12 Things I Learned In The U.S. Military
Glimpse of the military training experience
Four months ago, I made a life-pivoting maneuver to temporarily leave my work in order to enlist in one of the world’s elite and most selective (less than 20% admission rate) armed forces group, the United States of America (U.S.) Military. I’m being trained to be a soldier with contract to serve for at least three years (whether part-time/reserve or full-time/active duty) in the U.S. Army National Guard (in contrast with U.S. Army, is under the jurisdiction of the State Governor unless federalized by order of the U.S. President). Since the Army National Guard is uniquely flexible among all U.S. military branches, it allows its members to be hybrid citizen-soldiers: the opportunity to hold a civilian job while receiving full benefits from the U.S. Department of Defense through soldier responsibilities for as occasional as just one weekend a month.
My decision was intriguing enough as I had no prior experience and interest in weaponry, combative, and governmental duties. Nonetheless, I got enticed to give it a try upon realizing that the military serves as a gateway to my life’s bigger plans. Reaching my quarter life stage, I’m supposed to intersect the fine lines of the could-be’s and will-be’s—and it happens to be that this venture is just as timely. Getting rid of the accustomed civilian life and with the encouragement of my brother-in-law, who’s now a highly respected sergeant in the Army National Guard, I was validated as good fit due to my systematic disposition, natural meticulousness, and holistic discipline. Now, four drills joined and a couple months to go before my and the iconic “10-week bootcamp,” I’ve had my shares of all the startles and hurdles, in which some may even come close to the exciting depiction from the media and movies.
We wonder how much of a prestige and challenge there is in volunteering to serve the country against its enemies. We may want to get outside the box from the limited understanding based on public conveyance of truculent despotism that’s as narrow as attack and defense. There’s so much more to learn and earn, and these should serve their purpose:
1. It’s what you know, not who you know.
Knowledge reigns over personal relations. Perhaps what I admire the most because intellectualism—encompassing rationalism, analytics, and law and order—is acknowledged as the driving force of success in the organization. Value for technicality in the strategic, operational, and tactical components is a given because you’re dealing with routines and tried-and-tested key performance indicators a.k.a the “art of war.” How personally close you are with your supervisors or any high ranking official you’re taking orders from will not directly affect much of your performance, given due respect is given, and advancement, thus eliminating cronyism. At the end of the day, if you can’t keep up with your duties and the Army standards, you’re out.
2. Survival is about effectivity in handling physical and mental stress.
Petrifying yells, high fitness standards, excruciating physical punishments, and sun-stricken terrain deployments are the defining elements during training phase. The perpetual presence of guns, emergency response simulations, and sudden orders spell the perfect recipe for long-term stress. As a neophyte, the taxing process is actually designed to break you. As such, unlearn being emotional, anxious, and overwhelmed; and learn more on being prepared, relaxed, and impregnable. As long as know how to take in constructive criticism, which is the proactive knowing of how to be a sponge (and how to be resilient) when necessary, and decide to give it a try no matter what, chances are you’ll survive.
3. Physical training is more endurance, less strength.
Many think that the Army is about being brawny, but less is the case. Unless you’re in the Marine Corps, which is the toughest in physical training among U.S. military branches, exemplary muscles are just as needed. The physical training’s designed for stamina (think crossfit), than power (think weightlifting). Fitness is gauged based on the number of correctly-performed repetitions at a strict time, with varying standards according to age bracket. The main tests include 40 push-ups in 2 minutes, 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and 2-mile run in 16 minutes 36 seconds*.
*Based on Advanced Individual Training standards for 22–26 years old
4. Rank progression is heavily based on length of service, not experience.
Unlike modern chain of command, promotion puts more premium toward and with simply your work duration (length of service in the Army and length of service in your occupational specialty). There are no waiting for the stepping down, resignation, or retirement of the person whom you’re taking over position. Being more excellent than your colleague wouldn’t be much factor. As long as you’re in good standing without any violations enough to discharge you, you’ll step up as advancement is based on a time-planned flowchart, making the Army a desirable organizational ladder to climb on.
5. Leadership training is unlike any other.
It’s definitely going to be a shock and new pair of glasses for civilians to witness the military’s ways. It’s straightforward, hostile, robotic, and you can say intimidating—but it gets the job done. Mistakes are encouragingly avoided and criticisms, as opposed to straightjackets, are well-appreciated. You’ll learn how to take in charge, master acuity, and be an expert in operations and people (at least relations if you’re not in the officership track) management. It’s all because of the hands-on and reactive approach to the training, with added incessant simulations to crises. There’s also a culture of “getting things done and not taking things personally” and “helping each other and not giving up.” All these constitute to the dynamics of integrity and progressive effectivity that I learned to appreciate among the cadres and, eventually, trainees. In fact, the training not only takes account of the brute force fashion of combative operations, but also overlaps with the functions and zeitgeist of non-military contexts. I learned from cadres’ stories how their military training translated very well into their civilian careers, especially in management positions. No wonder U.S. employers prioritize military members and veterans.
6. You’re never alone: the “buddy” system.
In tune with the Army’s stringent ties to “comraderie,” it’s punishable to travel within the garrison without your assigned buddy — a co-trainee whose purpose is to convoy you. Your buddy is accountable for things you do, including the mistakes. By the time you leave your platoon’s group formation (in Army jargon called the process of “falling out”), you’re supposed to be with someone — and that includes bringing your weapon with you, too.
7. You’re seen and treated uniformly and equally.
The Army holds strongly to its dictum, “Everyone should be the same.” As such, if you’re the only one doing something (especially in manner), you’re probably doing it wrong. From attires and styling to conducts and treatments, each and every soldier is supposed to be identical. From the time you wake up, the moment you eat, the manner you walk—every little regard should be same. It‘s not even a big deal if you’re performing way ahead and better compared to your peers; at the end of the day you’re all in it for one mission, one nation.
8. You’ll be punished for mistakes you didn’t do.
Following the conformity to uniformity, punishments are usually given as a group, or in some cases, you and (as always) your battle buddy. Depending on the size of your team (battalion, company, platoon, squad) and the preference of the drill sergeant, determines how many trainees will be under the rough patches of what the Army calls “smoke sessions.” Once most have already realized the repercussions of mutiny and the intensity of “being smoked,” there’ll be higher chances of remembering to keep things right all the time. Because even the slightest one-inch movement during position of attention can be noticed by and instigate heat from your drill sergeant.
9. Rules, patterns, structures, and jargons are abundant.
Across all military branches, the trademark of the just and organized warrior will always be ingrained in society’s mind even as technology and organizational management evolve. There are too many acronyms and procedures to even be aware of, and by attending drills you’re giving yourself some shots of mastery. Although there are quite a number of templates, many of the tactical operations are, however, improvised—because real-world scenario is full of surprises, making predictability an almost impossible thing. This is for the reason that many of the commands are verbal and there’s a lack of visual aids for simulative tests and instructional fillers. Hence, having a keen eye for details and a knack for peripheral viewing will be instrumental in the conscientiousness the military’s looking for.
10. People join for various and diverse reasons.
I was astounded to find out that, at an average, only less than 1% of the U.S. population accounts for military applicants. More surprisingly, most common reasons for joining are not related to the job nature, rather to the benefits entitled. These include priority employment, 100% tuition scholarship, housing allowance, attractive retirement package, other federal-wide financial incentives, etc. The badge of honor gained as symbolism of front-lining in land combat can become secondary in intention. Being of service as a given, some other common reasons are for the challenge, leadership training, love for applied artilleries, fitness immersion, and even, to a minority, the need to be disciplined. To even make it diverse, you can see people from all walks of life: the fresh high school graduate, the doctorate degree holder, the rich one, the soon-to-be Ivy League student, the future business owner, the lost and troubled, and even the previously homeless.
11. You have to memorize everything—and a lot.
The myriad information in the Army (contained in a hundred-page code book called “Soldier’s Blue Book” for entry-levels) would make the branch worthy enough to develop a bachelor’s degree of its own. With the basics alone, my ten fingers wouldn’t be able to count the number of categories there are if I were to do knowledge management: from ethos like Soldiers Creed, Army Values, Special Orders, etc. to technicals like Phonetic Alphabet, Rank Structures, Commands, Formations, Artillery Parts, etc. — you have to know word-by-word and, to some application, sequence-by-sequence. And the struggle comes from beyond the knowledge, traversing to the practical aspect of the learning and the implications of your executions, where pressure and distractions come abound.
12. In the end, your cadres do care about you.
Depending on the type of sergeant, your cadre may scream at you and even cuss so intimidatingly that you might start to doubt yourself and lose your nerves. The vitriol level varies, so you may just be lucky if you were assigned with a “chill” cadre. You’re in the Army to initially get trained, not to gain friends—applicable to both co-trainees and trainers. It’s about developing the inclination to doing things correctly and the aversion to connivance. Although cadres seemingly have a cold heart, always remember that it’s their responsibility to break you first, but build you up, so you can become that nascent soldier that executes duties excellently. After just a couple of weeks, I can guarantee that you’ll build habits that’ll run in auto-pilot mode. After which, you’ve gotten used to, and eventually, have ameliorated all hardships and deficiencies—the quintessence of a warrior well-versed for disasters and the American way of life.
The U.S. Military, to many, has long been viewed as the epitome of physical fitness, stress training, and patriotism. More than that, with my hands-on exposure, I can attest that it’s nothing less of a group that upholds, in Army values, the highest standards for loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
“I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
If you’re interested in and/or want to learn more about serving part-time in the Army National Guard, e-mail me at email@example.com.
About The Author: Josh L. Doman discovered his devotion to writing after serving as a journalist then managing editor for his college’s official school paper and publications. His father, an investor, engineer, and scholar who authored a book in theology and spirituality; inspired his writings to delve on the moralistic, ethical, and inspirational implications of living in the present times. Publications are reflection of anecdotal encounters in entrepreneurship, fitness, and the military; and accrued readings about behavioral economics, self-help, and spirituality.