What can happen when someone who isn’t fond of war and violence joins the Army?
Well, it’s called the draft and that is how I joined the Army. The German Army to be exact. The year was 1987 and the arms race was still in full swing back then. Who would outspend the other side? 2 years later the fall of the wall pretty much put an end to that nonsense and the Cold War finally cooled off.
This week we had the fall of the wall celebration and Veteran’s Day to think about. It made me think about the time I was in the Army. It was so ironic that here I was, on one hand I abhorred war and violence, but on the other I was right in the epicenter of an efficient war machine – and I was intricate part of it. I was part of a Leopard II tank battalion in a maintenance and repair unit. Mind you that we never saw action or were deployed to an active fighting zone. Back then the German Army was truly only a defensive one and the German constitution forbade any participation in wars on foreign soil.
- Camaraderie. That is one thing I will definitely miss the most. Nothing beats being able to count on the folks in the back of front of you on patrol. We were looking out for each other.
- Learning to take care of myself. I learned so much about so many things. Tying a tie, cleaning rooms, cleaning showers, cleaning just about anything, handling guns safely, driving and repairing anything on any number of wheels and tracks, and the list can go on and on. I got my commercial truck driver’s license in the Army. Wow! Where else do you get a chance to learn so much in a short period of time?
- Appreciating peace. Holy smokes! When I was bunched up in a fox hole one night in the pitch black dark in the middle of the sticks during a adventure week called maneuver, I finally got a glimpse of what it means to be scared witless. I kept thinking of how close we were to the East German border and that we were practically hanging out in the shadow of the Russian guns and war machine. When someone then yelled “gas alarm” indicating that I had better put on gas mask and other protective gear this sense of fear intensified. Flares went up here and there and you would think the light would help defuse fear a little. Well, you would be wrong thinking that. The flickering of the flare just made me more nervous. When they went out, the dark was so dense that the only thing you could go by was the noise in the forest. Boy, are there strange noises I heard. All of it helped me appreciate peace time. No one should endure this kind of fear.
- Appreciating a small income and being thrifty. “What do you need to go home for over the weekend, soldier? We have a bed and food for you here.” I had griped about the little pocket money we got as draftees and how much gas cost driving home for the weekend. We got no mercy. It made me appreciate the power of stretching money and being thrifty.
- Leadership. Boy did this journey teach me about leadership. I got to lead folks through tough tasks myself. That was totally new to me at the time. I also learned that your title, rank, and uniform does not bestow magical powers over other people. Even in the Army you would want to follow some folks that perhaps did not have the higher rank, but they knew their stuff and you could trust them with your life. Some officers were totally worthless even though they outranked everyone. Lesson learned, check.
- Personal and mental fitness and toughness. That was one of the most amazing things I learned about myself. It serves me well to this day. I have never been this fit in my life before and since then. Boot camp pushed my body and soul to new limits. I am most grateful having extending my physical and mental borders. Nothing is impossible. I learned the hard way that pain is only weakness leaving my body.
And that is the irony I wanted to share with you. Even though it was not necessarily my choice being there in the first place, it was ultimately an awesome experience. In fact sometimes I wonder if we should not have a draft here just to letting young adults benefit from carrying out a little servitude for the common good of our society. What do you think?
I am eternally grateful to our veterans who risk their lives and well-being on our behalf. We owe so much to you. Please come home safely. To the young folks who may have just joined and are awaiting their deployment, I also wish them nothing but the best and a safe and fast return from wherever you will have to return. This coming December I will once again go to the Army-Navy game with my son. It gives me goose bumps every time when we join the young cadets and their families in the stadium (this time in Baltimore). It is an incredible atmosphere being surrounded by them and their youthful enthusiasm. May you also always have fond memories – whether or not you like war or not.
PS: Go Army, beat Navy!