This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, 4-Hours to Live: Memoir of a Female Soldier.
In this chapter, I talk about my time as an Army Recruiter--or "Reclooter," as my Puerto Rican Sergeant Major used to say.
Excerpt from my upcoming book, 4-hours to live
Truth-be-told, military people can have a lot of contempt for civilians-the people we sign-up to keep safe--when we enlist in the military. It's sort of a love-hate relationship. We love you enough to protect you but hate that ninety-nine percent of you don't care enough about America to put your own skin in the game to protect her. And, we detest the fact that you are like clueless lemmings when it comes to what America's government does and its military endures-in your name. Understanding what is going on within your country's nexus of influence requires that the American people stop listening to folks who get paid to spin you a story. Instead, get out there and experience things for yourself or talk to those who have and get make up your own mind.
My personal opinion is that every American should be required to serve their country in one of three ways. Two years of mandatory active duty or reserve military service, two years of mandatory peace corps service, or two years working for minimum wage in a community where the majority of its residents are below the poverty line.
I believe the current economic, cultural, religious, and social divide exist in this country because we believe ourselves to be so very different from that other person over there-outside of our sphere of influence. When we are put in situations where we have to come together for work, school, or service-and there's a real desire to get to know and understand the new perspectives you have been exposed to, many people will realize an important truth. We are more alike than we are different. The ways in which we express ourselves may look and sound different, but when understood, the alikeness becomes more apparent.
Sacrificing a couple of years of one's life at a job that serves to uplift an underserved group of people, support our military, or at humanitarian efforts around the world will take young people out of their comfort zone. It might cause some to have to live on less money than they are accustomed and to associate with people they wouldn't have encountered along the trajectory their life was on prior to their service.
One of the reasons that I didn't have a lot of compassion for people who wanted to join the Army but didn't qualify was because I hadn't been outside of my middle-class existence-on an intimate level.
By the time that I left recruiting and had been in homes where roaches were crawling on walls and mice scurried across floors. While in other houses in the 1990s, a butler or man-servant—I don't know quite what to call him, opened the door in the affluent village of Bronxville, New York. I had witnessed great wealth and great poverty and learned a little bit about how each person got there. Both environments produced young men with nearly identical ASBAB scores-both were Cat I. They both joined the Army for financial independence.
One eighteen year old said that he didn't want his parents to be financially responsible for him after he graduated from high school. And he wanted to be able to send them money to take care of his siblings. He went into field artillery-you need to be very good at math for this job.
The other eighteen year old said he wanted financial independence from his family. They used their money to control him-he said. If he made his own money he could be his own man when he graduated from high school. He became a scout-for the adventure.
One of the lessons I learned during my time on recruiting duty was that people fail or succeed at life for many reasons. I also realized the playing field is not even. I had heard it from my brother Omar many times before but never agreed with him. After going entering into the most intimate spaces of people’s lives—as an Army Recruiter, I have realized that every American doesn't have the same opportunity. And everyone with opportunities isn't always able to take advantage of them.
The first boy's parents worked four jobs between them—at minimum wage. They wanted to live where there was a good school for their children, the parents said. The only place they could afford in the, "Good school district," was infested with vermin. They were working-poor and not by choice, but by circumstance.
The young man with all the money that he needed to be able to choose any career he wanted, felt stifled, trapped, and oppressed by his family's wealth. He couldn't take advantage of the opportunities provided by his family's money and be true to himself at the same time.
Getting out of my sphere of influence and into military service allowed me to have this experience and to grow as a human being in the years to come. But when I was on recruiting duty I felt differently. I had contempt for civilians and their unqualified for military service, spawn.
“What do you mean my son can’t join the Army because he’s overweight? I thought the Army would get him into shape.”
“Ma’am, in the Army, professional soldiers are expected to be able to perform physical tasks that require strength, stamina, and overall good health. Right now, your son doesn’t meet that criteria.”
I went on to say— “We have physical training four times a month for the members of our delayed entry program. Your son can come workout with us, lose the weight, and get in shape before he tries to enlists.”
“Are you going to pay him while he loses the weight, because he needs a job now?”
“No, Ma’am, he won’t get paid for this.”
“Well I don’t see why you can’t just send him to boot camp like he is and whip him into shape.”
“I just told you why, Ma’am.”
“Now, that’s some bullshit right there.” I had to give her credit for the way she threw those words down like a gauntlet—mom had game.
“Son, take your mama home, or to the hospital, your choice.” Was my reply. He understood my meaning and stood up from the faux-leather, recruiting station sofa to escort his mother out—before I went ham on her. But not before she got in the final words.
“What did you just say? See, you lucky you in the Army and got guns and shit up in here.” She said before runway model trotting her way out of the recruiting station.
“I love my country, I love my country, I love my country.” This is what I repeated—sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud, when I felt like hurting a civilian. I could not wait to get back onto a military installation.
As a civilian, what do you think about my past feelings about you?
If you were or are in the military, how did you feel about civilians, then and now?
In future blog posts you can read more excerpts from my upcoming military memoir--4Hours to Live: Memoir of a female soldier. Subscribe to be the first to hear when the book is released, to hear about live readings, book tour dates and speaking engagements.