.
What a croc.
If only I knew at 18 what I know now–I could have told myself I was wrong. Yet I wouldn’t go back and tell young me not to join. No, not ever because I have no regrets for joining because it gave me the beautiful woman I have today, and that gave me my daughter. Instead I would have just told young me I was a fool to believe that bullshit video that the recruiter let me watch, not to mention all the stupid childish fantasies I created in my head from growing up watching American action films. But unlike a movie, at the end of the day life continues on for a soldier and the action-packed heroic war scenes are just fiction.
After basic training and scout school, I arrived at my first duty station in Fort Hood, Texas, where I was interviewed by E-6 Staff Sergeant Sample who said he was looking for good soldiers who could be members of his Personal Security Detachment, or PSD team. I remember the question that he asked me and the other new scouts that arrived with me:
“What did you all join the Army for? What is more important to you—money or honor?”
I didn’t hesitate to answer, and after I gave my response, Staff Sergeant Sample looked at me, smiled, and nodded in approval. He then quickly looked over my most recent physical fitness and weapons qualification scores and for reasons still unknown to me today, he selected only me and my battle buddy, Gonzales.
The two of us had only been with the PSD team for about seven or eight months before we were deployed to Iraq where we finally got to experience the side of the military that we originally enlisted for. Life as a soldier is nothing if you never get to experience the exciting adrenaline-fueled thrill of combat which is ultimately the real driving force behind why young men first join the military.
My deployment, which seemed like a lifetime, was filled with hundreds of experiences that randomly spark memories in my mind today and at times I least expect: the glow of a cigarette on a dark and quiet starlit night or a wave of heat that takes my breath away when I get off the plane from California to Texas to see my family—just like the heat when I walked off a C-130 and took my first steps on an airfield runway in Iraq.
Thankfully, even with all the mortar rounds and improvised explosive devises that my platoon found in our paths, no one was killed. Yet Jex, one of my good battle buddies who I met in basic and scout school, was killed in Mosul, Iraq, the same time I was deployed. He and I met in training and bonded because we both had family from a little town near Buffalo, New York, called Hamburg Village. We were even stationed together in Fort Hood at the same barracks, though in different squadrons of the same unit.
Oddly enough, Jex was also placed on the PSD team. His truck drove over an IED and he was killed along with the rest of his crew—the gunner, the driver, and the truck commander who was a lieutenant colonel. When I first became aware of Jex’s death, I was in shock for many reasons, but mainly because the war in which I had been living for months without any incident was now a very real and very dark place that showed me it can take my life whenever it wishes.
Six years have passed since I returned from deployment, and even with all of my experiences and friends that I have lost and all the reasons I have told myself I would never continue a life in the Army—I foolishly find myself still needing some reason to hold on to it, and for that reason I am still bound by it. Now almost a decade and counting, I am serving in the Army today because—unlike the Army which doesn’t need me—I still need it. And until that changes, I’ll be replaying over and over that first day I enlisted.