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Military Life, Part One: Training And Service

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Staff Sergeant Ignacio Reyes.
Active-Duty Military Personnel Face Constant Training, Danger, Extended Periods Away From Home

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By Vickie Goen
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 8, 2011 — Imagine a job where the goal of training was to stress you to the point of a breakdown; where you were required to be separated from your family for months at a time; and where you were required to move at the whim of your employer. Not many people would willingly accept this position. Throw in the fact that there is a considerable potential for death, and it is a deal breaker in most cases. As strange as it seems, this demented job description does not belong to a fictional employer. Rather, it is what you might well expect if you decide to work for the U.S. military.

Considering that the United States is actively engaged in hostile situations in multiple countries throughout the world, the recruitment goals for both active and reserve branches of the military are being met--or in the case of the Army, exceeded. The U.S Department of Defense website for fiscal year-to-date through October 2011, listed the Army as having 6,643 accessions. With the significant inconveniences and the obvious hazards, what continues to make these men and women want to enlist?

The reasons seem to be as diverse as the individuals. Some join to make a better life for their families while others look to the military to provide a challenge. Many are motivated by a desire to serve their country. Whatever the catalyst behind the decision, once a person is sworn-in, the introductory training is the same for everyone. Every career in the military starts with boot camp.

Accurate assumptions could be made about the physical component of this period based on its name. But what does boot camp do to a person mentally? According to U.S. Army Specialist Kenneth Peavey, “Every waking minute is stressful. They try to keep you at your breaking point. And they do a really good job of it.”

The typical day for these new recruits involves sessions of intense exercise, weapons training, PowerPoint presentations, and unit missions that promote teamwork. Throughout all of this chaos, “attention to detail is the number one thing that you have to remember,” said Peavey.

After meeting the challenges of boot camp, soldiers are stationed with their units both inside and outside the United States. Even if they are lucky enough to get placed at a post they chose when during enlistment, there is no guarantee they will remain there for long. Staff Sergeant Ignacio Reyes has been actively serving in the Army for 10 years. During his time he has been at six duty stations, not including his deployments. He estimated that he moves about every two years.

“It really does suck moving so much,” Reyes said.

The transferring to multiple locations is not exclusive to the Army.  Petty Officer, 3rd Class, Linda Ferguson was an officer in the U.S. Navy for a period of four years. She too was sent to six different duty stations during her time.

The real commitment and sacrifice that military personnel are asked to make becomes evident when the focus is placed on deployment. Not only are they leaving behind the comforts of home, and their friends and family, they are literally putting their lives on the line on a daily basis.

It is easy to forget that servicemen are dying to protect America’s freedoms. Occasionally, an evening news report will thrust the reality back into the forefront of people’s mind by reporting on a fallen soldier. But, to the men and women who are overseas, the stress and danger are never far from their minds. It is a menagerie of potentially fatal circumstances that they must constantly face. They know that any day could be the day that they lose a member of their unit — or they could be among the fallen themselves.

The most difficult thing about being deployed, according to Peavey, Reyes, and Ferguson, was not being able to be with, or sometimes not being able to communicate with their families. Second to that was the fear of death.

“You never knew when a stray bullet or mortar could come your way,” says Peavey.

The typical day for a deployed soldier is riddled with situations that most people can hardly imagine.

“It depended on the day, but most days we would go out on patrol looking for insurgents, weapons, bombs, or materials to make explosives. My job was living out in the city with the Iraqis, so every day we had to be on our toes. There were a lot of incoming rounds, so we had to run inside often for cover. There was a lot of firefights, a lot of dead bodies. We saw it every day,” said Reyes.

And this was not a situation that lasted for several weeks or even several months. Both Peavey and Reyes were deployed to Iraq for twelve months at a time. Reyes, with his substantial time in the Army has been deployed three times; twice to Iraq in addition to a year spent in South Korea. For Ferguson, her deployment consisted of eight months at a time at sea.

When not deployed, members of the military are required to continue their training depending on what rank and job they hold. For Reyes, who is in the infantry, training focuses on learning things that will keep him alive in the field, such as weapons handling, improvised explosive device countermeasures and handling, and safety courses.

Looking at the risks associated with employment with the military, it poses several questions. Is the pay worth the danger? Are the benefits, including death benefits in some cases, enough to cover the needs of these soldiers and their families? What happens after their time in the military is complete?

Go To Part Two —>

(Editor’s note: Part Two, Pay And Benefits is viewable here. Part Three, Life After Service, is available here.)

Vickie Goen is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.
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