Kelly’s Finding Hunter
“I’m thinking about joining the Army,” a guy named Hunter says to me.
It’s not a statement I expected to hear at a UFC 100 pre-fight party, especially from a guy with perfectly coiffed, shoulder-length blonde hair who drove to Vegas from LA to help market his new product, “The Party Starter.”
“Would you do it again?” he asked.
Whether it was the new protein-infused vodka or the sleep deprivation of hustling through the biggest MMA weekend ever, something made me scroll through my military career like Chuck Bartowski having an intense intersect flash. I saw myself in this kid, a relative term if ever there was one since he was 24ish. He stood on the precipice of a life-altering decision just as I had in 1986, yet we were tempered by blacksmiths of different mettle. For me military service was somewhat mandatory. My entire family was made up of Army Officers, most of them attending Virginia Military Institute or West Point. My sisters even married into or worked for the Army. Sure I could have refused to join, just like France could have refused to fight Germany and instead let them roll in unopposed…both times. Hunter wasn’t raised under the crest of the 41st Infantry Regiment and Vietnamese Ranger MACP skulls, so this decision was foreign to him. All I could do is recall the highs and lows and let him decide.
“Okay, dude,” I started off, making sure to speak his language to build rapport. “Here’s the 411 fo-shizzle. For one thing, the fact that you’re even contemplating military service sets you above ninety percent of our population. America has an all-volunteer military, which half the world cannot claim. It produces something conscription cannot-a professional corps of NCOs and soldiers who want to be there making a difference. The yearning of the human spirit is to be free, not dependent, so if you don’t find improving a less fortunate person’s life rewarding, then the service is not for you.
If you decide to join, don’t put it off another day. I enjoyed college a little too much and ended up taking a fifth year, which jacked up my timeline just enough that I missed out on Desert Storm and the Iraq invasion. You will have to move frequently, but will develop a new strength for adaptability that makes you stronger than the hometown homebodies you grew up with. The Army showed me the great big world out there and taught me the joys of trying new things. Without the eclectic souls who make up the Battalions I’ve been assigned to, I’d never have tried sushi, snowboarding, or rugby and learned the acceptance for strange things that came with it.
The Army showed me there are 2 billion women in the world and pining over the one that got away was stupid and shallow. I realized quickly there was not one single, perfect woman out there for me, but instead three or four who were extremely compatible. On a bigger scale that principle led to me never expecting perfection. If the world were perfect there’d be no need for country music.
Before the Army I bought into the absurd notion that posturing myself for the future was more important than enjoying the moment and that careerism trumped having fun. Next thing I knew my first assignment slipped away and I missed out on more raucous times with my fellow Lieutenants than I care to think about. See your buddies across the room there? Have more beers with them when you can. I still wish I had one more chance to drink with Gary Derby before he deployed and I never saw him again.
Leading soldiers is like King Arthur’s famous line after drinking from the Holy Grail: “I never knew how empty was my soul until it was filled.” The burden of leadership is an exhausting, frustrating thing of rapturous beauty that only a privileged few know and is only matched by having kids (and somewhat by owning a house at tax time). The cliché “One door closes and another one opens” is true – if I had made it through SFAS and become a Green Beret, I never would have met my wife. SERE is the best training in the Army, but the debilitating claustrophobia I developed from it was barely a good trade off.
Parachuting is both terrifying and thrilling and you’ll always remember your first and last jump. ‘Jump out and count to four’ does not mean scream the Lord’s Prayer when you reach five. A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but when driving a HUMVEE in the desert, it’s only slightly safer than kicking Brock Lesnar’s nutsack. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is not an adequate excuse for a stupid mistake, especially after driving across the desert with eight Hoffman devices in your HUMVEE. By the confused look on your face, I can tell you have no idea what I mean.
Without the Army I never would have walked the lonliest strip of fence on earth (the Korean DMZ), flown over the Amazon rainforest in an open-doored helicopter, cruised down the Rhine admiring ancient German castles, or driven across the barren middle eastern deserts. I should be proficient at Hangul, Pahstun, and Spanish by now, but I was a typical American who believed in his own superiority and thought everyone should speak English instead. Being range OIC does not give you carte blanche to blow up anything (see “it seemed like a good idea at the time” above).
It won’t take you long to realize that discipline is at the heart of military service and will set you apart from civilians. I’m not saying discipline is non-existent outside the military, but it is a foundation within the ranks. I no longer think it’s better to pass the ball when the big game is on the line. I want to take the shot myself. Yet there’s a fine line between pouncing on an opportunity and rushing into a mistake. I still don’t know the difference, so I’ve learned to trust my instinct like a good Jedi and do whatever my gut tells me to.
If there’s a drawback to military service, it’s the frustration of defending people who really don’t deserve it. Let’s face it-there are some real shitbags in America who benefit from our sacrifices. That’s the irony of liberty-the blanket of security that we provide is universal. Freedom doesn’t take one’s social standing or moral turpitude into consideration. It covers everyone and anyone equally, whether they’re an upstanding citizen or a drug dealing pedophile.
The Army’s greatest lesson is that you can do anything. The old phrase “what does not kill me makes me stronger” came from a soldier who was tested and did not break. The Ranger tab that my father coveted was actually not bigger than me no matter how intimidating the mantra on his wall was. He had a plaque that read, ‘If you kill for fun, you’re a sadist. If you kill for money, you’re a mercenary. If you kill for both, you’re a ranger.’ Earning my own tab was not as daunting as he made it seem and I graduated with a confidence that has never faded.
A career in the Army will provide ample amounts of pain, humiliation, heartache, and embarrassment alongside the joy, honor, and pride that comes with being molded into a man. There’s no reason to upset the balance of the universe by cheating it out of whipping you into shape.
Hell yes I’d do it again.”
Hunter was both equal parts terrified and elated by my diatribe. Life is a series of decisions and I have no idea which one he’ll make, but at least he isn’t going into it with blinders on.
Headphones maybe, but not blinders.