Growing up after graduation
A friend once directed me to a TED talk given by Wes Moore called “How to talk to veterans about war.” I highly recommend you take a listen. It made me think maybe there are some of you interested in hearing a little more about how I went from sorority girl to soldier. If you know someone who was in the military, it is always an interesting and unique story that starts with the question “why did you join?” It’s also a nice way to show a veteran that you are interested and thankful for their service.
At the risk of aging myself, I will tell you my story. I graduated college August 11, 2001. 8/11 may be less famous than 9/11, but I remember it well. My cap said “thanks mom” and both my brothers, mom and nieces and nephews made the out of state trek to see me get my diploma.
What I could have told you that day about Iraq was what I learned when I was in middle school while my oldest brother was serving in the Navy during the (first) Gulf War. What I knew about Afghanistan was even less. I hope (but doubt) I could have found either of these countries on a map.
At the time of my college graduation, I had been stuffing envelopes with folders of resumes and cover letters inside to all the big magazines in New York City. Yes there was Internet back at that time, no I don’t know why I was using snail mail to get the word out. I did get two very exciting acceptance letters, but I didn’t have the money to move to New York and work for FREE as an intern. Big sighs for bills and real life.
My other brother was full-on Army (HOOAH) and at the time working as an officer in Army recruiting. Yes, I was recruited by my brother two weeks after college graduation and yes, my recruiter lied to me too ;). Two weeks before 9/11, I signed up for the Army.
It was a sweet deal! My college loans (about $15k) would be FULLY paid off and I was guaranteed to be stationed in Europe and I would get a $3k signing bonus – enough to pay off my minimal credit card debt. I had never been to Europe. It was far off magical land and only for the very rich! My brother/recruiter told me that I would never deploy and if I did I would be staying in hotel-like rooms. WHAT could go wrong with this plan??
I went back home, where I was enjoying the good life — going out with my friends, sleeping in late and enjoying the I just graduated college and I don’t have to look for a job stress-free life. When my mom woke me up, saying “We’re under attack.” For some reason, all this educated but ever so slightly hung-over graduate could come up with was… there are bees in the house and this woman wants me to wake up right now and kill them. Charming, right? But doesn’t that tell you how it never occurred to me that we could actually be “under attack?” Oh all right, I did get up, walked to the living room, looked at the TV and sat nearly comatose wondering what the eff was happening, when the next disaster was going to happen, when I was going to see the smoke outside my own windows in Florida, and how this would change my life forever. Again, I realize this is a very very selfish view, but aren’t most college kids looking at life through a soda straw (or a fancy and overpriced cocktail straw)?
I continued to sit on my mom’s couch for days. My brother called to check on me and see whether I still wanted to go to basic training as scheduled at the end of October. Did I want to go to basic training? I had no idea what I wanted, but I wasn’t a quitter, and I had told everyone that was what I was doing… so sure. So I went.
I would spend two years in Iraq of the five years I served in the Army. I have loads of stories that I never tell. I learned more about myself in those years than I ever could have anywhere else. Although my brother may have stretched the truth about the living accommodations, he made up for it (a little) by letting me share his bunk during part of my first deployment while I lived in a tent infested with desert rats. I’m sure I have cursed my brother’s name more than once for talking me into the Army, but I would not be the debt-free woman I am today, doing the work I do, with the values I have if it weren’t for that decision. I definitely did get my school loans paid off, and began to see the world – just not the most scenic spots first. I now appreciate things that you might take for granted.
I am very proud to say that both my siblings and I all served our country during times of war and all made it home safely. There are certain events in life that change you forever and joining the Army at the time I did was certainly one of them. Now not only can I identify both Iraq and Afghanistan and major cities of both on a map, I’ve spent time in both, though I can’t say I would recommend you visit either.
Would I have joined the Army a month later? No, probably not. Do I regret that I did? Not anymore.
Tell me: Would you ever do something so drastic to pay off your debts?