So, this morning I was down at the coffee shop and the barista asked me "Say, you were in the Navy, right?"
This wasn't exactly an out of the blue question, I don't know her personally - only that she is a very nice lady who works the early morning shift and makes a dammed good caramel machiato - and it's a very small town, you see people around on a daily basis. We often chat like people do while I'm waiting for my coffee, and the fact that I'm retired has come up once or twice. And then there's the way that I look, very short hair in a military cut (I'm not growing it out long now that I'm retired, it's been short my whole adult life and I like it that way), and I almost always can be found wearing an Australian Navy bush hat with "HMAS ANZAC" and the Fast Frigate ANZAC's silhouette embroidered on the front (the hat is a whole other story, some day maybe I'll tell you how I ended up with it and why it means so much to me). So, again, the barista's question wasn't exactly clairvoyance. When I answered in the affirmative, she asked if I would stick around for a moment. I could tell something was on her mind, she looked nervous and her mind really wasn't on making coffee this morning. Sometimes people act like that around vets, uncomfortable, but I didn't think that was it. She made a couple of coffees while I pursued the donut selection (the Starbucks is in the bakery section of the local super market) and then came over and said,
"My daughter wants to join the Navy. She told me this morning. And she's going to see the recruiter this afternoon. She has no idea what she's getting into."
At first I thought she wanted me to talk the girl out of it. Nope, she was pretty taken aback by her daughter's decision, but supportive. Her real question was, "Could you talk to her? Give her some advice?"
Well sure, of course. I gave the woman my card and told her to have the daughter call me, figuring I'd never hear from the young lady (really, mom met some guy in the store and he'd like to give you some unsolicited career pointers, suuuure okay). But, an hour later - the girl called me.
She wasn't as young as I'd assumed, 27 actually. Which is quite a bit older than the average recruit. Her life was a mess, for reasons I won't go it here, but she'd gotten her shit together and was looking for a major change in her life - which, of course, the Navy will certainly do, in spades.
Is a "major life change" a good reason for joining the military? Good as any, I'd say. Everybody joins for some reason, education, adventure, regular if unspectacular pay, regular if unspectacular food, learn a trade, running away from a failed marriage, and the ever popular see the world and get the hell out of your crappy little home town (which is how I ended up in the military), meet exotic hookers in foreign ports, whatever. I once knew a guy who joined the Navy specifically because he'd heard the Navy issued "free" shoes (he'd grown up in some dirt poor Kentucky holler, the youngest of a dozen hand-me-down children and had never owned a pair of shoes that 4 or 5 other kids hadn't had their feet in first. The Navy gave him new shoes. It was important to him). Some kids join because it's a family tradition. Hell, some people actually join to do their bit for "Freedom and Democracy." All of those things qualify as a "major life change," I guess.
Why people join the military is irrelevant. And it's sure as hell not for everybody, it's hard, and it's dirty, and it's dangerous even in the best of times, and it can suck the life right out of you, and I don't look down on anybody who chooses another path. But for those who do join, I guarantee that it will change your life. I talked to this girl for an hour, giving her what advice and insight I've learned from 23 years of Navy life. I don't know if they'll take her, like the Offspring song goes she's got issues. But there's a war on, and so she might be accepted into Naval service.
I wished her luck.