about face

february 14, 2022

war looms in eastern europe. as i read the news, i’m reminded that - if things had gone a little differently - i’d be heading over there.

after high school, i tried to join the united states air force. it’s incredibly embarrassing, and i’m not sure why i did it. over the years, i’ve alternated between two stories:

 in one, i’m broke. i need to escape my parents, but college isn’t an option. i idly mention i want to enlist to my parents, and they proceed to drag me to every single recruiter meeting. they guilt me into going through with it - on one hand talking about how proud they are, and on the other hand telling me it’s preferable to hopeless depression.

 in the other story, i’m broke. the u.s. government keeps raising the price of schools and all that. i decide that, to escape my parents and eventually pay for college, i needed to set aside my morals. i’m wracked with guilt through the whole recruitment process, but in the end i decide it’s preferable to hopeless depression.

in any case, i left town a week after graduation.

when i got to the basic training camp in san antonio, something struck me: i was the only kid there. about half of our flight [~50 person group who dormed and marched together] seemed over the age of 25. a few of them had already been through college. of the guys right out of high school, most of them seemed to be joining the military on purpose.

and there i was, scatterbrained and stupid.

the only guy there who was in a similar boat was this 17 year old from miami. one day he noticed me sobbing and told a story about how he got really depressed when his girlfriend broke up with him once. he was also forced into the military. as he tells it, a judge made him decide between enlisting or going to jail for some petty crime.

my later research indicates that this has been against air force rules for decades; this kid was either illegally forced into the service, or he too needed a story to absolve him of responsibility.

anyways. basic training started out well. therein lies the secret to beating depression: waking up early, eating three healthy meals a day, exercising regularly, and thinking about never having to see your father ever again. that first week was probably the happiest i’ve ever felt.

after that, the drill instructors realized i was stupid.

90% of air force basic training is learning how to march. they have the lowest fitness standards of any branch, and any actual technical training happens afterwards in tech school, so all you can learn is how to march.

and i was not very good at marching.

there are so many commands, so many specific maneuvers. i have to use all my brain power to manually move my arms and feet, and at the same time liste for new commands, and at the same time as that i have to keep in rhythm with the rest of my flight. it’s hell.

eventually, my drill instructor sent me to the on-base psychologist. this was probably meant to just get me a quick ADHD diagnosis, which in turn would get me disqualified from service.

instead, i spent the whole session going on about my myriad mental problems. everything but the gender dysphoria, which probably would’ve gotten me double-disqualified. the therapist summed it up as “depression with suicidal ideation,” i.e. “you should not let this girl anywhere near a gun.”

two weeks later, i was back home.

the worst part of the whole thing is. i felt ashamed of every step i’d taken. i felt like an idiot for joining, and i felt like an incompetent moron for getting kicked out. i never dreamed of actually serving, but failing at that was more evidence of my uselessness.

that was two and a half years ago, and i have a new sense of shame. i never even needed to join the air force. i’m at college preparing to have an actual career, i have friends, and most of the time i’m happy. my life turned out alright, and i don’t even have to salute my boss everyday.

i suppose that’s what the u.s. military does. they convince you that you need them. they either exploit your poor material conditions or they manufacture your crisis. but sometimes, you need to remember that russians aren’t actually preparing to invade and you don’t need lethal aid from NATO.