Thinking about entering (or already in) the .mil?
Here are a few choice random important recollections, in no particular order:
1. Your recruiter lied to you. Probably twice. First when he lied to you, and second when he lied about lying to you. At least press gangs were honest. When you saw Jack Tar with a rope, and his petty officer with a belaying pin in his belt, you knew they weren't out collecting for Navy Relief. And they didn't give you some fairytale about college tuition money and great training for civilian jobs. Unless your recruiter told you you were going to get shit on daily, sometimes literally, spend most of your time cold, hungry, lonely, and far from anything looking like civilization, and that you'd nevertheless love it, he lied. You could tell, because his lips were moving. So consider this your Official Warning Notice.
2. You didn't know it at the time, but kindergarten was great training for the military. In both cases, you will eat, sleep, learn, play, and sing together, under the supervision of someone else, who's slightly off, a little scary, frequently loud, perenially frustrated with the class, very much taken with teaching you manners, and rather freakishly interested with how you tie your shoes and button your clothes. This will continue pretty much non-stop until you graduate something. The blankets are just about exactly the same size. Your classmates will be just about as smart, many times. The lesson plans are eerily similar, many times. And bitching, crybabying, and tattle-tales go over just about as well in the military as they did in kindergarten. Except in the military, recess retribution hurts more, the monkeybars are higher, and there's no milk and cookies. And in both cases, your parents tend to fawn all over you afterwards.
3. The first few days of basic training may teach you in a vivid, experiential sense, that the phrase "scared shitless" isn't just an expression, but a physiological reality.
4. You may meet liars and thieves in the military. They are rare, but they exist. Shun them socially without remorse, and professionally whenever possible. But remember their names. You may be an in charge some day, and need someone to walk point through the minefield, or burn barrels full of $#!^. There's no sense wasting that sort of job on a good troop.
5. It's a bad idea to sight your rifle in on friendly helicopters anytime. It's an extremely bad idea when it's the CG's bird landing on the parade field. But when you're doing it and your DI catches you at it, you'll wish you had one live round to end your misery to come.
6. In the movie Hamburger Hill, in one scene, the Doc tells a cherry who's screwing up "If you want to walk out of this place, you will listen to people who know!"
Hollywood gets about 2% of the military right, since the first film ever made to today's date. That line is at the top of the 2% they got right.
7. You don't have to like it. But you have to do it.
8. Group punishment is the stupidest thing ever devised by the mind of man, but that fact alone isn't going to get the tradition changed.
9. If you're the tallest one in your platoon, it's probably a good idea to learn to STFU, at all times you're supposed to, no matter what, since you can be seen from every direction. Astonishment at getting spotted every freaking time is a poor strategy.
10. For that matter, I can't recall a single person I ever saw get in trouble for keeping their mouth closed except when eating.
11. Everyone in the military bitches about something. Don't be the first, or the most frequent, nor the loudest. And don't bitch about everything. It's okay to jump in once in awhile, but you'll never get a reputation as a crybaby if you simply skip the exercise.
12. It's never a good idea to get drunk on base. It's worse when the cat you bent over to pet on your way back to the barracks turned out to be a skunk.
13. There are showers available in garrison. If you wake up one morning in your bunk, out on the company lawn, with your wall locker next to you, trust me when I tell you that you haven't visited your shower facilities often enough, and that the next intervention level usually involves scrub brushes and firehoses, in a rather painful group therapy session.
14. It's poor judgement on armory guard to open fire on the woods at 2 AM because you were bored. And it's never as funny in front of the colonel as it may have seemed at the time.
15. When you're running people through fam-fire on a .50cal, and you get a misfire, follow the procedures. Opening the cover early because your time is too precious to wait, and prying the round out from a hot barrel with a screwdriver just means they have to dig that out of your arm along with the brass case, and some poor schmuck has to spend all day getting all your blood off the turret.
16. An actual buffalo weighs around a ton. Shooting at one that wanders onto the firing range with a paltry 5.56 is liable to piss it off. Don't be that guy.
17. AWOL has no statute of limitations. When you see a scraggly 38 year old who hoofed it over a decade ago get frog-marched in after getting popped at a traffic stop in Petticoat Junction, get his head shaved, and get taken to the post stockade in baggy cammies with a big "P" painted on them for his 2 year process of shovelling $#!^ while awaiting his court martial and discharge, this lesson will come alive for you in an entirely new way.
18. Fun is where you find it. For instance, when assigned to pick up an entire base, saving those mortar fins you found, and pounding them into a muddy back road so they look like embedded duds provides good training for EOD. Eventually.
19. Foreign beers in places like Germany and Australia may be 4 or more times stronger in alcohol content than American beers. Of course you aren't drunk, but you may notice that your walk home bears a striking resemblance to the night infiltration course in basic, and the ground can sneak right up on you sometimes, and usually more than once.
20. Depot level maintenance has a hard job, and it's difficult to remember all those nitpicky steps (and who reads those boring manuals anyways?), so be aware that they'll try to kill you every chance they get. For instance, it's much funnier to show them the picture of the gun tube blown 4 feet into the dirt if you weren't standing right behind it the first time you fired it after their tender ministrations to the recoil system.
21. Never sing "God Bless America" in the back of a 5-ton with 20 other troops while driving through California's Imperial Valley on a Sunday afternoon. I'm not sure if this is because the local Barney Fife is just a total fucktard, or because for his whole life he thinks, based on demographics, that the national anthem is "La Cucharacha", but either way, it gets them on edge thereabouts.
22. When someone on the ground is yelling up towards you with a bullhorn, and saying "Pull your reserve! Pull your reserve!" please make certain he's not addressing you personally. Rather rapidly, if you please.
23. When you're practicing urban ops door-kicking, it's Kick-Grenade-Bang-Enter, not Kick-Grenade-Enter-Bang.
24. CS isn't always a bad thing. Throwing it into the Bn COs tent one night when you're the OPFOR may be worth the next two weeks' worth of 0200 night repositionings; and loading a cigarette with hoarded CS powder, and leaving it burning in the Sgt. Major's ashtray, then stepping outside to use the facilities, may be a spiffy way to get those long-winded waste-of-time Friday 1600 NCO meetings cancelled permanently.
25. When moving around on ship near the rail during Darken Ship, remember, it's always darkest just before you hit the water.
26. Don't panic when your helo "ride" is a reserve unit. A unit of older-looking captains and majors probably has 5 or 10 times the flight experience of some active unit with fresh 1st Lts and captains. If you're wondering about this, see who flys the planes at Delta.
27. For road convoys in CONUS, the Book and the CO probably says no live ammo, which keeps you and your men from hurting yourselves. Just remember that the highways are filled with douchebags who DO carry live ammo, and who, when your truck breaks down in the middle of nowehere on a road trip, would happily relieve you of an M2, an M240, and three M-4s, all unloaded, with nothing more than their own fully-loaded .22 pistol, and if you're really lucky afterwards, they'll just drive away laughing instead of killing all the witnesses.
Or you may decide to grab a box of white box FMJ at the local sporting goods store and pass out 5 round mags to your crew on the deep QT. The trick in playing You Bet Your Stripes is knowing when you should play, and not getting caught. But there are definitely times to play. Just ask the guy who watched the truck drive into the Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 1983 because he was ordered not to insert a loaded magazine on guard duty.
28. A P-38 metal can opener, wrenched in and wedged tightly between the fuze and projectile of a 155mm howitzer round, makes a helluva scream as it comes in over the FOs to the impact area. Or so I'm told.
29. Learning to make credible wild pig noises can provide hours of entertainment in the field at no monetary cost, from California to Germany, especially when your teammates are answering the call of nature in the woods after dark.
30. Be aware that NCIS only has Mark Harmon and a crew of dedicated professional crimefighters on TV. In real life, they generally exist to make the BATFE and TSA look competent by comparison. They may occasionally get their man and solve a crime, but generally only after they've exhausted all other options.
31. If, after months of being short-handed, you one day notice that your unit is manned up at 120% of TO and E strength, and 35% of them are native Spanish-speakers, check the newspaper, and see which country in Central or South America has been pissing us off, because we're probably going to invade it.
32. If the ship you're on is homeward bound, and you notice on your last port call they're taking on traincarloads of fresh fruit just before the homeward leg, check CNN, and see which country in the world has been pissing us off, because that's where you're going.
33. If you see a number of busses on a weekend loaded with troops (or you're on them), and headed from Ft. Bragg to Pope AFB, see #31 and # 32.
34. On a night compass course, never fasten your helmet chinstrap. That way, if a spider rappels down over the brim an inch in front of your face at oh-dark-thirty, taking your helmet off is much preferred to running through the woods of Ft. Knox screaming "Aaaaaaagh!" and running into trees, which annoys your partner for the course and sometimes involves medics. But it may entertain other travelling pairs nearby for days.
35. While generally, almost all second lieutenants are idiots in some notable way, make sure you see the 2d Lt. in question in his dress uniform before you make this assumption. If you notice a Good Conduct Medal and a couple rows of fruit salad on his ribbon rack, re-appraise your assumptions carefully. If you notice any individual awards for gallantry, along with the Good Conduct Medal, abandon the assumption entirely.
36. If you show the same respect and courtesy to Navy Chief Petty Officers you'd grant to your regimental Sgt. Major, you'll never go wrong.
37. Take a black sharpie, and write this on your hand:
Take Care Of Your Medic. Never Piss Him Off.
Unless you're bulletproof, and like shots. Lots and lots of shots.
38. Take note of the fact that the Army mostly makes Warrant Officers at Aviation School, by the busload, whereas the Marines make them out of Sergeants and above, one at a time.
39. When in the field, tracked vehicles always have the right of way. Doubt this at your peril. (Just for enlightenment, ask the treadsters why they refer to pedestrians as "crunchies".)
40. Know that a certain small percentage of officers and NCOs will deliberately try and get you killed deader than canned tuna, even in peacetime and in CONUS. Another much larger percentage will get the enemy killed, given half a chance. Observe carefully until you can decide which type you're dealing with, then bet your chips accordingly.
41. When you're on a large naval craft, and you're not a sailor, the correct terminology for you is "supercargo", and you will be treated as such. Accept this as gospel, try not to take it personally, but make every preparation to get the hell off as soon as you're offered the option officially. Describing ships as like prison, with the opportunity of being drowned, is probably an insult to prisons, even if the food is better.
42. Helicopters always land. Frequently not in the fashion intended by their manufacturers. Bear this fact in mind anytime you're in, under, or around them.
43. If someone carelessly left a volleyball net right in the middle of the volleyball court you were crossing while returning to your barracks intoxicated, it's somewhat understandable if you feel the need to go a few rounds with it to let it know who's the boss. Try not to do so while the Duty Sgt. of the unit who owns the volleyball court watches you.
44. Every time you are made to feel exactly like a criminal by being handed a cup to pee into before morning PT, don't dwell on the feeling. Just channel it for the rest of your life, every time some genius suggests legalizing drugs.
45. Nobody loves peace as much as the guys who'll be holding the bayonets when there's a war. If anybody in the civilian world can't grasp that fundamental truth, it's acceptable, educational, and nearly mandatory, to beat the ever-loving stuffing out of them. Not to demonstrate your peace-loving demeanor, but to demonstrate the truth of the opening premise, because nothing proves a truth like putting skin in the game. In this case, theirs.
...to be continued as the mood strikes...