“So… why are you getting out of the Air Force?”
It’s a question I’ve heard a lot. More times than I care to count. You know the whole “if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that…” thing? Yeah, I’d be on the Forbes Richest in the Country list, right below Bill Gates and reeling him in like Jr. on race day.
It’s a question I thought I knew the answer to, but after giving 842 different reasons in the last two weeks, I’ve decided to write this column to finally nail it down. The writing process is supposed to be cathartic for the writer. Here’s hoping it works. If it doesn’t I’m going with a mixture of George Leigh Mallory and my teenage cousin Tanya: “Because.”
I got into the military for several reasons, some of them obvious, some of them as hidden as Johnny Damon’s scalp. Sure, I wanted to serve my country. The patriotism reason is at least part and parcel of every armed forces member’s decision to sign on the dotted line. Even the most jaded of us knows the basics of Iwo Jima, Normandy, Gettysburg, and Yorktown. We know the stories of those who have come before us and the legacy they have left us. But unless someone goes so far as to have the American Flag as their screensaver and “Yankee Doodle” as their cell phone ring, a desire to serve isn’t the main reason.
For most, either a guaranteed job or the opportunity to get an education probably plays the part of overriding reason to enlist. The benefits offered by the military are tremendous and in some way make up for the lack of pay. And recently, all active duty service members got 100% of their college tuition paid, so the excuses for not taking classes during off-duty hours are few and far between. Now days, to be even be nominated for “Airman of the Quarter” one has to have some form of education currently on-going.
But when I signed into the delayed enlistment program in March of 2001, I already had lived almost two years in the “real world.” I’d graduated from college in 1999 and already had worked in teaching, management and sales. I’d been engaged, had a small house I paid rent on, even a dog (who am I kidding, I had nine dogs (counting puppies), two ferrets, three cats, and a 50-gallon tank full of fish… my ex-fiancé, the animal lover). Why was I joining the military? It boiled down to a lack of options; not that I couldn’t find a job, I just couldn’t find one I liked. I didn’t want to teach, hated working at the convenience store where I was a manager, and sales wasn’t my thing. What else could I do with a history degree? Uncle Sam, here I come!
Now, it’s been almost four years and I’m getting out. I’ve been through basic training (no, it’s not like Full Metal Jacket); passed technical training at Keesler Air Force Base, a mere four hours from my home; braved the high winds, torrential rain, and low female count of Lajes Field in the Azores; and finally, saw my first Medieval castle, walked the hallowed ground of Bastogne, and learned to drive in snow in Germany at Ramstein Air Base. I’ve seen parts of the world most Americans will only ever read about or hear Laurie Dhue mention on TV (if they can get past her lips). I’ve met people from parts of the country I might never get a chance to visit, or want to. And I’ve made friendships that will literally last a lifetime. And yet, I’m getting out.
If Phoebe from “Friends” were my friend and you asked her why I was getting out, she’d say, “Todd has his reasons. They are three fold.” First, I’d like a new job. No, actually I want a career. Even though I’ve taught, been a manager, worked in sales and been in the military, I never really viewed any of those jobs as a career. I never really saw any of them lasting longer than Ashlee Simpson. The first three were done to pay the bills and because sitting on my ass playing Madden isn’t a profession in Mississippi. The military was also to pay the bills, but also so I could figure out what I wanted to do after the military. Makes perfect sense, huh? Yeah, and Tara Reid’s in Mensa. In my post military career, I’m shooting for something that involves using my talents as well as something I might actually enjoy. So, if anyone knows of a career involving writing, talking a lot, meeting people and a propensity for corny, stupid jokes, I’m all ears.
The second reason isn’t really one big reason, but if I had to classify it in one phrase, I’d paraphrase James Carville and say “it’s the little things, stupid.” There are just some things about the States that I miss. I loved knowing Wal-Mart was not only going to be open 24 hours a day, but that they’d always have what I needed (and four other things I didn’t need, but had to get). It’s comforting to know that if I want to go out to eat, not only do I have 87,351 choices within a two-mile radius, but at none of those places will I get a negative answer to the question “Do you have an English menu?” I miss Bob “The Alcoholic Counter Guy” at 7/11 and him being the only person in town that I can’t understand. I love seeing commercials for movies four months before they come out and knowing that I can see them the day they are released. I miss seeing commercials, period. I love Monday Night Football, and hate Tuesday Morning Football. And most of all, I miss being able to call my mom, dad, brother, Muffin, and Rachel without dialing 48 numbers and it costing me $2.54 cents per minute. George Carlin had seven dirty words, Deutsche Telecom is my eighth.
The final main reason for getting out has just sprung up in the last few months. I first noticed it about two months ago while watching Look Who’s Talking on AFN. During one of the scenes were Travolta is taking Baby Bruce around the city, playing with him, and what not, I heard a voice in my head saying “Aw, that’s really nice!” in a “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” kind of way. Immediately, I thought “What the fuck was that!?!?” And then it happened again… and again… and again. So I went to my friend Muffin for clarification. Her response was, “My brother had those same thoughts right before he turned thirty. It’s natural.” When I inquired what insane, loony thoughts she was speaking of, she said, “It’s a fact, Todd. Even guys have a biological clock. Maybe you’re just ready to settle down.” Hold the fuck on, I thought. I can’t be ready to settle down! I’m not that old! I mean, I’m only… As Murtaugh said to Riggs, “Yeah, you’re only.”
I’ve come to accept that fact now, as scary as it is. While giving Muffin’s theory some thought, my birthday rolled around and I hit 28. It has now been a decade since I was in high school. My 10 year high school will be next year. That realization was coupled with the cold, hard facts that foreign women and military women are not my type. Most of the foreigners don’t speak English and I’m as good at languages as Paris Hilton is at keeping her sex life private. And for some strange reason all of the single military women don’t remember the Reagan presidency and can barely remember a TV without a remote. What was a screwed up, slightly heavier, wanting-to-settle-down guy like myself to do? Do what Eddie Murphy did, of course! So, I decided that in June I’d be Coming to America!
So, I’m getting out of the military. It’s not official official yet, but it is official. I went to the personnel office, denied my retainability, told the right people that I’m not re-enlisting, and already have plans on where I want to move (Tampa, baby!). Now I just have to wait until June comes around and complete the absolutely horrendous task of out-processing. Have you ever seen the commercial for the Marines where the guy has to do the unreal hard gauntlet, climb the rotating mountain thing, and then fight off the monster all to become a Marine? Air Force out-processing is a lot like that: they make you jump through so many hoops that if you were even the least bit reticent about getting out, you’d be crazy to even attempt it. Indian bravery tests where limbs went missing were easier than this.
But, I’ve made up my mind. The die is cast. Did the writing of this column help me come up with reasons that will make the next time I’m in that situation easier to handle? I’d like to think so. However, in about ten minutes when shift change rolls around and someone asks “So… why are you getting out again?” I’m probably going with the easy way out.
Todd's background includes military service, a stint at a movie theater, and getting turned down for a date by Sandra Bullock. All things that make him totally unqualified to be a writer. However, now that he's getting married in November, that might just do it.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
11.10.04 @ 12:40a
Ah, growing up sucks. You can plan all you want, but it seems to always come to a gut-shot call anyway, don't it?
You were a teacher? Did teenage girls flirt with you all the time and distract you while you were nervously babbling about Nabokov?
Yeah, me neither. Damn Sting, he lied and that was the only reason I got into that racket.
Good column, and thanks for serving.
11.10.04 @ 11:00a
Dan, you're not supposed to believe anybody in Hollywood anyway. It's all about illusions and lies.
Betty White seems harmless, but actually she's a tyrant in disguise.
11.10.04 @ 12:15p
Dan, yes I did get flirted with. But my worst experience was while waiting to join I substituted in a senior English class full of senior girls. I was 23 at the time.
My mom asked how it went and I said, "It's a little hard to be the authority figure in a room full of girls you can conceivably date."
11.10.04 @ 4:19p
Interesting that the nesting instinct is rearing up in one so young. I get the impression you'll make a great dad someday. And once you stop thinking about high school girls.