I was a camera store manager, years back, before I joined the military. I liked it, and was proud to have achieved the lofty heights of retail management in my early 20's. It came too easily, though, and there was really no more upward progression. I got bored and started looking for a harder challenge.
That's when I heard the Army recruiting ad on the radio. I remember that moment with crystal clarity, even what I wore that day. I stopped dead in my tracks, finished listening to the commercial, and when it was over, I turned off the radio and picked up the phone. Two minutes later I had made an appointment at the recruiting center. I had no idea what I wanted to do in the Army, but I knew it would be a challenge, whatever it was.
That summer they sent me out for Basic Training. I had joined as a Reservist- a weekend warrior- and my employer allowed me to take a leave of absence to attend. I loved Basic. Yes, it was hard physically- I'm a petite woman, not a runner, and there's no double standards for PT (physical training.) Women have to do everything that men do. Makes sense- bullets on a battlefield are no respecter of gender, but it really made things interesting.
The largest part of Basic Training was the mental games, and I wasn't intimidated by those. My upbringing, my job and my own constitution make me efficient, good at time management and confident. I rocked at that stuff.
I came home from Basic Training with a fiery love of the military in my veins. It has a precision and straight-forwardness that is so lacking in civilian life. Can't motivate someone in the military? Well, there's push-ups, kitchen duty, sweeping the parade square, extra drill and any number of extremely motivational techniques that may be applied, most with excellent effect. Can't motivate a civilian employee? Well, you could try a nice motivational talk, or say "please", or maybe even "pretty please".
I served for the next year on weekends, realizing with every parade that this was where I was meant to be. When the summer was coming up and I was due for my next training course- another 8 weeks in Kingston- my employer said I couldn't have the time off. Unfazed, and prepared, I pushed an envelope with my resignation in it across the table at him. I knew where I needed to be.
A while later, I went Regular Force- all Army, all the time. I was posted across the country from my Vancouver home, but met new family in my new units. The Reg Force is even more hard-core than the Reserves (as to be expected) and I loved it. The erect posture, the marching, the drill, the shouting, the one prescribed right way to do everything, the rank structure, the directness of speech, the possibilities to improve myself and learn... this all appealed enormously. Still does. And, as unusual as this is for a Canadian, I was - am- extremely proud to serve my country.
Today I was talking with some senior NCO's, and I voiced my rather strong opinion of a situation. One of them, a hard-core ex-Infanteer, laughed and called me "a good Army girl" 'cause I don't sugar-coat anything. I cherished this compliment, but at the same time, it makes me thoughtful.
I'm Army. I think I was pretty much made to be Army, and I don't think I'll ever really change. My already forceful personality was molded in ways I can't and don't want to undo. My penchant for neatness and tidiness has been honed to a fine point by kit inspections. My chiropractor says that I have "Army neck" from years of marching with chin up and shoulders straight.
And yet- within a few short months and after 14 years of service, I will be Army no more.
I'm not at all sure how a crusty, slightly damaged, sharp-tongued, model of efficiency, Army battle-axe like myself is going to do in the world as a civilian. I don't know what exactly will happen when you take the Army girl out of the Army. What will I have to be outrageously proud of, when I no longer play such a role? Who will I be, without that core part of my being?