remembering: a post memorial day story

Private Swan

Private Swan, circa 1990

Last weekend was a long one, a three-day weekend, celebrating and remembering those who have served in the United States military. In honor of the celebration I changed my facebook picture to my military portrait. Well, some asked–so I’ll tell. I was in the US Army Reserves, and this is a small part of that very long story.

The year between graduation from high school and my entry into the military was, well, checkered (its the best possible word I can come up with for it). If I were my dad, I am sure I would have done what he did in response to the life I was living. I was hanging with wonderful, broken, troubled people–like me. I was stealing (gas and go, smoke and stash, dine and dash), sleeping from 6 am to 2 pm and giving most of the money I made to Perkins at 3 am for some really crappy coffee and hash browns. Without being able to see it clearly I was reckless and on the fast track to no where. But my dad saw this and on a late June evening in 1990 he invited an Army recruiter over for dinner.

Now–perhaps you know your history, you think sheesh, June of 1990–that was RIGHT before the first gulf crisis: Desert Shield (August 1990). Yep – you are right. Now, do you think I knew anything about anything in the world back then? Well I THOUGHT I did. I didn’t. At all. There were no interesting conversations about current events or global affairs in those wee hours for the morning at Perkins. My dad, with all the love in his heart across the dinner table told me that I needed to join up–or he could no longer support me, or my lifestyle. I would be cut off. So I did it. I signed the dotted line, went the next day down to the MEPS station and took all the tests. Honestly, the whole thing happened so fast, its really just a blur in my mind. But on July 10, 1990 I was in Ft. Dix, New Jersey beginning basic training.

I was homesick, ass kicked, and miserable. I was made fun of for the size of my boobs (again–an ongoing issue for me in my young life), I was hopelessly out of shape and barely made it into the unit I was placed with, because I could not do 10 correct push-ups in a row. Have you been to New Jersey in the summer? Hot doesn’t even start to describe the hell. But you know what, eventually it got better. By the time basic was over, I was indeed a changed person—physically and emotionally.

After basic training, I was off to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX to become a 91G(olf) – A behavioral science specialist. I think I was there for a year. Only a few memories stick out to me now–playing hearts while washing, ironing and folding laundry, getting my heart broken by a married man, and some fuzzy memories from frozen margaritas and singing “Black Water” standing on table tops with my best friends, forever.

There is so much to this story—not nearly enough space and time in this little post. It was 2+ years of my life, and a lot of growing up happened in what seems like a lifetime ago. But what I take away now, 20 years later, is one main thought. It saved my life. I was lost. My life was a total wreck. What serving in the military gave me was something I will spend the rest of my life being grateful for. Respect: for myself and for others.

I met people I never would have met, people from Arkansas to Samoa, from the projects and ghettos of all over. I met myself, someone who had not yet emerged; a smart, responsible young lady. I served our country, yes—but for me it was about being given a second chance at life. The army gave me my life back, and I had not even known how lost and gone it was.

My life is SO very different today. I am not who I was then, but I could not be who I am today without the experience (including my deep love and appreciation for military issue granny pannies). I am proud to have served, but even more am grateful to have been given a chance at a new life. So thank you—all of you—who were, are & will be a part of the complex, more than one side of the story, brave US Military. I am honored to be counted among you.


7 thoughts on “remembering: a post memorial day story

  1. Man. I thought you were cool before. But you just got yourself 67 cool points in my book. I would give anything to be able to serve our country in that way and anyone that does (whether it’s by choice or forced) gets mad props from me.

    Good story.

  2. Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I never ceased to be amazed at how events so long ago continue to shape our stories today.

  3. Wonderful story Rachel! I have known you all these years and don’t remember u in the military! Thanks for serving and thanks for sharing ur story.

  4. Awwww… thanks friends!
    @Tess – granny pannies: underpants that your grandma would wear, HUGE, cotton, no ride up, totally and fantastically the anti thong of underwear. 🙂

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