Nowadays, when I look in a mirror and I see myself wearing the Army uniform, I feel like I’m staring into an alternate universe version of myself. The truth is, if you asked me a year ago if I was considering joining the Army, I’d probably tell you “not in a million years.”
I think I’ve written two or three essays already about why I joined the military — one of which went a little viral, but there are many reasons why I’m here — why we’re all here. It’s nearly impossible to fit them all in one story. So, here’s a little story that I wanted to include in my past “Why I joined the Army” essays but didn’t.
It involves a mirror.
Let’s back track to 2004. I was a sophomore in high school and a classmate of mine was pulled out of our Health class to take a picture for our local newspaper with our principal and an Army recruiter. He was going to ship out to Basic Training right after he graduated high school, then go study French at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.
“That would be so cool to do,” I thought as I watched him proudly grab his camo backpack and leave the classroom. In the same breath, however, I told myself, “You could never survive Basic Training, so don’t even think about it.”
What I never dreamed in that class in 2004 was that I would end up with two jobs that correlated with that moment in that class: I’d be a reporter for the newspaper in which this guy’s photo was being taken, and then I’d leave said media company to join the Army and follow in my classmate’s footsteps.
I don’t even remember my classmate’s name. Wish I did. But I do remember brushing off a recruiter in 2007 while attempting to eat lunch at my community college. He kindly approached me and handed me his card and asked if I’d ever considered a career in the Army.
No, I hadn’t. Then he walked away and I went off to a university and majored in journalism and had a relatively short-lived but successful career as a news reporter.
Then, I called the recruiting office back after about six years.
You see, all that time I regretted not calling the recruiter back and not joining the Army and not serving my country. And what I regretted most was letting myself get to be 25 years old and allow that regret to eat away at my soul. Granted, I’ve done plenty of other fun things in the meantime, but I had those bricks on my shoulders.
Meanwhile, in my spare time, while I wasn’t chasing news stories, I was doing a little acting on the side (for fun) at a local theater. By May of 2013 I had been in touch with the recruiter three or four times already and delayed setting up an in-person appointment to get the Army ball rolling. I was obviously unsure of this decision and needed an “ah-ha!” moment or a sign or something that said, “DO IT!”
So, I was in this little play about WWII called “Biloxi Blues,” and about a week before opening night we started rehearsing with our costumes. Mine was a tan 1940s Class B Army Service Uniform. The stage manager, I recall, handed it to me folded up in a bag and sent me in a dressing room to try it on to see if alterations needed to be made.
Nonchalantly, I strolled downstairs into the dressing rooms and put the costume on. It fit nicely, but I needed to see how it looked. When I got out of my chair, turned around and looked in the mirror, it was like everything in my peripheral vision got hazy and all I could see was that uniform. It was like I was staring into the future. I got goose bumps up and down my arm and the whole moment caught me off-guard. I distinctly remember saying to myself “This is it. You’re destined to wear this uniform. You will quit your great job and join the Army.”
I couldn’t stop staring into the mirror. I knew what I was meant to do. It was like God was yelling “Is that enough of a sign for you?!”
Yes. It was. It might have only been a costume, but in that moment it was a holy garment and that mirror was an ordained prophet telling me that my life was about to change. The rest is history. Recruiters. The ASVAB. The DLAB. MEPs in New Jersey. Basic Training at Fort Jackson, S.C. And now, the DLI.
I’ve never shared this story before — probably because it’s awfully personal. But as I’m watching the sunrise over the foggy mountains of Monterey, trying to run through Farsi vocabulary words in my head, I’m reminded of the boy in that classroom thinking he couldn’t survive Basic Training.
I’m reminded of that news reporter who regretted not taking the opportunity to join the Army to serve his country — thinking now that he’s too old.
He wasn’t too old. His regret is gone.
As for what’s to come in the year ahead — well, you’ve found our blog. And it seems the Presidio of Monterey is never short a few good stories to tell.