The following is an edited-for-privacy letter I wrote to a good friend’s “son” who joined the Army recently. He’s in his second week of Basic Training. I felt compelled to post this today in honor of Veteran’s Day. Please see further comments on this day following the letter.
I’ve never met you in person. I’m a former Marine. Notice the word “former”, because even though I’m no longer enlisted, I’m still a Marine in heart and mind. Marines almost never call themselves ex-Marines. Marines also use the phrase “Semper Fi”, which means “Always Faithful”. Once we’ve earned the title of Marine, we are always faithful to the principles of the Marine Corp, and defending the U.S. Constitution and our fellow citizens. But, more than that, we are a brotherhood/sisterhood of free individuals. It can truly be said, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”.
I understand that you’ve enlisted in the Army. It is also my understanding that your ambition is to be an Army Ranger. I am truly impressed. The Army Rangers are one of the most honored and respected outfits in the entire U.S Military. They are also some of the toughest, most disciplined group of men and women on the planet. I am sincerely thrilled to know that you have chosen to attempt to join their ranks and become a part of their phenomenal history. Notice I typed the word “attempt” in the last sentence? Before you can call yourself a Ranger, you must earn that title. That’s NOT an easy task. But, it’s NOT supposed to be. Before I had the privilege of calling myself a Marine, I had to earn the title. And, so must you EARN the title of Army Ranger. The question is… Are you up to the challenge?
I understand you have had some serious reservations about joining the military. You’re not alone you know. For every 10 people who enlist, there are probably 5 of them that are asking themselves the same questions you are asking yourself right now… like “What the fuck was I thinking?”, “Why did I sign that paper?” etc. And, even more recruits are desperately wanting to run away every time the drill sergeant gets up in their face. In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone is cringing at the thought of more setups, crunches, bends and thrusts, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and any other insane torturous exercise the powers-that-be are devising even as I type this. But, there are reasons. And, the reasons extend well beyond protecting life and limb. The yelling, the screaming, the non-stop insanity, is doing something very, very, special for you. It’s a huge gift from your drill sergeants to you and your brothers. They are giving you the strength to enjoy your freedom and to face adversity. They are giving you a right of passage into manhood.
Your drill sergeants don’t hate you. They don’t dislike you. All they expect from you is the ability to rely on you. They MUST know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you’ll be there for them, for your brothers and sisters, if you’re ever needed. Whether it’s combat, a car accident, a natural disaster, choking on a piece of steak in a restaurant, or helping someone cross a busy street… Your drill sergeants MUST be absolutely certain that you fully understand your responsibility to fellow human beings. Of course this is the military, and right or wrong, good or bad, the reason the U.S. Military is the most powerful military in the world is because it is the best trained, most disciplined, and the fiercest fighting force in the world. And, the teamwork demanded to accomplish this feat is second to none. Whether you believe it or not, right now, your drill sergeants would gladly give their lives if needed, in order to protect yours. Why? Because they learned, just as you are learning that – to borrow a phrase from Star Trek – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”
Never forget that your drill sergeants had to go through exactly what you are going through right now. They had to prove to their drill sergeants that they could be relied upon. They had to earn their right to be called an Army Ranger, Recon, Special Forces, Delta Force, etc. They are not heartless cyborgs. The don’t eat barbed wire and have piss for blood. They have families and friends just like you. They have emotions just like you. They know fear and apprehension just like you. As such, they are human, just like you.
What you are going through in basic training is a simple game. It’s a game of will. It’s not a game of will between you and the drill instructor though. It’s a game of your will against your will. Will you let your will defeat you? Can you overcome your fears? Can you overcome your apprehensions? Can you be smarter and stronger than you have ever been? Can you adapt to an ever changing world? Can you face adversity with steel calm? Can you walk through your life as an independent, confident, and strong individual who understands your obligations and responsibilities to yourself and others? You see, this is the toughest game you’ll ever play. Forget video games. If you really like video games, then this game, the game of life, is the ultimate video game. In the game of life, you’re currently at level 2. Completing level 1 was making the decision to join the military. Now you have a chance to beat level 2 and move on to levels 3-10. Level 3 is four years of military service. Level 4 is College. Level 5? Well, from there… You design the game for yourself.
Recruit… I don’t know you. But, if you complete basic training, I WILL know you. You will be my brother. I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you’ll be there for me and all of us who have earned our right to be called Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard. I’ll KNOW that you’ll be there for our fellow human beings. And, while our tribe is not special in the grand scheme of humanity, we are a tribe of people who clearly understand our responsibilities to ourselves, each other, and the rest of humanity. You can be one of our tribe. All you have to do is earn it. And, I KNOW you are capable… Check that… I KNOW you are MORE than capable of becoming a man who humanity can always rely on. Play the game soon-to-be brother. Play the game. In the end, you’ll thank yourself and feel tremendous pride in your accomplishments.
Look around you right now. Do you see the faces of your platoon? They need you, and you need them. Do it. Be their brother. Semper Fi.
To my brothers and sisters in our tribe, the U.S. Military, both past and present…
Thank you so very much. Semper Fi.