It wasn’t until a computer at the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. was stolen a few years back, that I realized I was a Veteran!
Joining at a time when the Military was politically unpopular, I rarely spoke of my experience in the Army Reserve and hardly paid attention to the life habits I learned in training.
But, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and particularly after 9/11, I have been forced to be much more vocal about my beliefs and opposition to these actions. Unfortunately this defiance is often viewed as unpatriotic and nonsupportive of our troops. To this response I say, “I served for the right to my opinion because I believe so strongly in the freedom to choose – did you?” While this may offer a snappy retort, it does little to reflect the knowledge I gained from being a member of the US Armed Forces. So…here are what I consider to be the most important lessons I learned from my experience…
- Scan Your Sector – In boot camp, when you get on the firing range, there are very specific orders one must follow. These rules reinforce training meant to keep you and your fellow soldiers alive under all circumstances. Scanning your sector involves keeping a roving eye out for anything unusual in the environment, enemy operatives or threats to the environment. This lesson has kept me safe on the streets for years, safe at work by being vigilant of a rapidly changing environment and helps keep me safe by quickly assessing the situations changing around me.
- Do Your Pushups – Boot Camp at 18 was easier than it would be at 30, 40 or 50, but since I could do and have always done push-ups, I have been able to maintain a level of strength unusual for a woman of my current age. A full body, weight bearing and nonimpact exercise, push ups can be done anywhere at anytime, adapted for injury, infirmity or disability…and easily measures increases or decreases in strength. Per my Pilates trainers and physical therapist, do them slow, don’t drop past your elbows and maintain the core.
- Stay at the Front of the Formation – Three to six mile runs every morning with 100 people, give or take, taught me a lot about myself and what it means to lead. Those at the front of the formation set the pace for everyone to keep and were encouraged not to drop out by the sheer numbers of folks behind pushing us further on our path. Even before the Army I strove to be the best athlete, reader, spelling champ or student I could be cause I always wanted my gold star at the top!
- Your Team is Only as Strong as the Weakest Member – While setting the pace at the front, there may be team members at the back falling behind. If you get to where you are going without all of your team, you may have set your own record, but you will have lost overall at being a true leader. Remember, bring others along and never, never leave your friends behind. Lives may depend on it.
- Know Where You Rank – One of the things I enjoyed most about the Army was knowing exactly where I stood. I was a Private, with no power, no authority and at the complete mercy of my superiors. Orders were meant to be followed, unless so outlandish one was willing to risk mutiny. This made life infinitely easier cause there was no confusion about the rank. If one could meet the standards for promotion it happened, and there were few hidden agendas to navigate unlike a civilian work environment. Today I use this as a metaphor for consistently reassessing my skills, knowing market trends and finding out what the key players in the field are doing.
Talking with other Veterans about this article, gave me such amazing perspective about the broad and lasting effect of the Military experience, I was actually sentimental.
We know about the PTSD, the amputations, the head injuries, etc. We know how the Military disproportionately fills the rank and file of infantry and high risk, low tech jobs with the marginalized, poor and disenfranchised. We know, or should know about the difficulties facing the future of the many families who have suffered loss and tragedy, yet move forward without adequate treatment, rehabilitation or financial support. And we know our own lawmakers are more concerned with partisan politics than real support. See this post for more details…
But…after the dust settles…I will always contend, it was one of the most important experiences of my life. And…42 years later, I am still drawing on the life lessons and skills, learned from boot camp and beyond.