It’s Veterans’ Day, and it’s my niece’s birthday. Prior to last year, that was a point most often acknowledged by the joke about how, the day my niece was born, it was also Labor Day for my sister. Last year, the overlap gained new significance as my dad — her grandfather — had just died (on 11/5), and was to be buried in a veterans’ cemetary. The funeral was on 11/10. I thought a lot that day about how hard my niece’s birthday the next day would be for her. In fact, one of my most daunting challenges all that week was trying find a birthday card that said the right variation on “hope you have a happy birthday anyway.”
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My dad’s service in the Army back in the ’50s was as an Arabic linguist, so his work was in Military Intelligence. We didn’t discuss it often when I was growing up, but we knew it. I’ll never forget the first argument we had after 9/11. He’d been visiting me and Karsten in Portland on 9/10 while traveling on business, and then had to go on to Vancouver, BC. Following the restrictions of 9/11, he was stuck in Canada for a few days. When he came back a few weeks later to complete his business trip, we walked along the Cumberland River and got into a heated argument about why. If I could have it to do again, I’d shut the hell up and listen to him. I didn’t have to agree with him, but he was an expert on the region (albeit with dated expertise), and I just might have learned a thing or two instead of presuming he was coming from a place of conservatism and closed-mindedness.
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Here’s a bit of trivia: I almost joined the military myself; did you know that? I was all set to follow in my father’s footsteps, as a military linguist. I scored very well on the ASVAB and absolutely rocked the DLAB. Highest score ever recorded in the state of Illinois, they told me. When I told my dad, he beamed and said he’d scored the highest ever recorded in the state of Maryland when he took it, and then he hugged his little language-learning-freak daughter. Over the next few weeks, though, the Army stalked me. Recruiters called me morning and evening, recruiters tried to give me rides home from school, recruiters made a nuisance of themselves. And I felt positively cornered. So I told them to get lost. It took a lot of repeating myself to get the message across, but eventually they did give up and go away.
So, this is embarassing to admit, but on 9/11, one of my first feelings was guilt. With my score on the DLAB, I knew I may very well have been an Arabic linguist, and there may very well have been something I could have done to better prepare us as a country. I know, I know, it’s a ridiculous, arrogant thought. Like I said, it’s embarassing to admit. But it was an honest reaction, and a well-meaning one.
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My boyfriend during the first few years in college was an Army Ranger. He was in the reserves, though, so after basic training, he only had to report for duty one weekend each month. He came over to see me on a break from his duty one weekend, but there was a miscommunication and no one knew where he was. He was actually AWOL, which both freaked me out (AWOL? just to see me?!) and amused me greatly. The scariest part was when his grandmother found out. She got really mad at him. The Army should have recruited her as a drill sergeant. She was terrifying.
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After writing all this out, all that’s left is to sincerely thank the people who’ve actually put up with the recruiters, gone through with enlistment, and who’ve done something for our country. There are many ways to serve a concept you believe in, and the military is one dangerous way to serve the concept of the greatness of the USA. It’s a concept that we don’t always live up to, but I deeply appreciate the work of those who believe in it enough to risk their lives for.