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Comments by YACCS
Monday, July 04, 2005

Who's going in the military?

Does this change you?

This was posted in a Kos diary and it struck me about how little these kids understood about what would be asked of them. All they see is the money and the career, they don't see the nightmares and the illness which can follow.

John Lippert, Jr., from outside Council Bluffs, also had a chance to go to college without joining the military. He'd been accepted at three schools, and his parents were willing to pay his way. He didn't feel comfortable when visiting any of the three schools, though, and he couldn't decide on a major. He decided God was telling him it wasn't for him, so he called up the Army.

Lippert's career path now includes jumping out of planes in airborne training, then maybe Ranger Indoctrination School. When he thinks he's ready, he hopes to join the Special Forces.

Quiet and easygoing, he likes that the Army will force him to stay on "top of my game." He wants to meet people and learn about other cultures.

Last year Lippert and his dad went on a two-week mission trip to Peru, and

He can envision taking the training he receives in the Army and becoming a missionary some day.

"I hope (the Army) doesn't change my character too much," he said. "I hope it doesn't make me like . . ."

He pauses, searching for the right word. "I hope it doesn't make me harsh."

Hmmm, you're a "quiet and easygoing" young man who's interested in being a missionary someday. So naturally, you want to join the Army during wartime, with a view toward special forces. Only you hope it won't make you "harsh." If he wants to learn about other cultures, didn't anyone tell him about the Peace Corps?

Finally, there's Micaela Zagar, from a town about 45 minutes northwest of Des Moines. Her dad's two brothers joined the Navy, and her dad always told her military service was the "best thing you could ever do."

Still, Zagar doubts she would have committed to the Navy if she had a clue about what she wanted to do with her life.

"I'm more of a peace-and-love person, but sometimes you've got to do new things," she said. "It will be like Bilbo Baggins in 'Lord of the Rings.'

"Everyone thought he was crazy. I decided to go on a four-year adventure, and then maybe I'll come back and know what I want to do and have it paid for."

She's going to train as an airplane mechanic in the Navy. She doesn't want to do that her whole life, but she figures that by the end of the next four years, she'll know what she wants to do. Eventually, she'd like to move back to a small town like Perry and raise a family.

She's not afraid to die, she says, but she does fear leaving everything she has ever known, realizing that it will change in her absence.

I was speechless after reading this article. Even after reading each kid's explanations for signing up, I remain mystified by their choices.

None of these kids seem to fathom the very real possibility that they could die during military service, or that they could see friends die, or that they could witness horrible things that will change them forever.

They are completely focused on what their country will do for them (pay for college, train them for a career), and have no concept of what they may be expected to do during their military service. Some of them are on a track to train for extremely dangerous fields

People often see the airborne/Ranger/SF route as a personal challenge, more than accepting insane amounts of physical danger. If they can make it to SF, they have pushed themselves to the limits and beyond. The idea that you have to kill people slowly comes into it. As far as harshness goes, it depends on the person. Some people join the ministry, some can barely function without years of thearapy.

Now, the poster doesn't realize this, but while two of these kids are picking the obviously dangerous, it is Michaela Zagar who will face the most danger on a daily basis, especially if she's stationed on the flight deck of a carrier. There is no more dangerous industrial enviroment on earth than an operating aircraft carrier. Falling overboard, getting sucked into a airplane engine, flying chains, it's extremely dangerous, as bad as any infantry posting.

But this innocence reminds me of a story which ran in Harpers in March:

Jeremiah Adler arrives at my door in Brooklyn in late September, four days after he escaped Fort Benning, Georgia, with another Army recruit. At ten at night, while a friend on guard duty looked the other way, the boys took off out of the barracks, making a thirty-yard dash into the surrounding forest. They had no clue as to where they were. After an hour they heard sirens blasting, and then the baying of dogs. They spent five hours in the woods, following a bright patch in the sky that they rightly assumed to be the city of Columbus. When they finally reached the road, they saw cop cars zipping past them, lights flashing in the dark. It was terribly exciting, though the morning he arrives at my house he seems spent. Jeremiah and I had spoken for the first time the day before. He was hiding out at a friend?s house in Atlanta, ready to hop the next plane home to Portland, Oregon, but he agreed to meet with me in New York first.

Jeremiah is slight, and his blue-green eyes seem unusually large, though that could be the effect of his shorn head. He has full lips and a fine-boned face that could easily become gaunt. He?s eighteen, a deeply earnest eighteen, with a dry sense of humor. He has an odd habit for someone so young of sighing often, and wearily. He?s also very hungry. We order a cheese pizza because he does not eat meat.

When Jeremiah announced his intention to join the military he took everyone who knew him in Portland by surprise. ?He was raised in a pacifist, macrobiotic house,? his mother exclaims. ?He went to Waldorf schools. Here is a kid who?s never even had a bite of animal flesh in his life!? Jeremiah had protested the Iraq war, in fact. He spent most of his senior year in high school convincing his family and what he and his mother call his ?community??a tightly knit group of families connected by the Portland Waldorf School and Rudolf Steiner?s nontraditional philosophy of education?that joining the military was the right thing for him to do.

In the spring of his senior year, Jeremiah went on a ?vision quest,? hiking into an area called Eagle Creek, which was still covered in snow. There he made a video explaining his reasons for joining the Army. He sits on the ground facing the camera but looking off into the woods as he talks. He starts by making a case for the military being a tool for change, a possible force for good. But, ?if you have a bunch of bloodthirsty young men with an I.Q. of twenty-three in the military, that?s what the military?s gonna be?until other people, other intelligent people with morals and values and convictions and ideals [join up]. Most people hate the military. Is the answer to distance yourself as far as you can and just protest all the time? What am I doing? I don?t know anyone in the military. Neither do any of you. It takes a lot more balls for me to join the military than it does for one of you guys to go to a forty-grand liberal-arts school. Is that a huge step? You?re gonna be around more open-minded people like yourself. You?re not gonna experience any diversity there.?

In this taped explanation he leaves out one reason for joining the Army, a reason that perhaps was too amorphous to put into words, or too personal, not something he felt the folks at Waldorf would understand. ?My mom was single until I was eight years old,? he tells me. ?My entire life I was raised sensitive and compassionate. I have a craving for a sense of macho-ness, honestly. A sense of toughness.? He remembers the first time he thought the military was ?cool??watching Top Gun at ten years old. Then in his senior year of high school, the recruiting commercials became a siren call. ?I mean, it?s an ingenious marketing campaign. It goes straight to an eighteen-year-old male?s testosterone. You see them and you?re almost sexually aroused,? he says. He wanted to kick past the cocoon of family and community, to know how other people thought and lived. He wanted a coming-of-age ritual?his vision quest, which had ended with the insight ?solitude sucks,? didn?t quite fill the bill. He wanted to become a man. Jeremiah took a year convincing his friends, family, and community, and yet within seventy-two hours of arriving at Fort Benning he was writing a letter home that began, ?Hello All, You have got to get me out of here.?

* * *

Jeremiah cook´┐Żed up a plan with another unhappy recruit to pretend they were gay. That plan went about as badly as it could have?five drill sergeants questioned them, called them disgusting perverts, but refused to discharge either Jeremiah or his friend. Jeremiah was now stuck in one of the most macho and homophobic environments as a gay man, or, more bewilderingly, as a fake gay man. He had tried to get help from the military chaplain, who cited Bible passages proving that God was against murder, not killing, and told Jeremiah that Iraqis were running up to American troops requesting Bibles.

In his last letter home, written on his sixth day, Jeremiah?s handwriting disintegrates; ?HELP ME? is scrawled across one page. He was due to ship to basic training in the morning. He had decided to refuse. ?I?ve heard that they try to intimidate you, ganging up on you, threatening you. I heard that they will throw your bags on the bus, and almost force you on. See what I am up against? I have nothing on my side. . . . I am so fucked up right now. . . . I feel that if I stay here much longer I am not going to be the same person anymore. I have to GO. Please help. . . . Every minute you sit at home I am stuck in a shithole, stripped of self-respect, pride, will, hope, love, faith, worth, everything. Everything I have ever held dear has been taken away. This fucks with your head. . . . This makes you believe you ARE worthless shit. Please help. By the time you get this, things will be worse.?

After getting some information from his mother on a secretive call home, Jeremiah wrote a letter requesting Entry Level Separation from the Army, citing his aversion to killing. Entry Level Separation, which exists for the convenience of the Army, allows for the discharge of soldiers who are obviously not cut out for military service. The Army has to provide an exit route for inept, unhealthy, depressed, even suicidal soldiers, but at the same time it doesn?t want to open what might turn out to be floodgates, so soldiers cannot themselves apply for ELS, and rarely even know about its existence. The Reception Battalion commander told Jeremiah that if he refused to ship, he would do everything in his power to court-martial him. Then the drill sergeants had their turn. One in particular was apoplectic. ?He started screaming at me about how killing is the ultimate thrill in life and every single man wants to kill. Regardless of what you think you believe, it?s every man?s job to kill, it?s the greatest high, it?s our animal instinct, our animal desire.?

When he refused to ship (he locked his duffel bag to his bed so it couldn?t be thrown on the bus), Jeremiah was sent to Excess Barracks. About twenty other recruits were there, each of them trying to get out. It was at Excess Barracks that Jeremiah first got the idea to go AWOL, because there were people there who had done it already. On his ninth day at Fort Benning, he and another recruit, Ryan Gibson, decided to leave. They got all suited up??a Rambo-like moment? is how Jeremiah describes it. ?I?m not gonna lie, we were really excited,? he says. ?We were finally going to be able to go out into the woods and do something. Even if the only commando stuff we ever did in our entire Army career was escaping from the Army, we were still excited about it.?

posted by Steve @ 9:16:00 AM

9:16:00 AM

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