Every year on Veterans Day, I hear people talk about how thankful they are for the people in the military and those who have served.
Yadda yadda yadda. I get it.
But let me tell you, those who have served are lucky for that experience.
This may surprise you, but I was on a fast track to nowhere growing up.
I was an OK kid. I wasn’t super smart and wasn’t super-motivated. My GPA in high school was 1.7, but that was mostly because I skipped about 45 days of school in my last semester.
The decision to meet with a recruiter was nothing special. It was just a normal ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ session, and I decided to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. A few weeks later, I was signing up to join the military with no real job goal, career direction or care in the world.
My father was a Purple Heart recipient Combat Medic in Vietnam; he was not pleased with my decision-making to this point. Almost every male member of my family on both my mother and father’s side had served in some capacity.
I guess I was next.
I lucked into a job as a 31F, a network system switching operator and maintainer, and I had no clue what that was. I knew it offered a steady paycheck and apparently an Army College Fund worth $40,000 at the time which grew as incentives increased.
I had no direction, no desire to go to college, and off I went.
On day one of basic combat training, my life changed. Drill Sergeant Goldhammer informed the soldiers on the bus with their heads down that “welcome to Fort Jackson, South Carolina,” were the last nice words I would ever hear him say.
He was right.
We got off the bus, and all the yelling and theatrics immediately took place. There was a pile of identical duffle bags each with our names and info on them, and we were yelled at to find ours and get in line.
This is where it all clicked, like a movie where the clouds clear and the sun starts to shine. I realized every opportunity is what you make it. I could be upset by all the yelling, or I could do what I was told and do it to the best of my ability. There was no reason to resist in this situation.
I learned a lot in the coming weeks, and when I left, my weak demeanor was gone. I went from running two miles in 24+ minutes to two miles in 13+ minutes. I felt I had a purpose. I had goals and a better life was possible.
I went on to graduate from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I then served in my one duty station of Fort Lewis, Washington. I subsequently attained the rank of sergeant in a little over three years, and I began looking forward to going to college after I left the service. I thought about re-enlisting, but I had so many opportunities because of my time spent in the Army that I was ready to go out into the world.
I was armed with money for college, drive and ambition. The Army remade me.
I was confident, and college came easy to me. By the time I graduated from the University of Florida telecommunication program, I had a GPA well over 3. At Florida, I interned and earned my first radio job.
I had joined the reserves as part of a public affairs unit. Believe it or not, I failed the voice test to get into the Army’s Public Affairs Broadcast Field.
Years later, I was still benefiting from that four-year stint in the Army, and still am today.
Just counting the GI Bill, Army College Fund and VA Loan programs, I have benefited to the tune of at least $100,000 dollars in direct benefit since I last picked up an M16A2.
Every mortgage I pay will be smaller because on August 28, 1997, I raised my hand and took an oath.
That changed my life. And it will forevermore.
The point I am making is this: I am thankful to all of those who have served and suffered a loss in that process. I know I am beyond lucky for the life I have lived and the gifts given to me.
Joining the military was the greatest decision I ever made; without that decision, who knows what my life would look like.
I highly recommend anyone looking for a purpose or direction to join the military and find that purpose in serving their country.
I know that I got more out of the military than it got out of me, and I am thankful for that every single day.
Thank you to all the veterans out there who served with honor, and thank you to the United States of America for allowing me the opportunity to serve you and better myself.
Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.