It’s a good question and we at Veterans Expeditions would love to hear your stories in the next couple of days leading up to Veterans Day about why you chose to serve in the first place. Were you drafted? Were you a young, patriotic 16 year old who lied about your age to get involved in WW2? Were you an idealistic 17 year old ROTC cadet? Did you feel like your life was passing you by and you wanted an adventure? Was it the image of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01 that sent you to your local recruiters office? What are the memories you have of the early days of your service? Of the last few days that you still wore a uniform?
Why was it that you signed up for Uncle Sam’s Security Service, or was it Uncle Sam himself who signed you up?
For me, I served twice. The first time I never thought I had much of a choice. I remember being a young kid, maybe five years old and sprawled out on my family’s living room floor and staring in awe at the Korean War era encyclopedias we had. I would spend hours looking at the rank insignia diagrams and dog eared the entries for the Navy, Army, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
My Grandpa, Lumir Hoffman served in the Navy in WW2, alongside my Great Aunt Mildred (who is still alive and one of the most amazing women in the world!) and Great Uncle Rudy. I was going to be in the Navy! By the time I got to age 17 though, I was too tall to join the Navy and did not want to go through the medical waiver process, so I joined the Army instead. I went the ROTC route, which I think was actually the only way I got in as the Master Sergeant who did my physical let me know that I was too skinny for real basic training. He assumed I would thicken up a bit in college, added 15 pounds on my paperwork and let my dad sign the paperwork. I’m not sure what its like when a young man or a woman commits to playing a sport in college, but I’m willing to bet I was just as excited back in the spring of 1996 then any Kentucky, Duke, or Kansas basketball recruit ever has been.
As all the veterans of the last several years will know, when you join the military you join for eight years, but you do not always serve that time on active duty. After graduating Ole Miss in 2000 I served for the following four years at Ft. Huachuca and then in Germany and Sarajevo before joining the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) in September of 2004 and leaving my budding Army rugby career behind to go work in Angola with a non-profit explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) company. By 2005, I was working in the northwest corner of Georgia in a little breakaway republic called Abkhazia.
I hiked and climbed often, got up close and personal with an ice axe on numerous occasions, spent a night in Gorbachev’s dacha and was pretty much having the time of my life when on a sunny cold morning just after November, the Army sent me a note on my Yahoo! account letting me know they were recalling me back to active duty service, though it was not until several weeks later when the US Army finally issued me orders to return to Ft. Bragg, NC.
I imagine I could have fought the IRR recall, and I’d be lying to say it did not cross my mind, but there were just too many people who too many people who were already there, and besides, I had signed up for eight years and my signature is worth something. So, in the waning days of January 2006, I shaved off my attempted beard and boarded a plane back to the United States and the United States Army. Awaiting me were some of the greatest men and women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and one very drunk Chief Petty Officer, but that’s a different story!
What’s your story?