A few months ago, I received a text from an Army recruiter. I asked him how he got my number, and he told me (college list). And while I felt every urge to simply ignore him and move on, or let him know that the military just wasn’t my thing, I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I began to research. Until that moment, I couldn’t have told you the difference between the military and the army, and I definitely didn’t know any of the distinctions between branches. So I began researching what the military had to offer. Within a few Google searches, somehow, I had already made up my mind. That day at work, I told my coworker about it. “I think I might join the military,” I said. He was supportive. “Yeah, they have a lot of great benefits. My dad was in it. It gives you something really meaningful to relate with others about, people you’ve never met before.” It didn’t take much googling to realize the Air Force was the better option for me, given its slightly more lenient physical fitness expectations and reputation for offering a higher quality of life. Not only that, but the military friends I discovered I had were also in the Air Force.
Later that day, I tested the waters with my mom, letting her know over text that I was looking into the Air Force. She didn’t really respond, as she was likely assuming it was a passing thought. I continued to consume YouTube content having to do with the Air Force, mostly about boot camp and being gay in the military, and in early December, met with my local recruiter. She was honest, helpful, and informative, and eased the few fears I had about entering active duty military service. She asked me preliminary questions about tattoos, criminal convictions, and medications, and I left with a stack of paperwork to fill out.
If you’ve ever had a friend or family member join the military, you know that the next step is MEPS: Military Entrance Processing Station. My first scheduled day at MEPS was cancelled due to weather, which very quickly made me reach out to G-d, in part out of impatience, and in part out of trust. I truly felt that I was doing the right thing, but the delay got me antsy. On the day that I did go to MEPS, however, I realized it was all, of course, in G-d’s timing. There, at the threshold of a new journey, I met a longtime friend who was shipping out the next day. It was a total coincidence and something that somehow connected this momentous decision to my growing up. It was an “it’s all coming together” moment.
MEPS was a success, I took the oath of enlistment, and the next step was entering the DEP: Delayed Entry Program. I chose nine jobs out of a list of about 150 that I was qualified for, and waited for one of those nine to come out on a future DEP list. It wasn’t even a month before one of the jobs I’d chosen showed up on the list, and I got my ship date: April 14th. While I was expecting something in May or June, as soon as I noticed the April date, that was the one I wanted.
April 14th is forty days away, and none of it feels real. I don’t think it’ll feel real until I’m on a plane, flying to Texas, or sitting in chapel at basic, or doing inordinate numbers of push-ups, or sitting in class at technical school. I’m still working full time, and I’ll continue to until about a week before I leave. I think the working adds to the surrealness. If I had nothing to do all day but pack my bags and get prepared for boot camp, the whole idea might register a lot sooner, although the days would tick by more slowly.
When I talk about it, people ask if I’m nervous, or regretting the decision. Obviously, yes, I’m nervous. By most accounts, boot camp is one of the most difficult things many people ever do. I’m also ridiculously excited, though. It’s an adventure, and I’ve been yearning for something like this since I graduated high school.
The difficult part is meeting with friends, sharing tea and intentional conversations, knowing that the relationships I have now will likely never be the same. I’ll only see them in person perhaps once a year, and by the time I’ve separated, if I’ve separate after four years as my contract allows, I can’t expect any relationship or place to be the same. Of course, the changes in Kalamazoo won’t occur faster because I’m not here to observe them; it will only appear that way. And when one city has been your home for 100% of your life, there’s no way to truly prepare for something like this.
I should say, there are ways to prepare. But nothing that feels quite readying enough. Still, I have short workout sessions regularly to prepare for the physical challenges, and I attend church every Sunday to prepare for a greater dependency on G-d. (Speaking of church, one of the ordained members of my congregation recently gave a sermon that’s probably in my top five collections of words I’ve ever heard.) All in all, I think it will be a great experience. If you think of me in these next few months, pray that my spirit is strengthened in the confidence of my intimacy with the Presence of G-d’s Spirit. This is fancy Christian language for, “ask G-d to be my best friend because I really need it.” Thank you.