I Cannot Join the U.S. Army

I grew up in a small town in the Southern United States between the 1980s and 1990s. The culture was one of God, Country, and high ideals of freedom. The theme of living free, being brave, and having the courage to fight for what is right was persistent in the local culture. I was a product of that culture. Things have certainly changed.

Make no mistake, it was not all about that and if things seem one-sided, it is because I am being brief in what I am saying. The main point is, the local culture placed a huge emphasis on joining the military. I will come back to that in a moment.

Some of my primary activities growing up was concentrated in the arts, literature, creative and intellectual pursuits. That was also part of the culture and seems like an outgrowth of the social changes of the 1970s. The small town in which I grew up had a candid, free spirit about it that seemed in balance between conservative values and creative exploration. To a point, you could be unique and eclectic in the town I grew up in.

Towards the end of the 1980s, things seemed to change. In all that time, I had no intention of joining the military. Even my mother, a U.S. Army veteran (non-commissioned officer), was against the idea though she did not explain why. Her struggles with the U.S. Dept. Veteran Affairs in recent years has taught me more about what her reasons may have been. Rather than military bound, I was part of the Lane College Upward Bound program in which university professors gave their time to improve the intellectual and creative skills of people like me. My mother was also a graduate of Lane College in Liberal Arts. I was headed in that same direction.

Air Force Junior ROTC came to town. A few years prior, I had an applied physics instructor with whom I was impressed and he was a former U.S. Air Force officer. Through a combination of events, I decided to give Air Force JROTC a try. They gave me rank, gave me status, and many ways to express myself in terms of leadership. A few years later, I enlisted in the Air Force. An academic adviser from Lane College tried to intervene, but I had made my mind up. I became a warehouse clerk in the Air Force during peacetime.

Twenty years later, I considered joining the National Guard (a path to the U.S. Army). Whereas my decision to join the Air Force was out of raw patriotism, opportunity, and a bit of consternation about making a career in the arts, my recent consideration of the National Guard was mainly economic. After thinking about it for a few months, I realize it is not my path in life.

I decided I could not do it. While I feel like my financial and residential stability is once again beginning to unravel, there are still some decisions I cannot accept. One of those is to join the U.S. Army. The reason is I am older, more informed, and thoughtful about the function of institutions. The political dialog in the United States and the changes since 9/11 has convinced me that military has shifted from an institution to defend the rest of us from aggressors to one that aggressively enacts force to gain land, oil, property, and sway the decisions of other governments on matters that are less about peace than it is about money. I do not believe in that.

So I need a job that pays me more and the State in which I live takes half of every paycheck I’ve earned in the State I live since 2004. It is not their fault, they are just following rules. What can I do? I do not have the answer to that. I have tried to get a job with other Federal agencies with whom I do find common cause.

I suspect the background investigations gave people the idea that I was a spy. Many people have asked me directly if I was a spy. I have given off that vibe but the answer is no. I am careful in what I say to minimize drama and conflict. Rather, I tried to pursue a career in the Federal service that my father, a former U.S. Army officer, explained well. I apologize if any background investigations have inconvenienced anyone. I did not know it would turn out that way. Returning to the military enlistment situation, perhaps my indoctrination from when I was young worked too well and I cannot now find alignment with a specific institution that could save me in the moment. My eligibility to decide expires at the end of 2015. I have camaraderie with those that serve but not the mission. Whatever the case may be, that is the case. I cannot join the U.S. Army.

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