by Eric Gardner, Guest Contributor
Our lives as military spouses are filled with countless decisions. As a fourth-generation veteran I understand I have a tendency to overthink certain areas of life.
One of them being – will my children wear the uniform in the future?
Now I’ve still got a bit before anything happens. My oldest is gracing the halls of middle school this year. However, I know full well how fast time can pass and before I know it my beautiful little girls will be empowered, driven young women.
Will I want my daughters to join the military of the future? To be honest the verdict is still out.
Now before this gets taken out of context, let me explain. There are some terrific life lessons that can be gained through military service.
The first one that comes to mind is making friends quickly. All military brats and active duty service members have that quality which has been honed through countless PCSes. A social grace that allows them to blend into any group and find connections that might be lost in other civilian professions.
Another lesson of military service is you learn the importance of family. Our families are the only constant we often have. Regardless of where the military takes you, your family being by your side can make your military installation feel like home.
And last but not least is developing a unique empathy that few outside the service can match. It’s one thing to see the sights of a host nation or port of call. It’s another to make friends with the locals and see the world from their point of view.
I sincerely hope that my wife and I are good stewards of the impression the Army makes on our girls. Not that everything is easy. Far from it, we want to ensure that our kids see that military life is passionate, full of adventure and challenging. The later part being what makes the journey worthwhile.
Now before you think I’ve got my dad blinders on, let me say just a little about the methodology to this train of thought. The one thing that I can’t stop is time. Whether it’s after high school or college or somewhere in-between my kiddos are going to have to take their own steps out into society. Their unique signature on the world will only be limited or enhanced by their experiences and imagination.
When I graduated from college to join the Army, there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty. I considered myself lucky in that while my peers felt a similar apprehension about the unknown at their new jobs, they had suffered additional stress of finding their place of employment in their field of study. My classmates weren’t exactly sure how long their positions would be available at their new offices.
I, on the other hand, had a guaranteed eight years of job security.
I think we can all agree that everything has tradeoffs. I know for a fact that my parents — my mother specifically — didn’t enjoy my time at Ranger School. So many things could have gone wrong, from a simple failed exercise to a catastrophic accident. I’m fairly certain my guaranteed employment wasn’t at the top of either of my parents’ thoughts during the years of airborne operations at Fort Bragg.
As I began to excel as a soldier, I could see the joy my successes brought to them. Some of their excitement was a validation that their sacrifices during my childhood allowed me to positively stand out and that my future held so many possibilities.
The military isn’t forever. Even if you do 30 years there are still many chapters of our lives to write. As a starting point, the Army alone has 150 career paths. Finding a passion with so many choices is a high probability.
Even it’s only for a few years, there is so much to gain from military service.
Promotions can be expected. Equality is something everyone believes in. You get paid vacation from day one. You and your family have access to health care and you have the opportunity to see the world.
Now there will always be disadvantages and they do carry a lot of weight. There are the long hours, often hazardous duty accompanying most career fields, the stressors placed on the family, and the nomadic lifestyle is oftentimes hard to adjust to.
Yet as I plot and plan for the future there is one thing I know I will have no control over – my daughter’s decision.
To say the military isn’t for everyone is putting it mildly. A 1% sampling of the population volunteering to serve has so many demands placed on it that you need to want to be there. As with all paths of life there will be highs and lows, however the added element of extreme risk can produce some very hard days.
This is why the jury is still out. My wife and I won’t promote or discourage the military lifestyle. Our girls have a brief glimpse of what service life is like from being Army brats.
As a former brat and veteran, I know how little I understood going in. Yet that was OK because I wanted to be there. It’s not necessary that I need my children to do this.
I want them to be vested in their passions.
I want them to excel in whatever profession they choose.
And above all else I want them to be excited about their future.
While I’ve said it’s their decision I have to admit, having them be part of five consecutive generations of military members would make me smile. However, wanting them to thrive in a career they are passionate about is what would make me most proud.
Do you want your children to follow in your footsteps and join the Army? Why or why not?
Eric Gardner was raised in a military family and lived around the world. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the U.S. Army as an Infantry Officer. Since the end of his wartime service he has shifted gears and is now a stay-at-home father. In his role as an active duty Army spouse, he has become an author. As the creator of the XIII Legion Series he has enjoyed great success, and enjoys meeting other entrepreneurial spouses as well as fellow authors. You can see more from Eric Gardner at his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thirteenthlegion.series, and http://www.facebook.com/XIIILGN or follow him via Twitter @13thLegion.