In the movies, not everything about military life is bad. For one, you have your buddies. Sure, there's an occasional personality clash, but in general they all get along extraordinarily well. You cannot go 10 minutes in a movie without dudes jumping out of helicopters to save each other and reminiscing about their deep bonds of brotherhood. Now, there is a definite connection that most military people feel with each other, one that's hard to describe without sounding kind of gay. But on a day-to-day basis?
Honestly, you'll probably hate each other.
In other words, like a band of actual brothers.
Think about it: Do you like your co-workers? Every single one of them?
Now imagine this. Those dumb corporate retreats you've either had to go on or have seen in the movies? The ones where everyone does dumb bonding exercises that are meant to increase their sales targets and practices falling back while their co-workers catch them? Imagine being stuck at one of them for several months, and this retreat is called "deployment." Now, imagine that you can't drink on this retreat, you can't go home to your family or nonwork friends and -- assuming you have a working Internet connection at all -- your, uh, "recreational" website usage is restricted. For long stretches, there are no days off at all. All of this is aside from the other little annoyances (like eating food that comes in boxes labeled "suitable for prison or military use").
If you can't fight evil on stale crackers and cigarettes, maybe you shouldn't be fighting evil at all.
Now how will you feel about those co-workers?
Say that in your part of the military, like mine, you have different divisions ("shops") that perform different tasks. All of them, even the ones that do things that are only slightly different (like for example, vaguely different types of electronics) will blame each other for everything. In the past, until we set up a watch to avoid it, these groups would apparently even steal parts from each other.
Within a shop, especially if you have an unskilled leader, this can extend to everyone hating everybody, and yelling all the time. At the moment, nobody wants to leave the military because they're afraid they won't get another job in this economy, which means that most places are top-heavy. If you have the common situation where there's four guys of the same rank in the shop (for an office analogy, imagine more managers than workers), they will all be fighting constantly over who can do the most nothing, while the lower-ranking guys do all the work.
Above: How the officer's spend their time.
People deal with this prisonlike atmosphere by bitching to others about who or what is annoying them. Some of those others will go back to the person who was being bitched about and tell him what the other person had said. And then others will form sides. So in other words, it's a lot like high school, complete with social subgroups and cliques based on who comes from where, and who plays World of Warcraft and who doesn't. Except at least you could leave high school on the weekends, and high school wasn't usually 150 degrees and full of sand.
On the plus side, there's less algebra in Iraq.
Of course, how seriously any of this is taken depends on how tired everybody is. Play fighting is one thing, but it will quickly become real fighting when the conditions get bad enough. And they will.
In 95 percent of war movies, a soldier goes away to war and finally comes back home to his family and tries to put his life back together. It's all over with, and the movie can either end, or switch to showing the dramatic consequences of his war experience. One way or the other, that part of his life is behind him.
Time for a quiet retirement of explosive bow hunting.
In reality, military life isn't like that. If you end up deploying to war these days, chances are that you won't go just once. Instead, you'll go there and come back. And then go again. Then come back. And so forth. Repeat three, four or even more times depending on how unlucky you are. How long you're gone depends on your job: Army troops might get 12 months away, then two years back; other services might give you six months on and 12 months off.
So instead of having one unique learning experience and coming home with a grim or hopeful life lesson to share with the audience, you have to learn to cope with going back to the same place (or the same type of place) again, and then go back and try to readjust again in the six or so months you've got before you're due to go again. You can imagine what that does to relationships, or to children. A family member who is fine with you going away for a year won't be so happy the third time it happens.
Scientists: Our men and women in uniform need long distance virtual reality sex goggles. Get on it.
This is particularly bad if you're in the Reserves or the National Guard. In the last decade, the Reserve forces have actually had it worse than a lot of active-duty military, because back when they were making the rules, no one bothered to make proper rules that limited how often those who were not on active duty could deploy. So if you were unfortunate enough to have joined the Air National Guard, for example, you're as likely to have gone through multiple deployments as a guy in the Army.
But you don't hear about them because, you know, nobody has made a movie about them.
Learn more about how Hollywood has misled you in our New York Times bestselling book.
And stop by Linkstorm to cleanse your mind (and your soul).
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