The popular belief is that working in the military is the most soul-crushing experience that you could probably have in your life. It’s a belief that’s been propagated by the stereotypical images that we see on TV shows and movies. It’s not exactly a complete lie. A whole lot of training goes in to creating a good and dedicated soldier and some of this training is to break the individual and turn him into a cog in a machine.
That isn’t exactly bad. Most companies emphasize the need for an employee to be a part of his corporate team, but the big difference here is that a soldier is not part of a corporate team. He’s part of a team that is focused on mostly defeating an enemy, mostly through very violent means. Teaching someone the killer instinct can be very dangerous. I make no bones about it – there are some pretty frightening men in uniform.
The army tries is best to filter out the psychos and to instill a sense of honor in its ranks but still some slip through the cracks. Sounds creepy but you have to understand that national defense is a serious business. George Orwell best put it when he said that men slept well in the assurance that there were some big, dangerous men willing to do violence in his name.
But then soldiers aren’t all cold-blooded killing machines. I’ve known quite a few soldiers who did it right and are living pretty good lives. One of the overriding principles of being a good soldier is discipline, and no life has ever suffered from having too much discipline. Quite a few kids who started out on the wrong side of tracks had their heads put on straight a tour in the army. Having esprit de corps and the ability to control yourself can go a long way. The sense of personal pride helps too. Young men who enter basic training at an army camp are molded into soldiers who would obey orders and who would willingly sacrifice themselves to save their comrades and their country.
Of course, people don’t enter the military to improve themselves. The usual reason for entrance into the armed forces is a chance to escape poverty. The military provides excellent education and benefits for those underprivileged individuals who would not be able to ordinarily support themselves. A solid source of income with low entry requirements is usually what they need and the military can provide this in spades.
High school kids from rural areas and townships often take a tour or two to earn themselves some seed money for the future and give themselves a vocational education that they would normally not have. For the lucky few who reach officer rank, military scholarships are also available to any soldier who wants it.
There are risks, of course. Being a soldier is a very high-risk occupation, especially now in these dangerous times. It used to be that a young American could expect a quiet time in the military, punctuated by bouts of training to keep in tip-top condition. Actually, there are still people who have that life, supporting the troops via performing logistical operations and other things that make sure that a modern army keeps on moving. However, the risks of combat encounters are higher now and being in the Army can be a stressful time for anyone.
Life in the military may not be as devastating as it has been shown by Hollywood, but it’s still definitely a risky proposition.