Saturday, May 19, 2007

tough enough

When I was 18 my biggest worry was figuring out how to pay for college.

My parents had already told me they were strapped for cash and couldn't help with tuition. My grades were great so I didn't doubt that I could get into a school. Didn't much care where, I never was much interested in an Ivy League education.

At some point I had the opportunity to take an aptitude test for the military. Always being a good tester I signed up, figuring what the heck.

What I didn't realize is that soon I would be getting LOTS of calls from military recruiters. Didn't think much about consequences back then.

One thing we all know, you can get money for college by going into the armed forces. And by god I'm never one to do something halfway, so I figured if I was going to go into service for our country no way was it going to be for anything but the toughest group. The marines.

Arriving at the marine recruitment office, the recruiters were tickled pink to meet me. We talked about the benefits that would be bestowed upon me for serving my country. Honestly I recall the deal sounding pretty good. And I didn't mind the challenge. Although I was kind of an anti-establishment person, I figured eh. I'm tough enough to get through.

Then it occurred to me to ask a question. Someone had put a bug in my ear, something about how women weren't allowed in combat.

Now when I said I chose the marines it was because they were the toughest group I wasn't looking for an easy way out. The whole point was to prove that I could take anything and then dish it right back out.

So I asked the question. The response?

"Yes that is true! You are very lucky, you will always be safe, never on the front line!"

Getting agitated I reply, "You are joking. That is ridiculous."

Now getting confused, the recruiter demanded, "You don't understand. You are lucky to have this protection."

"No, YOU don't understand. I refuse to be a part of any organization that doesn't see me as an equal."

Angrily he replied "Excuse me, have you ever had a bullet pass within an inch of your head?!"

Now I was pissed "No, but by god if you can take it I can too. That is my point, I have to take the crap as much as anyone else. If I am considered weaker or need to be protected I will never be on equal footing."

At this point he calmed down a bit, sensing that he was losing a sale. "Well, this restriction was actually imposed by congress, so it isn't the armed force that came up with it."

That kind of made the whole concept a done deal for me. Serve a country that saw me as weak? Forget it.

Now, please keep in mind this was two years before the gulf war. We had been in times of peace for over twenty years and Sadam Hussein was barely a blip on the TV. As I have gotten older I am thankful that I didn't have to put my life on the line, and have total respect for those who did.

Luckily I discovered a school that arranged for you to work fulltime half the year as part of the program, with a great wage and even greater benefits. Full healthcare and paid vacation while going to college? Oh, and did I forget to mention in was 75% male? Graduating from an all-girls high school it seemed too good to be true.

Every now and then I look back and wonder where I would be if I had joined. Never having the pink hair, not having all the crazy jobs and experiences. Would I have left after serving my time? Would I have gotten knocked up or married like so many of the women in the armed forces? Would I have stayed and gotten promoted through the ranks?

Honestly, I'm relieved that I made the choice I did. One little question that popped into my head made all the difference in the world.

Of course, aren't most the monumental decisions of our life balanced on the answer of just one question?

Oh, and I totally still believe that I'm tough enough. Booya.

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