Thebastidge: When I enlisted...
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    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    When I enlisted...

    Lo these many years ago, I didn't have much idea what it meant to be of service. I mean, I knew what customer service was- because up until that point I had mostly held food-service jobs. I had a vague inkling that doing something nice for people not only paid but was sort of emotionally satisfying on occasion, even if the majority of the job sucked.

    I joined the Air Force because I had no prospects and was tired of working as a night cook at Denny's, basically.

    Now, the reason I had no prospects can mostly be laid at my own feet. Sure, sure- the man sort of kept me down too. The man being my family and socio-economic peers. The thing is, I could probably have gone on to university without having to scrape up the money, because I was good enough that I actually got a tiny music scholarship to Eastern Washington University without even applying.

    And that's where we come down to why I didn't go to college: I didn't apply for any scholarships, financial aid, student loans, any of it. Oh, belatedly, as I was graduating, I mailed off a couple forms. But I never understood, and no one made it a priority to explain to me, how much was avilable for the asking.

    My family was never much for using the system- more like throwing ourselves in front of the train theatrically and jumping off the tracks just in time to only lose a toe- and then blaming the system. My band teacher was the only one who worked on me to do anything along these lines, (Thanks, Mr. C) and thick-headedly, I ignored and failed to understand what he was talking about. I had no kind of future orientation, because I came from a sub-culture that lacked it. There was no barrier to my leaving that sub-culture, except for ignorance, lack of self-confidence, and laziness.

    That's where the military came into my life. I never had much use for the idea of military service. I was vaguely aware that some members of my family had served, but I didn't think of it in those terms. When I finally realized I wasn't going anywhere and decided to do something about it, the military was the easiest route- not the only one, but the easiest. When you get far enough off the track, no path is easy- it takes more energy and effort to get back on track than it ever would have to stay on track. any rocket scientist or reformed criminal can tell you this.

    I credit my current success in life almost entirely to my time in the military. It eliminated the nascent racism I had started to absorb at home (note: I'm STILL a cultural imperialist: never more so than now), taught me the value of understanding and following the rules, taught me about consistency, reinforced how important honour is (which had been a somewhat slippery and flexible concept up until that point) the value of planning for the future, and even (embarassingly now) better hygiene. Enlisting in the Air Force changed me from a trailer park brat to a citizen.

    The only thing which I can claim as a major advantage that I didn't achieve through the military is a deep and abiding love of reading. I do thank my folks for that one.

    In another country I might have been relegated to the trailer park forever, and people probably would have put barriers in my way deliberately, since I was trying to climbout of my class background. Some will point to the benign neglect we often see in America as proof that class warfare still exists. But I know better- I've seen true class and racial division in my travels around the world. I know that in America, the largest barriers to overcome are within each individual, and there are plenty of people willing and eager to show you how to overcome those barriers.

    Take advantage of this gift.

    Tag: Patriot's Journey (with JimK, Scott, Lil, Doug, and our fearless leader Drumwaster

    7 Comments:

    Anonymous Geoffrey said...

    Very well written. Congrats on gaining the perspective to see how far you've come and why. Bravo on achieving those qualities that seem to be increasingly trivialized these days.

    10:24 PM  
    Blogger Spungen said...

    And that's where we come down to why I didn't go to college: I didn't apply for any scholarships, financial aid, student loans, any of it. Oh, belatedly, as I was graduating, I mailed off a couple forms. But I never understood, and no one made it a priority to explain to me, how much was avilable for the asking.

    Don't feel too bad, I think this availability gets greatly overestimated by people outside the system. I did go to college, but got really screwed by the "minimum family contribution." (So I had to go to a state school and live at home.)

    One of the big topics lately in the media/blogosophere is how college actually ruins a lot of young people's lives because they end up in so much debt to finance it. So you may actually have ended up better off.

    10:22 AM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    Well, having finished two associate's degrees, a bachelor's degree, and being a third done with my master's degree, I have learned a lot more about the college system now.

    But my first point wasn't even really about college. I'm talking about systems much larger and more relevant than merely the college experience.

    Mainly I'm saying that systems exist, both natural and social, and that if you know how to use them properly, and have a little self-discipline, you can use them more effectively and get ahead in life.

    In America, at least.

    10:59 AM  
    Blogger Another Bratcher said...

    A note on your college comments...

    I am 30 years old and it took me this long to go back to school for much the same reasons as you. it's amazing to me the accuracy in some of the stereotypes of youth.

    I like much of what you had to say. I would however challenge the notion that your experience equates to one that all Americans enjoy. The level of institutional racism in an high functioning system is a difficult barrier enacted by the very thoughts that you, nobly, have overcome. We as white people enjoy privilege even if we do not recognize it. This is not to belittle white people, I think that the very real opportunity exists for any majority to oppress and that, indeed, it is common for the majority to oppress, but that we cannot claim a level playing field when we know it to be skewed.

    I would venture that that majority of people that stem from a similar background as you do not end up making choices that lead them to prosperity. I would wager that they eventually help enact the barriers for a great many people to secure their hegemony. This is also a common practice.

    5:57 PM  
    Blogger Cowboy Blob said...

    As an Air Force Brat, I never experienced much institutional racism; by the time Dad retired to his little PA home town, I'd interacted with more "people of color" in a year of Junior High than my High School classmates had in a lifetime.

    Still, when SAT time rolled around, it was like Martians had landed. My parents couldn't send me to college on Dad's Tech Sergeant pension and his retired job as a school bus mechanic...and I didn't expect it. I knew the military would be my path to any higher education I could attain. Now after 22 years, I've got an Associates Degree from the AF and the GI Bill waiting for me to get off my lazy butt.
    IYAS9YAS!

    10:32 PM  
    Blogger Robohobo said...

    bratcher - you, sir, are obviously a college educated bigot. except you fail to see your bigotry is misdirected. you have been taught and apparently buy into the notion that only whites can be racists as is currently taught in our supposed institutions of higher learning. instead what they turn out are self hating, self righteous bigots. i know you cannot see it, which is what makes the system so sad. perhaps if they had taught you to think instead...

    bah!

    6:10 AM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    Um, Robohobo?

    Dude- WTF?

    First, my name is not Bratcher.

    Second, I'm self-educated and achieved a bachelor's degree through a "competency-based" online program rather than by attending courses- I only took a few that weren't available in non-traditional ways.

    Third- what are you replying to? Because you obviously didn't read either this post or the next one.

    Or my comments on this thread.

    Finally, (it occurs to me) if this comment is not directed at me, but at my commenter "anotherbratcher", please be civil to my commenters, as long as they are civil. I don't have that many, lol.

    10:40 AM  

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