18 Years Ago

Thanks to the Memories thing on Facebook, I was reminded that I joined the Army Reserve 18 years ago today. That means that about this time on that fateful Monday, SSG Nyman had dropped me off on my second attempt to join up, after having gone previously and failing to “provide a sample” due to my inability to pee on command in front of other people. Maybe I should have taken that as a sign, but I persevered and finally enlisted, even if I didn’t get my massive ($3,000) enlistment bonus on the spot when I signed on the proverbial dotted line.

This anniversary is often secondary or tertiary to all my other Army anniversaries, and I tend to forget about it until I see the annual reminder. I always remember my last day in the Army – February 6, 2011 – which, as you will note, was 10 years and six months to the day of the day I signed. Leaving then also led me to losing my job, something that I didn’t really prepare for fully and something that I never really recovered fully from until I started working for the Air Force two years ago.

I probably should have left about two years prior on my initial ETS date. I wasn’t getting anywhere, I hadn’t passed a PT test since November of 2001, shortly after I returned from AIT – and I barely passed that test as it was. I started to get fat not long after for various reasons, and I stopped missing weight by 2003 or 2004, and I was always on the “Body Fat Control Program.” I wanted to do so much more while I was in the Army and I was being held back, but I was also scared about my post-Army prospects with nothing but a degree in political science and no “real world” skills.

But I had also made myself pretty important, and the unit would have truly fallen apart without my steady hands there to keep things running. They needed me to stick around, so they let me extend to try and meet the body fat standards – I think I got six months on that extension. I improved a little, enough that they extended me an additional six months to help pass my APFT. I never met either standard, but I was doing good work so they let me stick around.

As I approached my new extended ETS, I was still worried about my post Army life, and we were alerted for deployment. I had managed to miss out on previous opportunities, both because I was “too valuable” to leave my civilian job so they blocked a couple of cross-levels, but also because I couldn’t really volunteer due to my lack of fitness. But now all my friends were leaving, and I wanted to go with them. I wanted to see if spending a year somewhere, without ready access to all the things that had led to my spiral, would help me get back into shape. Would help me get to the point where I could reenlist and pursue all those other things I wanted to do in the Army. So they let me extend again through the end of the deployment.

Being in Iraq did help with the fitness stuff for a while. I lost a lot of weight and came closer to passing an APFT that I had in a very long time. But I also decided that I was done with the Army about halfway through my deployment, if only because I didn’t want to return to my civilian job and a unit that would look a lot different post-deployment. I wanted to see if I could find something else to do besides the Army and federal employment. So I gave up. I stopped trying to get to the point of reenlistment. I decided to leave.

Now, as I sit here 18 years later, there’s part of me that is glad with my decision. I don’t know what would have happened had I stayed in, where I would be, and if I would be at the point I currently am in my life. Everything is better than I could’ve imagined since I left over seven years ago, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Paths not taken and all that.

But there’s the other part of me that led me to reconsider the Army as recently as three years ago. Had I managed to stay in, I probably would have had at least one more deployment – most likely to Afghanistan – but I would also be only two years away from qualifying for retirement. In that regard, my 10+ years are wasted, though I do get some credit for my current federal job, so it wasn’t all for nothing. But as some of the people that joined about the time I did are wrapping up their careers within the next couple of years, part of me wishes I would have been able to stick around. But that part of me is getting smaller and smaller as I get older. While it is still technically possible for me to go back to the Army (if I were to lose another 120 pounds and get back in Army shape), I think it’s best to leave that part of my life in the past.

I don’t regret my service, as I think it opened a lot of doors for me that probably wouldn’t have been possible. I would have had to be way more deliberate in education choices and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up a long time ago. I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends, though I could probably be better at keeping in touch with some of them. And I don’t regret leaving, regardless of what the previous 800 words of this post say.

Being in the Army was a part of my life for over a decade, and it’s hard to simply remove it from my personal timeline. It may not have turned out exactly how I envisioned it back when I signed those papers 18 years ago today, but what in life goes exactly to plan? But as I continue to get further removed from those important Army dates in my life, I don’t want that time to fade. I want to remind myself of what I did, when I did it, and why I did. Otherwise, it will stop being  important, even as that importance fades with time.

Until next time…

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