It must have been the money for college. The recruiter talked about things like bonuses and special pay and your mind boggled with the possibilities. Or maybe it was because you didn’t have any plans after high school. You lived in a small po-dunk town with very few options and it seemed like a good idea at the time. All your friends had plans and you didn’t want to be the only one hanging around. Or maybe college just wasn’t for you and you needed a job skill that was transferable to the real world. Maybe you just didn’t have anything else to do at the time and your friend talked you into it and you heard that chicks dig guys in uniform.
Or maybe you really do believe in all that stuff about God and country. You feel a sense of pride when you look at the flag and you love to tell people how American you are. Maybe because you didn’t ask what your country could do for you but what you could do for your country. Maybe your father was a soldier. Maybe your grandfather landed on Omaha. Maybe you got inspired by 9/11. You answered the call to take up arms in the name of peace. Maybe you believed in the War on Terror, or maybe you didn’t even know who Osama ben Laden was before everything went down. You don’t know anything about weapons of mass destruction. Maybe Saddam Hussein was really a tyrant. maybe you don’t even care. Maybe you’ve never even given it a thought.
You just think about how long it’s been since you’ve been home and how come you haven’t gotten a care package in weeks. You’re wondering why you volunteered again and what the consequences of that might be. You’re thinking about the things you’ve seen and the things you’re gonna see. You wonder if the next time you step outside that wire might be the last time. You get that feeling in your gut when the convoy has to stop. And when you make it back in, maybe you thank God and maybe you don’t, because you don’t believe in that kind of stuff. Whatever the case may be, you’re just glad to be alive. But then you hear about a buddy of yours in another company.
And you start thinking about getting back home. You’re tired of waking up at o’dark-thirty. You’re tired of the crappy food and the limited selection at the PX. You miss your mom’s apple pie and going for long runs with your dog Spot. You left the hot rod in the garage and it’s waiting for a fresh coat of paint. You haven’t worn anything new in months and it doesn’t matter because you’re not going anywhere anyway.
And when you do get back home, maybe you come home to a hero’s welcome and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ll be met by protesters. Maybe the media will follow you around when all you want is a little bit of quiet. If you come home in one piece you consider yourself lucky. Your body is in tact but it’s your soul that you have to worry about. Forget about the fact that your friends and family don’t seem to understand why you keep getting called up. They don’t know the difference between volunteer and volun-told. You don’t even know why you’re doing it to yourself.
When you look in the mirror and ask yourself why, you can’t come up with an answer. Maybe you like the way you look in uniform. Maybe you’re proud of that patch on your shoulder. Maybe you’ve achieved a goal after working so hard for so long. You’re a pilot. You’re an officer. You finally got your stripes. Maybe you feel like you’re apart of something greater than yourself. Maybe you feel like you’re a member of a team. Maybe when you’re with your buddies you feel like you finally belong. Now you have a family.
Or maybe you think about all the sacrifices you’ve had to make. You’ve missed your tenth anniversary and your wife has moved on. Your son spoke his first words while you were gone. You missed your daughter’s prom. You were supposed to be the maid of honour at your best friend’s wedding. It seems like everyone has moved on with their lives and you’re still in the same place. Maybe it’s bittersweet and it is what it is. Maybe you feel small, like nothing you do is making a difference. Maybe you feel like nobody cares and you’re alone in the world.
So you go back to what you know. You’re a Marine. You’re a soldier. You’re a sailor. You’re an airman. There’s never any rhyme or reason. If they ask you the question you can’t quite explain it. Maybe you do it so that someone else won’t have to. Maybe you do it because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t know why you care. You don’t know why you don’t care. There’s just something in you and you’re going with your gut instinct.
It must have been the college money because there’s no way any sane person would put up with this. You’re thinking that your recruiter lied to you because all those bonuses and special pay don’t quite make up for all of this. The sleepless nights, the thanklessness, the melancholy and the stress. Yet time and time again, you put on that uniform and you head out that door to do your duty. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. You figure, whatever the reasons are, and who knows the reasons why, you did it and now someone else doesn’t have to.