I’ve got a lot of respect for those that serve in the military. Well, that serve in our military, by which I mean the U.S. military. A lifetime of watching testosterone-laden, jingoistic movies has pretty much convinced me that the only military that matters is the United States Armed Forces. Oh, sure, we’ve got our staunch allies: The Brits, for instance, turned out to be a swell bunch of guys once we got over their crippling speech impediment. And speaking of speech impediments, the Aussies may not have a military capable of destroying a wedding via a drone strike like ours is, but they can hold their fucking own on shore leave, and that’s almost as important.
Canada… Well, Canada’s military is familiar to anyone with a younger sibling. “If you’re going to war, make sure you bring Canada!”
“Oh, mom! Do I have to?”
“Yes! And fight nice with Canada. He looks up to you so much!”
So when we go to war, Canada tags along. We try to give Canada a military objective that they can handle, because that’s good for Canada’s self-esteem. “Canada, you stand right here. And if any bad guys come, just blow this whistle!”
You’ll notice that I only named our allies that speak English. This is because it’s impossible to fight a war when the guy in your foxhole doesn’t savvy the lingo.
“JESUS CHRIST! OUR PERIMETER IS FALLING THE FUCK APART! I NEED AMMO AND A MAN TO CALL IN AIR STRIKES BEFORE WE GET FLANKED!”
“Hola, mi nombre es Raúl! ¿Dónde están los baños?”
So if you don’t speak English you’re either the bad guys, or you’re a pathetic wussy nation in need of liberation (I’m looking your way, France!).
Hahaha, I like to have fun when I discuss the military. People start positively foaming at the mouth when I do that, and I can always count on at least one email telling me what a giant douche-canoe I am, and that such and such a country has a very professional, brave, and courageous army. Then I’ll turn over the email to the Pentagon, and within a week the poor bastard who wrote the email will have a US Army base operating in his back yard, because we’re dicks like that, and who’s gonna stop us? The North Koreans? BUWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Not that I’m above having a little fun with our own military. I started doing that when I was 18 years old, and a local Army recruiter used to call me up out of the blue.
Recruiter: Hello, can I speak with Greg, please?
Greg: This is…
Recruiter: Well, hello, Greg. This is Sgt. Cornwall over at the U.S. Army recruiter’s office. How are you today?
Recruiter: Good! Hey, this is some weather we’re having, isn’t it?
Greg: Yes. We are having weather.
Seriously, this guy must have had the part of his brain responsible for small talk shot off during the invasion of Grenada. For the life of him, he couldn’t make small talk, chit-chat, banter, or shoot the shit. He was awful at it, and I always made sure to make him squirm a little before letting him off the hook.
Recruiter: Anyway, the reason I’m calling…
Greg: Wait a minute, I want to talk about the weather a little more.
Recruiter: Uhhh. Ok. It’s… It’s kind of warm, isn’t it?
Greg: I know! I mean, not hot or anything. But not cold, either. And it’s the middle of July too!
Recruiter: Yes. And… And I guess it’ll stay warm for a few more months, huh?
Greg: Right! Unless it gets hot!
Greg: Or cold!
Recruiter: Well, I don’t think it will get cold.
Greg: Why not?
Recruiter: It’s summertime.
Greg: This conversation is simply fascinating, wouldn’t you say?
Of course, after a few painful minutes of discussing the weather (or local sports teams), he’d get to the point which was essentially that my government wanted me to get shot at for a living. This was always a sobering thought, or at least it would have been if I hadn’t been so drunk all the time back then.
Another thing that I always enjoyed was his opening line. I’m sure he had an official US Army Checklist that he went by, and he switched his opening gambit according to month, just like Army Regs specified. One month it might be, “Greg, did you know that the US Army offers a full college scholarship for those that serve their country?” The next month it would be, “Greg, are you aware of the wide variety of careers available to someone in the armed forces?” But my favorite line had to do with my future.
Recruiter: Greg, I was wondering if you had any plans for your future?
Greg: Well, I was going to finish the rest of this six pack, go downtown, and score a whole lot of blow.
Recruiter: Uh, well… I was actually referring to your long term future.
Greg: Oh. Well, probably more of the same until I either OD or get forced into rehab.
Greg: I guess I don’t really see a lot of options for a fella like me. If only I knew of some way to put some meaning into my life, you know? It’s… It’s like I need to be broken down and then moulded into part of a greater whole. I need to learn technical skills! I need to learn how to become a leader! And most importantly, I need to do it while saving money for college and not having to worry about paying room and board!
At this point, Sgt. Cornwall made a lot of excited, unintelligible noises due to the fact that I had just given him every single buying sign possible within the span of 15 seconds. If he could have lunged through the phone to kiss me, I’m sure he would have, at least he would have a couple of decades later when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed.
Greg: I’m just fucking with you, sergeant. I don’t want to join the military! I want to spend the rest of my life drowning in sweet, sweet poon-tang. Say hi to all the other guys in that sausage-fest you’ve got going over there!
Recruiter: Actually, the number of female recruits is up over 23 percent and…
Still, for all the fun I had with Sgt. Cornwall, a friend of mine took Army trolling to epic new levels when he went into the recruiter’s office one day and asked to take “an aptitude test or something”. Now, the US military was decidedly less high-tech back then, and I was surprised to hear that they had anything even remotely similar to an aptitude test. I figured their aptitude test would be to have you stand there while they pointed various guns at you, and if you didn’t run away, you were in.
But as it turns out they had a very lengthy series of questions one could answer to see if one was suited to a career in the military. And my friend Curt spent the better part of two hours answering every question. “I knew I must have done well when a whole bunch of guys with lots of medals on their chest came back into the room.”
Everyone congratulated Curt, slapped him on the back, and assured him that he could go as far as he wanted in the US Army. He was told that they’d never seen scores as high as his, and they told him that the future, as far as they were concerned, was his to write.
(Curt is a very smart guy, so I don’t doubt that he aced their test. But it did occur to me that this might have been a ruse designed to get people to sign in a flurry of excitement, and that the future held nothing more than a large tub of potatoes and a dull potato peeler.)
Curt listened to them, took it all in, and when they asked him with baited breath if he was ready to take the first step in an epic journey he calmly said, “No. I don’t think so. Thanks, though. See you later!” And he turned around and walked out of there.
Over beers that night, Curt told me that, “they practically chased me out of the parking lot. ‘Wait! Wait, let us talk to you just a little longer! I don’t think you understand!’ There are probably a couple of them still hanging on to the rear bumper of my car.”
Curt understood all right. He was interested in the military, of that there was no doubt. But he was also really interested in getting drunk, getting high, and chasing girls, and he was smart enough to know that although these things weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, these different worlds probably wouldn’t intersect as often as he would like. There are no atheists in foxholes, and no keg-stands, either.
Like Curt, I had trouble envisioning myself in the military, but a friend of mine gave me a glimpse into what it might have been like. Steve was one of the funniest people I knew. Remember when Robin Williams was in his cocaine phase? Now picture that guy on speed. Steve was constantly on, always screwing around, had problems with authority, and wound up enlisting in the Marines six months after graduation.
Running into his sister a couple of years later, I asked her how Steve was doing. “Well, he’s still a complete lunatic. He’s the same guy, basically, only now he can do a million pushups.”
Picturing the scene in Stripes where Bill Murray has to do an endless series of pushups, I thought to myself, “Yeah, that seems about right.”
Still, in my mind, they’re all heroes, from the generals all the way down to the privates. They enlist knowing that they may be called upon to sacrifice their lives to ensure the freedom of those of us lazy slobs who’d much rather be at home drinking a beer. Even Sgt. Cornwall deserves some respect, even if the most dangerous thing he ever did was phone a buzzed 18 year old kid named Greg to talk about the weather.