This Army Life, Volume 4

When we last left the series, I had bypassed the Regular Army for college. Well, you ask, how did you end up in the Army Reserve? I am so glad you asked…

As mentioned previously, I went off to Weber State. My first year there, I lived at home and commuted, either riding the bus, which took FOREVER, or my driving, or sometimes a combination of the two. This did not last long, and I moved into an apartment in Ogden near the end of my freshman year. At the time, I was working my seasonal job at the IRS and things were going okay. Spent my days sleeping and my nights filing tax returns. Not the most productive life.

After the IRS season ended, I struggled to find a full-time job for a bit, subsisting on unemployment and a part-time job at Convergys selling AT&T long distance and taking orders for Now Volume 5. I was still thinking about the Army, considering ROTC the fall semester when I went back to school, so I decided to talk to a recruiter about the Army Reserve because the Simultaneous Membership Program and all the extra money that could be earned. Plus, they were offering enlistment bonuses, and I thought I could get my $3,000 dollars once I signed up. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

It did not take me long to decide to join the Army Reserve. I retook the practice ASVAB and scored a little lower then I had previously, but still super high. Since I was now looking at the Reserves, and I had every intention of returning to school after training, I picked an MOS that would have me back from training by August. It did not necessarily work out in that way, but I will cover that in my next post. I signed on and went to MEPS, which will be my next post in this series.

Overall, it was a much more pleasant experience then my first with a recruiter, and SFC Nyman did great. I got exactly what I wanted and left with a better taste in my mouth for the Army. Here I am nearly nine years later and I still enjoy being in the Army Reserve (for the most part).

Until next time..

This Army Life, Volume 3

As you know from my previous post in this series, my interest in the Army came from my father’s service. I was not yet born when my father was on active duty, but my early life was sepnt while he was still in the Army Reserves. I heard stories about what it was like in the Army, though many of my father’s stories were 20 years old, not really painting an accurate picture of the Army at that time.

Anyway, I got “reinterested” in the Army sometime in high school. Don’t remember exactly when, but I started pursuing the Army during my junior year, shortly after turning 17, talking to the local recruiter that had the table at the high school and talking to my parents a bit about it as well. I did my research and eventually started seriously talking to the recruiter, SFC G, but more on him later.

I took the ASVAB for the first time in May 1998, which was at the end of my junior year of high school. I pretty much aced it; I had all sorts of options and could have done anything. I was being offered everything. I could have had an 11X contract with an option 40, which is what they give to kids who desire to go to infantry, Airborne School, and Ranger School. I had no desire to do this. I was also offered 18X, which is the Special Forces Enlistment Option. enlistees under this are trained to be infantrymen, but are given the opportunity to try to get into Special Forces from the very beginning of their enlistment contract. Again, not something I was really interested in.

What I really wanted to do was drive tanks. Again, don’t really know why, other then I could get a guarnteed assignment to Germany as my first duty station and I would get to shoot a big freakin’ gun at stuff. My head was filled with visions of war games played with lasers on the battlefields of WWII in Germany. I was about to go for it, too, but the aforemention SFC G had to mess things up.

Since I was not yet 18, I would have needed parental consent to sign a contract. I had all intention of signing my contract before graduating high school, if only to give myself something to do after high school. College was an option to me, and I had already been accepted at some schools, but I wanted some adventure in my life. So we made an appointment for the good SFC to come over and have a sit down discussion with me and Pops about the Army. Both my parents were very supportive of my decision, but like I said, I needed their consent in order to sign the contract. Below is my recollection of the conversation that I, Pops, and SFC G had in the living room at out house:

SFC G: So have you decided what you want to do in the Army?
Me: Yeah. I think I want to drive tanks, and I want to do it in Germany.
SFC G: We can definitely make that happen. Germany is a great duty station.
Me: Yeah, I know. My dad was stationed there back in the day and my older brother was born there. Plus, it would be nice to visit the country where half my family originated.
SFC G: Not to mention that there are bars and strip clubs right outside the gates at all the posts. It’s a great place for a single guy to be.
Me: Umm…that’s not really that important to me. I just want good training and a decent opportunity.
SFC G: Well consider all those other things a bonus then.
Me: Okay, well, I think I will have to discuss this with my parents a bit more before I make any commitments. I’ll let you know.
SFC G: Sure, just don’t take to long. Sometimes the windows on these things close and you might get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be.
Me: Okay…bye.

Notice Pops didn’t say anything. He’s a quiet guy, so he generally doesn’t say a lot anyway, but he is also a veryreligious person. We talked a bit after the good SFC left and decided that if that was the way that this guy thought he had to sell the Army to someone who was really interested, we could only imagine what he was saying to others who weren’t. As much as I wanted to join the Army then, the sales pitch didn’t really scream “Be All You Can Be,” so I decided to accept my Presidential Scholarship to Weber State and go to college instead, with the intent of maybe doing ROTC or something else.

But all this happened in the early fall, so I had to see this guy at school a few days a week. He kept asking me what I was going to do, and I told him that I had decided to go to school because of the scholarship. He gave me the normal line that recruiters do, something about me being a great asset to the Army and everything, but I just didn’t like the way he thought he had to sell the Army to me. I just let it go after a while.

The story gets better though. Shortly before I graduated in May, one of his superiors called me. This is how that conversation went:

Recruiter Guy: Hey Robert. I see here that you’ve been working with SFC G and you were interested in becoming a tanker. You still planning on doing this?
Me: No, actually I decided to accept a scholarship and go to school instead.
RG: Oh, that’s too bad. From your scores and everything you look like you are a smart guy and will probably be really successful in that. But with your high scores, there is really nothing you can’t do in the Army. Not only can we guarantee you duty location, but we can get you unit preference as well. Is there something that happened that changed your mind?
Me: Actually I didn’t really want to mention it, but I wasn’t too happy with how SFC G presented the Army to me and my father. Telling a 17 year old kid that the most appealing part of Army service in Germany is the easy access to bars and strip clubs, while meeting with his father, may not be the best way to present your organization.
RG: I see. I apologize for that. Please don’t discount the entire organization based on the actions of one person. We are not all like that.
Me: I know, but I don’t think I am going to do the Army right now. Thanks for your call and good luck with what you do.
RG: Good luck to you too. Hopefully you will look at the Army again in the future.

So that was that. I went to Weber State, did about a year and half a semester and decided to join the Army Reserve. But that is a story for another day. But as a final piece to this story, when I was meeting with my Army Reserve recruiter, I mentioned my first experience and what had happened. SSG N, my new recruiter, recognized the name and said that apparently they were investigating SFC G at the time and I was one of many potential recruits who had similar experinces with SFC G. As a result, he was removed from recruiting duty and returned to the “real” Army. I always thought that was pretty funny.

Until next time…

This Army Life, Volume 2

This will be the second post of many in this series (hopefully). The main reason for this one is to inform those out there what led me to join the Army in the first place, just in case you didn’t know.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): I joined the Army because of my dad, Ronald Eberhard.

It all started back when I was a kid. I’m not really sure how old, but I was somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11 I think. I knew nothing really in my life. I was just a kid. But I do remember Christmas dinner on Fort Douglas, with turkey and all the fixin’s, and Santa Claus and candy canes. I also remember it was the one time a year my father pulled his dusty Class A (dress) uniform out of the closet and wore it. Long tables in a chapel-like building, and dinner together as a family. I knew that my father was in the Army. I didn’t know what he did until much later in life, but I remember those family days. I also remember the family days during the summer, with all sorts of wacky things going on on the parade field. Dunking booths, cotton candy, getting dog tags and ID cards. Everything. That was the Army to me as an elementary school student. That and the museum that we visited on occasion with the Cub/Boy Scouts. The other thing I remember about my dad in the Army growing up was that he would do it every Tuesday night.

When I was this age, I had vague knowledge of my father being on active duty before I was born. All I really knew was that my older brother was born in Germany because dad was in the Army. I also saw all his unit patches and whatnot from his various stops along the way, but I knew not what they meant. Pops was in the Army Reserve until I was about 12; don’t really know why he retired, but maybe he didn’t need the money anymore after he got his job with the post office after trying so hard. Or maybe he just got old and couldn’t do it anymore. I guess I will have to ask him. All I know is that his service, in the small amount that I understood about it, drew me to the Army.

I think one day soon I will sit down with Dad and actually record his entire Army experience for posterity. He has told many stories to me and my siblings, and I do remember most of them, but now that I understand the Army a bit more that I have been in for 8 1/2 years, I think it might be a good time to start getting that oral history recorded. My father is not “famous,” or otherwise remarkable. He didn’t become a general or even serve on the frontlines anywhere. But I think his experiences in the Army somehow convinced me that it was neat enough to try out, and almost led me to joining right out of high school, which will be the topic of the next blog in this series.

That’s it for now.

This Army Life, Volume 1

I know you have all been anxiously waiting. I was going to push this off until tomorrow, but I might as well put it down tonight while I have nothing else to do…

As many of you know, I am in the Army Reserve. Have been for about 8 1/2 years now. For those of you who don’t know, I seriously considered joining the Army right out of high school. I had some sexy view of driving tanks and shooting lasers in Germany with said tanks and living the high life. For some reason, I decided not to join then, but still had the desire to do so. I went to college, thought about ROTC for a bit, but then I decided to enlist in the Army Reserve. Planned on doing something super cool, but instead picked “Legal Specialist” as my MOS and that was that. The reasons why I went back to the Army are a bit fuzzy in my mind now, so long after the fact, but I am sure one of the reasons was for love of my country and all that. It definitely wasn’t for the money, nor was it to “see the world,” seeing how other then a trip to South Korea, my Army “world” has mainly been Devens, MA and Fort Dix, NJ.

But my service in the Army has always meant something, which I think I prove every day by deciding to work for the Army as well. I tell everyone that I like being in the Army and working in support of the Army, even though some days it can be really frustrating. And this is where this little post takes a direction that many of you might have seen coming, or may not really understand if you are outside of the military and don’t really know anyone who serves personally. I had a crisis about six weeks ago, and this crisis almost made me angry enough to leave the Army that I love behind and move onto other things in my life. But this story starts even before then.

I think it was in January. Honestly, the time line has gotten a little blurry over the past few months so bear with me. This might turn into bit of a ramble. Anyway, my unit was identified and sourced for mobilization in late 2009. To be honest, this was probably some of the best news I had gotten in a while. We had these types of things happen before, but being that I picked a not-as-needed MOS in 2000 I never really came close to deploying in my entire military career. Whatever happened, I was going to go on this deployment. It may sound odd to those out there that don’t serve, but this was one of the reasons I joined: “to defend the United States from enemies, both foreign and domestic.” I figured it was going to be my last hurrah, since I had every intention of using the deployment to get out of debt and lose weight, and return, ready to go of to OCS and become an officer on Active Duty. But I have known many of the people in my unit for my entire life here in Connecticut, and they were as close to me as anybody could be. They were my “Battle Buddies” after all. I vowed to lose as much weight as I could prior to deployment and to go to any school required of me in order to go, for myself and for ny friends.

I have to pause here and mention something that I’m sure a lot of you are thinking: why would anybody want to go to war? I’ll just answer that in saying that the Reserves, especially on this deployment, are not in the forefront of any battle with the enemy. Sure, it’s dangerous going to a country where some of the citizens will shoot at you, but you can say that about some countries not called Iraq or Afghanistan, or even some cities in America. I can honestly say that I have no fear were I to go on this deployment.

And that’s where the crisis comes in. Not ten days after we were informed of this possible deployment, we were told by the Big Boss that the Bigger Boss did not want to allow any of his full-timers to deploy. Why? So there are people “in the rear” that are around to manage those individuals left behind, which at the time of our deployment would be about 140, maybe 200 tops. Let’s just say that this upset me greatly, I said somethings that I probably shouldn’t have said to the Big Boss, pretty much promising that if I was not allowed to go on the deployment, I would be leaving in August when my time was up. Where I would go, I don’t know, seeing as how leaving the Army also means finding a new “civilian” job for me as well.

I lost all motivation in everything Army. I stopped running, I topped 300 pounds for the first time in my life, and I was generally a miserable person. It was as if the Big Boss was talking out of both sides of his mouth: out of one side, he was telling us that we were the greatest full-time staff in the entire Army Reserve. But out of the other side, the more hurtful side, he was telling us that we would have to stay behind and waive goodbye as the Soldiers that we train with every month left without us, and we had to remain behind to “Grow the Force.” It stung a lot.

I was re-encouraged later that month, after attending a conference to plan for another unit’s mobilization. In talking with people there, Even Bigger Bosses said that the justification for keeping fully-deployable folks off the list to go didn’t seem to be justified, and that Bigger Boss would have to explain to Even Bigger Boss why he was forcing them to transfer in a whole bunch of new folks when there were capable and deployable people already assigned to the unit. But we had to keep this little bit of information quiet, because Big Boss and Bigger Boss were set in their ways and didn’t really want to listen to some of the smart people that work for them.

Luckily for me, and others in our unit, we have a high-quality Command Sergeant Major (CSM), kind of like the Vice Big Boss. He found out from the full-timers how many of us actually wanted to go, and pleaded his case with Bigger Boss and Vice Bigger Boss to let some of us go. Lucky for me he says he won’t deploy without me going with me, so there is one more feather in my cap towards the whole deployment thing. Hooray!

So now we get back to the root of this little blog here. Long story short, there is now a distinct possibility that I will be deploying sometime later this year. I can’t say exactly when, but if everything happens the way it is supposed to, by this time next year, I could be very well writing you e-mails from different climes, where “terrorists” roam. I have school dates to get another MOS and potential school dates to learn how to become a contracting FOO.* And even better is that I may be doing this deployment with many of my current “battle buddies” from the unit. If anything, this deployment will reaffirm many of the reasons why I joined the Army, and really be a good starting point for the second half of my Army career.

Sure, I’ll miss my friends and my family. But much like Basic Training couple with 9/11 changed me for the first time nearly eight years ago, this might have the same impact on me. If you see me in the coming months, I’m hoping that I look different. I have renewed emphasis in my life, and I am slowly working myself back to a point where I can really start kicking my own ass and losing some weight and get stronger. Stef’s wedding in around five months will be the debut of the semi-new me, and sometime around my 30th birthday will be the next reveal. All that I ask for from you, my friends, is love and support, not only for me, but for everybody else that may be going into harm’s way today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

Until the next post…

P.S. Sorry this one is so long. Got a little carried away.

P.P.S. *FOO – Field Ordering Officer – as CSM said: “Field Ordering Officer is not abbreviated FOOL, though you have to be a fool to want to be a FOO!” Army jokes – gotta love ’em!