In the civilian world, getting fired pretty much sucks. You lose your income and get a big bruise on the ego. Worries turn into fears as your reservoir of cash evaporates. Toothaches become a major menace. The wounded self-esteem takes time to heal, and you find yourself reassessing your value to the rest of the world. Occasionally, getting canned will have a silver lining, but on the whole, it’s an obstacle and a handicap. In the military, on the other hand, it can be a good career move and a definite way for improving one’s quality of life.
In my younger days, I was full of ambition. I wanted to be my own man, writing great things for an ever-expanding audience. I wanted to stand out and open the world’s eyes to the truth. Of course, such a life is a continuous struggle. Being remarkable required a good deal of arrogance and a sincere belief in my utter uniqueness and, dare I say, superiority, to the average folks who constituted the unsophisticated rabble, the very rabble that went to work on me, knocked me down a few notches and introduced me to the humiliation of being fired.
Having been knocked from my position of exalted highness, I came to consider the possibility that contentment could be found as a standard-issue, conforming member of the rabble, and what better way is there to join the rabble and learn conformity than by enlisting in the United States Army?
As the day to leave for basic training approached, I prepared to become a sheep. I quashed any ambition to be outstanding in any way. I would do whatever the Army told me to do, no matter how silly, humiliating or moronic it happened to be. I would strive for uniformity and give up any sense of my own specialness. I would seek out opportunities to be average.
Even though I sacrificed my constitutional rights when joining, the Army liberated me. I had no worries and no concerns. I was responsible for myself. As long as I could get up, get shaved and get dressed on time, the Army was happy with my performance. I was a good soldier, apparently, and shortly after finishing training and getting to my post out in the regular Army, it wanted to promote me. With extreme ambivalence and a measure of dismay, I went through the motions and became a sergeant. Along with the rank, I received five soldiers to take care of and a big pile of equipment to sign for.
Here in Afghanistan, I led my team out to our FOB and got our gear set up, and it was a serious pain the neck. But in line with my pledge to do whatever the Army told me to do, I went along for the ride and carried out my duties only to return from two weeks of leave to find that I had been fired and replaced.
I was stung and angry, and I have to admit to having a bit of resentment for the staff sergeant who used to be my boss. “What a clueless idiot,” I catch myself saying when I hear the guy’s name. I felt the same shame and the fear I felt the last time I got canned. I was ready to battle to get my job back and prove that I was up to the task of leading a group of recalcitrant soldiers on our mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I wanted to prove my indispensability to the Army’s effort. How dare it not recognize my brilliance!
All this from the guy who pledged to be sheepish and average.
And so, with a little time to cool off and settle down, I decided that getting fired was very much preferable to retaining my status as a team leader. I held on to my pay grade, and the money appears in my account two times every month. There’s been no interruption in my dental or health coverage. I get three hot meals a day and a place to live. I still get 30 days of paid vacation every year. When it comes time to return home, the Army will pay my way. And, best of all, I have been absolved of responsibility. The gear is gone and the soldiers are someone else’s problem.
Meanwhile, I can get back to achieving the military goals I set for myself: being the most subservient, unremarkable, sheepish conformist I can possibly be. Success will be mine!
Sgt. Mike, a former mountain-town newspaper editor in Colorado, expects that some measure of his ambition will return by the time he’s honorably discharged in 2013.