I think one of the questions I get the most is, "why did you join the army?" This usually leads into a much longer story, unless I'm in a bad mood, which can bring about a snarky response such as "I lost a game of tic-tac-toe." But this is the long version of this story…
After I graduated in 1998, I was supposed to go to Mesa State College to play football. Had I went, I would have been able to get a partial scholarship, only covering my tuition since I planned on living at home. One night though I got in a blow-out argument with my father, which caused me to move in with a friend and his family. This arrangement wasn’t sustainable, so I had to make a choice. A few of my friends had joined the military and I knew the recruiters, so I went to explore that possibility. I went to MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station), and after going through my physical, they sent me home being slightly overweight. They told me to come back the following month, but I was angry so I decided to go another direction. Instead, I moved to Greeley, Colorado to live with my mother and work with my Aunt and Uncle.
My Aunt and Uncle owned a large number of rental properties and apartment complexes, as well as an excavating company. My work ranged from maintaining the properties to different construction type work. It was hard work, but what bothered me most was loneliness, as I had no friends in the area, and none of my coworkers were my age. I returned to Grand Junction for a visit and realized that I wanted to return to where my friends were.
My father had moved out of the house, so I came home and lived with my step-mother, as well as my step and half sisters. I started working at JC Penny, in the Men's department upon my return. After a few months, a friend got me a job at a paint store, as well as working as a bouncer at Grand Junction's only real night club, Mesa Theater. I had also became a part of a local semi-pro football league, where I met my friend Micah. After a few months he had talked me into moving out of my step-mothers house and into what would become one of the most popular party houses in Grand Junction. After a couple years of partying and working, I decided to return to school. From 2000-2001, I went to Mesa State College, studying Political Science. I had always enjoyed politics, but to many folks surprise, I used to be very conservative. I was a member of the Young Republicans, and I helped out on G.W. Bush's first presidential campaign. While I excelled in these courses, I didn’t do well in my other courses, failing 2D art (basically a drawing class), as well as failing Biology 101 (not realizing the final was not on the same day class was normally held). In all honesty, I was working and partying too much to really do well in school, I wasn’t ready.
My job at the paint store felt like a dead end. While they offered me an assistant manager position in Glenwood Springs, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started looking for a new job and found an amazing job as a river raft guide. Between being a bouncer and a river raft guide, life felt pretty good. The only problem I had was that I wanted to go to school still, but was tired of taking out student loans. It was at the beginning of the summer of 2001, while giving one of my best friends Garett a ride to work, when he said, 'I had this weird dream last night that I was in the army. It's crazy, my dad was in the Army, and I hated it, and him. But I have this feeling that it is what I need to do.' His initial thought was to just join the reserves or the National Guard, where it would only be a 1 weekend a month, 2 weeks a year time commitment. I thought, fuck it, I would join with you. We called the National Guard but they didn’t return our calls. So I told Garett, "I know the Army recruiters, I almost joined a couple years ago. Let's go talk to them."
We went into the Army recruiters office and they were all too happy to see me. They knew I was interested, so I wouldn’t be a hard sell. We looked at a few different jobs, the recruiters were trying to push us into combat arms, one of them being a Cavalry Scout; as they showed us videos of soldiers riding around on dirt bikes and dune buggies. But we both got excited about a job doing PsyOps (Psychological Operations) as a reserve. So about 3 years later than my first visit, I once again found myself at the MEPS center in Denver, and having a job working outdoors on the river I was in much better shape than before.
The MEPS process takes all day. You are put up in a hotel the night before, woken up early the next day, and taken in to be poked, prodded, and asked a bunch of questions. You start with the basic physical. It was at this step that I had previously failed for being overweight, but this time I was fine (though I was still fairly large compared to most). After the physical, you go to a doctor where he asks you a number of mental health questions, and finally you go to take the ASVAB standard test. Once your test scores are available and your background check is completed, you are allowed to go to contracting. Garett had finished just before me and came out to talk to me before I went into contracting. He told me that he didn’t qualify to be in PsyOps due to a past legal discretion. Instead he said that he could be guaranteed a posting in Germany if he went into the regular Army instead of the reserves, and he wanted to go as a Cavalry Scout. He also said that we could go into the "Buddy Program," if we wanted to, which would ensure we would be stationed together through boot camp and during our first duty station so long as we didn’t get in trouble at any point along the way. I said, "Fuck it! Let's go to Germany!" So in many ways it was a way out of Grand Junction, a way to see the world, and a way to pay for college once I got out. We both signed a contract for 3 years active duty, 5 years individual ready reserve (though the 5 years IRR part of the contract was never really understood until we were in the military, basically it says that if the Army wants you to do something in that extra time, they can). So on July 11, 2001, two months before highjackers would fly planes into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, we joined the US Army. Though we were on what was known as the Delayed Entry Program, so we would not officially leave until October. A few weeks later, another friend, Jeff, would decide he wanted to join with us, in order to 'get the hell out of Grand Junction,' so he joined us in the Buddy program.
The summer was amazing, working nights in a fun night club, and spending days on the river, and knowing I would be living in Germany shortly after, life was good! On September 10th, I had to work at the night club, and the next morning, my roommate would wake me up to tell me that the towers were just hit by planes. "Fuck off," I said, but he urged me to come to his room to see the TV. As I walked in, the first tower fell. I was in shock, not knowing where our future was now headed. That day I had an afternoon river rafting trip. The family was from upstate New York, so the trip was a bit silent and solemn, but they assured me their friends and family were safe.
It was perhaps the day after September 11, that our recruiters would call us in order to ensure that we knew that we signed a contract and there could be "repercussions" if we didn’t follow through (which we would later realize there was nothing they could really do if we didn’t go in), but also to make sure we were doing ok. It was a weird dichotomy, them showing care and concern, while also trying to scare us into upholding our contract. While Jeff and Garett definitely questioned our decision, as they were much more liberal than I was, I was determined to go. My conservative politics, felt this was the right thing to do, and what we were doing was honorable. And the disappearance of my ideals and beliefs is for another blog… But that is why I joined the Army.