Private Benjamin – A Role Model

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While trying to organize the events of my life both for writing purposes and therapy, I find myself thinking about a lot of random shit from my youth. You know, those things that stuck and carried on through adulthood. I am so shaped by trauma, its hard to find real organic things in my past that weren’t directly in response to trauma. One of the things that always sticks out for me was the fact that I always (and I do mean always) wanted to be a Soldier. I wanted to join the Army. I never even considered another branch even though I lived next to two Air Force Bases (Vandenberg AFB, and Travis AFB in CA), and had plenty of people around to counsel me on the benefits of the Air Force over the Army… but I wanted to blow things up and shoot stuff; no one in the Air Force ever talked about doing those things. Sure they have good food and lovely accommodations, but what do they DO? I still have no idea. The Air Force seems very boring unless you are one of the lucky ones that gets to fly planes or be on a kick ass flight crew of some sort. The rest of it just seems so mundane. Anyway…

My Mom was very patriotic. Born in 1949 she came of age during the Vietnam era and eventually expressed her anti-war views, but was a staunch supporter of anyone who served. My Mother respected those who served, and as far as I can recall, that was the only group of people she really seemed to admire. This is probably important in my choices – I mean of course the military would be an option for me! My Mom thinks they are great, so if I serve too I will also be great. Kid logic. Kid logic also told me that I was a girl and while I could join the military in theory, it certainly didn’t seem like something the other girls were even thinking about. I remember a conversation with my BFF at the time and we were discussing my new Evil Kenevil Big Wheel (that thing was fucking awesome), and I remeber I started talking about riding it into battle (LOL it makes me seriously laugh when I think about it…I must have only been ike 8 or 9 at the time). I remember her reaction – it was like “Wow that’s awesome” and “Seriously WTF is wrong with you” all wrapped into one lost facial expression. At the time, I just wanted to kill Commies and stop nuclear war; all on my Evil Kenevil Big Wheel.

As if on cue, a movie was released. A comedy with Goldie Hawn. An Army movie about a woman! Sweet. Turns out that woman was an incompetent spoiled whiner incapable of functioning on her own. Ugh. Then…the transistion happened, she grew up. A little discipline, a little exercise, some teamwork… all of a sudden this sorry excuse of a human was confident, capable, and even funny. The Army. The Army can do that for people. I was not a confident child, I had no structure, and in some ways I was spoiled too (not financially but I was the center of my mothers universe so I had an emotional entitlement problem), I was lost; everyone else knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and it was all normal shit- doctors, teachers, firefighter… up until this movie my answer to “What do you want to be” was always something impossible (I once answered that I wanted to be “Elvis or a floor”; I had my reasons and that’s a post for another day.

After watching Private Benjamin until it was committed to memory, my answer was fairly consistent for the next decade, “I am going to be a Soldier.”

Once I turned 18 I dropped out of high school (I had some problems with authority, and I was basically too fucking smart for my own good, and with an alcoholic mother I had the free reign to fuck up my life anyway I could – and I did).  By this time I had not forgotten about wanting to join the Army, but I was at this point kind of criminal, and certainly not “military material.” I also despise running. Despise. Hate. Loathe. If I mentioned joining the Army to my friends they laughed. No way I could last a day in the Army. I would be in trouble constantly. I lack discipline. I lack commitment. I lack structure. I lack motivation. People in positions of authority are my enemy now (no longer the commies). No. Not the military type at all.

Fast forward two years, I had gone to community college for a few semesters, I was trying to get my shit together. I was dating a woman at the time and she will probably get her own post someday but I wanted out of the relationship and what better way to do that then to join the Army? I also had the absolute need to get the fuck away from my Mom and start adulting. I was tired of being my mothers “baby” and if I stayed in my little hometown a life of boring bullshit and mothers abuse was going to be forever. I put Private Benjamin on, sat Mom and GF down to watch it, and at some point throughout the movie I announced that I would be enlisting and was going to see the recruiter the next day. My Mom was not surprised, but she wasn’t pleased or devastated. Stoic really. The GF, well, that whole shit backfired on me and she enlisted with me. Actually – she WILL get her own post someday because that whole story is fucking funny.

I went into the reserves first. My logic was that if I hated the military, I would only have to subject myself to it one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. I can handle anything in short bursts. Turns out I loved it and was really good at it. During my 8 years in the reserves, I found ways to stay on orders most of the time so I was doing Army stuff all the time even though I wasn’t active duty. I eventually got a position as a Unit Pay Technician and did the whole “dual status” thing (A civilian job position that requires you to also be in the guard/reserve). Then my Mom got sick, and after her death I just sort of said, “Fuck it” and went active duty. Stayed AD for 7 years, stationed at Fort Drum, NY and Vicenza, Italy with two combat tours in Afghanistan.

The Army provided me with absolutely everything I was missing as far as personal development is concerned. Discipline, structure, accountability, responsibility… and there were always people to “keep me on track” and to give me the tools to solve my own problems. My sense of entitlement was pushed out of me through lots and lots and lots of push-ups (I’m 44 and my boobs still perk I have done so many push-ups), my habit of quitting when things get tough; halted. I learned how to walk with my head up. I learned how to stand up for myself in the face of screaming people. I learned how to build a team, and keep that team motivated. I learned my own limits and when to press them. I learned to relish in my own achievements. I learned to lead. I learned to follow. I learned how to pay attention. I learned how to set a goal and work until it is met. My running abilities though… never improved.

Just like Private Benjamin, an absolute hot mess of a person joined the Army, and the Army taught that person how to be great. Even though I am still a hot mess, I am a great hot mess who has done amazing things. When I am suffering because I can’t meet my goals or I lack motivation to even set them I remind myself that I said I wanted to be a Soldier someday and I accomplished that… I can accomplish damn near anything.