A little-known fact about me:
When I was in Basic Training in the U. S. Army I was offered an officer’s commission via the opportunity to attend OCS, Officer Candidate School. At the time, we were all given a lengthy battery of Aptitude and Intelligence tests that spanned several days. At the close of the final day of testing I and a handful of others were held back for further testing. I recall one advanced test in particular because it involved translating a made-up foreign language.
When the results were in I had a private sit-down about my transferring to OCS. I gave it some serious thought. For one thing I was in the midst of Basic Training just out of Hell Week and I expected OCS to be as rigorous if not more rigorous than Basic. I was a draftee/enlistee and I hadn’t even thought of the military as a career choice but rather a man’s duty to serve, like my uncles and brothers. Fact was, at that point I didn’t have a career plan at all. For another thing, I was just months past my eighteenth birthday – a teenager unsure of himself, and I decided I just didn’t have the right stuff – I just wasn’t ready to shoulder the burden and responsibility of a command position. I was about as green as my uniform.
Over the span of my life there were many times I’ve felt I could just kick myself in the ass for not jumping on this opportunity. I could have been a General by now. Of course, Dame Fortune would have had to have played a very large part. Chances were excellent I would have been commissioned as an Infantry Lieutenant. In order to advance my career I would have had to survive at least one tour of combat duty in Vietnam – at the time a statistically daunting task to say the least. As it was, the maddening frustration of being stationed on the Cambodian border and living like an armed fish-in-a-barrel left me seriously torn between quitting altogether and walking away and venting my frustrations by volunteering for a combat infantry unit.
But given the chaotic state of the military in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the end of the Draft and the alarming rate of attrition reported among field-grade officers, toughing it out would have put one on a fast track for rapid promotion. For years morale has been at an all-time low. Gone is the patriotic fervor of the citizen-soldier and even the duty-bound draftee. A chronic shortage of both quantitative and qualitative dimensions occurred. A specious all-volunteer force arose. Call it a career if you must but it can also be described as an imperialistic mercenary foreign legion of the otherwise unemployed. As an historical perspective, there is nothing new under the sun.
Under the draft-dodger Bill Clinton, who seems to lack any sense of duty or loyalty either to his own country or even his own wife for that matter, the shameful and morale-busting “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” policy was implemented. He’d throw anybody – anybody but himself at the enemy it seems, including the womenfolk.
“The Marine Corps builds men.”
I can honestly state that I was in fact offered a commission in the United States Army and it is sort of fun to speculate that I could have been a General by now, perhaps retired or nearing retirement; but that was but one of the many hard choices I’ve made over the years, one of the many roads “not taken” in my journey through life.
But given my conflicting Christian background, a lifetime of learning, our imperialist, megalomaniacal foreign policy and the sheer madness of domestic politics today, I could not imagine myself being an Army General in this day and age. I’d feel like something out of a Tolkien novel, leading an army of færies out to do battle against the dark forces of evil – whoever they are.
I could have been a General by now.