So, I’ve been thinking… well, what else is new? It seems to me that when I think back on when I enlisted with the Army, it doesn’t seem very real to me… or let’s put that another way, it didn’t seem real to me back then.
I’ve had to face some uncomfortable things about myself back then when I was getting ready to sign the enlistment paperwork and I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure out what motivated me to do things that I wouldn’t have ordinarily done.
Back then, I’ve come to realize that I was terribly confused about my life and what I’d like to do with it, who I would’ve liked to become, and what directions I should have been taking to be where I wanted to be. I had tried a number of different directions and I felt they just didn’t pan out the way I had hoped or intended. So, I think it was desperation that compelled me to enlist. Desperation for some sort of direction, for some sort of stable ground with which I could begin to define my life more clearly. Ironically, enlisting with the Army merely caused more confusion and turmoil in my life but, I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they had told me that back then. And I remember someone I once knew in the Army telling me, “Only people with no where else to go join the military.” Now, I don’t think that’s necessarily true for everyone but, for me that seemed to fit the picture. I got quite a chuckle out of that one.
So, I joined and I began what I call nowadays to “play soldier.” I say that because, as I said before, it didn’t seem very real to me. Being a soldier only became real to me when I was notified of my deployment. Before then, it was all make believe, as if living in a dream. Basic training, as much as it’s meant to be what it is, learning the basics of what you’re supposed to be as a soldier is still, in my mind, not real. You shoot at little plastic targets, you are safe and snug in the barracks, you are stateside, you know you’re going home eventually, life is still familiar even if you are in an unfamiliar environment because after all… it’s just basic training.
The idea of actual war, of actual killing, of actually being deployed overseas didn’t seem very real to me either. I can remember my recruitment sergeant brushing off the question of whether or not I would have to serve in a war saying, “Ahhh, that never happens. You’re National Guard, you never have to do that.” Drill weekends never amounted to much, a few formations, some small talk with the boys, plenty of boredom, perhaps a weekend of cleaning gas masks or something along those lines. So, I guess in some ways a certain innocent, ignorant complacency set into me as well. Naïve? Probably. But it is what it is.
So, when I was notified of my deployment, reality hit hard for me. Everything, all the illusions of “playing soldier” came crumbling down in a heartbeat and I realized that I had to actually become a soldier. And it was also then, in a flash, that I realized that I wasn’t really a soldier, that I didn’t agree with war and the effort of killing. But… I went, I went because I did feel a certain honor to the men and women who were going and it wouldn’t have been right if I hadn’t gone, my conscious wouldn’t allow that. But I made sure that I filed for Conscientious Objection when I returned home because my conscious also wouldn’t allow me to not take a stand against what was going on in Iraq and for that matter against the very idiocy of war itself which by then I had acquainted myself with all too much.
It’s weird. I’ve come to realize there is definitely a duality in me to this day. I still do think of myself as a soldier in many ways yet, I hate war and I hated Iraq in particular. Perhaps I am still living in my little pretend world. It’s a dichotomy that quite frankly, I can’t reconcile sometimes in my mind. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps I am just a mass of contradiction. Perhaps I am still just as naïve as I used to be. Perhaps my head isn’t screwed on right.
Should I have known the reality of the situation when I enlisted? Probably… but hindsight is wonderful like that and innocence, naivete, complacency can effectively throw the blinders on hindsight. Personally, I think I was young and had no idea what I was doing. I was just a guy trying to find direction and looked in the wrong place to do so out of desperation.