One of my sons' friends dropped by recently to proudly tell us he had joined the Navy and couldn't wait to start basic training.
I paused, waiting for the ”gotcha“ moment that never came. He was serious.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But what about the war in Iraq? I asked. How is your grandmother taking this news?
”Everything will be OK, Miss Merlene,“ he said. ”When was the last time you heard of anyone dying in the Navy?“
Not that long ago, I thought. But I didn't say it.
He then went on to talk about the educational opportunities he would have once he completed his tour and how after basic, the demands wouldn't be that hard.
It was already a done deal because he had signed on the dotted line months earlier and was just waiting until now to head out.
I didn't quite know what to say.
The young man said he was tired of sliding from one job to another since graduating from high school two years before, and he wanted some stability in his life.
I admired that. He has had a hard row to hoe during his two decades on this Earth and had turned out beautifully. And he seemed to have everything planned.
He's planning to be in the Navy for a few years and then use the G.I. Bill to complete his education in the medical field.
”I'm going to make all kinds of money, Miss Merlene,“ he said. ”And I've already got a position on their football team. So all I have to do is play football and go to school.“
It sounded like a lot of recruiter-speak.
Nothing is that simple, I wanted to say. Nothing about the military is that easy.
If it hadn't been for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't think I would have felt as uncomfortable as I did.
My brother joined the Navy in the late 1960s, while America was in the throes of the Vietnam War. My parents weren't the least bit pleased, as I recall. I can still hear my mother asking what he had been thinking.
But my brother said he had received the dreaded ”greetings“ letter that all young men who weren't full-time college students received back then.
He had been going to college full-time and working full-time, while carrying some heavy physics and math classes. But something had to give.
He said he dropped back to part-time in college, and the draft board was notified immediately.
If he had to go into the military, he told me, he'd rather go on his own terms. He had good grades and could choose his field of interest. He chose to enlist in the Navy and study electronics.
Any time during that period, he said, he could have been shipped off to war. He had no guarantees. But he wasn't sent to the war.
He left the Navy after 71/2 years as an electronics technician. He used the G.I. Bill to become an electronics engineer.
If my sons' friend does that, my brother said, if he focuses on what he can get out of the Navy, then he will do just fine.
”One thing is for sure,“ my brother said. ”It will make him or break him.“
I have been praying for the ”make him“ result.
There is no doubt a lot of our young people could benefit from the discipline of our military. Basic training alone could bring a new appreciation of parental rules.
And a small piece of me would love to see my own boys get a taste of that.
But to think this young man thinks the Navy will be his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or that life for him as a seaman will be a breeze is very wrong on many levels.
It might work out for him as it did for my brother.
I've already started doing my part.