For those who don’t understand the term lifer, one of those quirky military words that outsiders wouldn’t typically understand. Lifer refers to the commitment made beyond the 4 year volunteer service in the military.
The funny thing is, I still don’t feel like a lifer. To the military member, anything beyond 10 years is a commitment to the service that would classify one as a lifer and even though I am well beyond 10 years of service, I still can’t believe that I am where I am (today). So today, when I posted a Happy Anniversary To Me on Facebook as I surpass the 20-year milestone of military service, the overwhelming response caused me to reflect.
Twenty years into service and retirement in my sights, what have I learned? One thing stands out, leaders aren’t always born, they can be made. I’ve witnessed this repeatedly. I’ve watched young people join my military, with little guidance and challenging environmental surroundings while growing up in the most impressionable years of their life, become genuine, full fledged leaders of people. I’ve watched them rise in rank with true merit, cross that threshold from Soldier to Noncommissioned Officer (NCO), Soldier of the Quarter, NCO of the Year, reach achievements that are valued in the military; Airborne School, Expert Field Medical Badge, Air Assault, and the most impressive, Bachelor’s Degrees while working daily, high stress duties in the course of their Soldiering, all because they joined the military to make themselves a better person, to have a better life.
I’ve also realized that despite my intent to do my 4-year commitment and leave service, that I was and continue to be drawn to the greater good of military service. Service to something larger than yourself, larger than any one person or individual, but service to God, Country, and Constitution. It may sound cliche, but this is a life I’ve chosen. In the course of this life, I’ve lost certain rights, which I have never dwelled upon. Ever. Because service to a greater good has always been the main draw for my continuance of service. I cannot criticize politicians or the commander in chief, despite how I’ve felt about all of them in my service (Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama). When I first joined the military, I was forbidden from doing things that the Millenials or the Silent Generation wouldn’t believe; wearing a T-shirt with a beer advertisement or derogatory message, show up in the company area in civilian clothes, or ‘forgetting’ to say the greeting of the day. I was and I am required to set the example, so I’ve always taken every rule, internalized them, and lived them both in and out of the military. If you have trouble understanding this, ask my close friends, ask my sisters.
So as I watch friends celebrate their children’s high school graduation, college entry, 20 year wedding anniversaries, I am overwhelmed with celebrations that I’ve had in the course of my service. Dedication, where I recognize that many of my peers, colleagues don’t share 20 years with one company. Practically unheard of these days. I am thankful for the cherished lifestyle I’ve had, the beautiful people I’ve shared these times with, the best friends I’ve loved, lost or simply parted ways with, and lastly the comraderie and friendship of my cherished senior NCOs and officers over the years. They are like the best friend you had when you were 8 years old, and become the type of friend that defines your family. You surround yourself with their company because friends are the family you choose when family isn’t close behind.
Military members have chosen this path and your appreciation for what we do and when you verbalize it (thank us for our service), makes us uncomfortable. We do this because we love it, lock, stock and barrel (pun intended). But I thank you for your appreciation. It proves we have learned from our history and so I absorb your appreciation if only to channel to those Veterans who have gone before me and did not benefit from this great society that we know today, The United States of America. *raises salute*