1. Waging War
The United States military is exceptionally good at waging war. Not necessarily winning wars, but we’ll damn sure give it the old junior college try until we’ve either gotten to the point of total victory or prolonged multi-decade conflict that needlessly costs money, time, and lives.
There’s no doubt that fights like World War II, the Civil War, and the American Revolution — just to name a few — placed enough moral superiority on our side to justify entry and victory. But let’s not forget about more morally ambiguous tussles like the Spanish-American War, Vietnam, and our ongoing excursions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, when you don’t have a solid plan, just make one up along the way and keep telling an apathetic public that you’re winning — because that’s the American way.
2. Social Experiments
If there’s one thing the U.S. military does better than any other government organization, it’s social experiments. A common phrase from detractors is that the “U.S. military should not be a social experiment.” Well, I call hooey on that.
United States Colored Troops regiments were fully functional and fighting in the Civil War almost two years before the Union victory that finalized the abolition of slavery. President Harry Truman’s desegregation of the military predated monumental civil rights changes like Brown v. Board of Education by six years. The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” went into effect almost four years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage federally legal.
The fact is, the U.S. military has, for the most part, always been ahead of social changes in this country. Now, if only our military could get ahead of the fact that you’re still waiting on the ammo truck to show up at the range …
3. Making Boys Into Men
The U.S. military has historically made a point that they “turn boys into men.” It’s the age-old trope that a youth enters the Armed Forces an undisciplined weakling and leaves a hardened man. You’ll certainly be exposed to character-building situations that your civilian counterparts won’t — like mass punishment, repetitive cleaning, formations for the sake of formations, and more time spent on mandatory PowerPoint presentations than training for your actual job.
All this, of course, doesn’t necessarily make you a man. It just gives you a higher tolerance for idiocy. The U.S. government is going to hand you a key to a multimillion dollar vehicle and put you in charge of a dozen peoples’ lives, but you’re still not allowed to have more than a six-pack in your barracks room. Plus your 25-year-old roommate is puking off the roof of the barracks again because he drank too many Natty Ices on a Thursday night. That’s not really manhood if emotional maturity comes into play — but you’ll totally know how to use a firearm when it’s all said and done.
4. Hand-to-Hand Combat Training
The U.S. military has always been consistent with hand-to-hand combat training. From the days of the revolution to the modern era, young soldiers have been trained on the importance of the fist and bayonet. Though tactics have evolved over the years, the intentions are the same: When all else fails and you have no choice, you must be ready to drop your rifle and survive by any means necessary.
This is beat into young privates’ heads during the earliest stages of basic training. And then you show up to your unit and things kind of change, to be honest. If you’re a conventional soldier or U.S. Marine, combatives training will typically consist of an early morning jog down to whatever field you have in your area. It usually starts with a reiteration of basic moves: kicks, punches, defensive moves, etc. From there you’ll be paired with a hungover member of your platoon, and both of you will give each other the “let’s just go light on each other” look prior to your grappling match with each other. From there, you’ll go through the motions of grappling for a good half hour, ever aware that pushing your partner too far could cause him to puke all over you.
For the seasoned soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman, you know that the majority of combatives moves will do nothing for you in the real world, and if it ever actually comes down to you being in a hand-to-hand situation, you’ll have to resort to good old-fashioned violence of action and pure aggression. For the newbie, well, go ahead and try those moves at a local bar and see how that works out for you.
5. Seeing People Naked
This one time in bootcamp, our drill instructors got really angry at us and made us all stripdown to our issued tightie whities. Then they made us take off our tightie whities and throw all of them into a pile on one side of the room and run back to our bunks. From there, 100 of us stood at the position of attention for approximately five minutes. Just a bunch of 18-to-25-year-old men standing there completely naked staring at each other.
The last order the drill instructors gave was giving us 10 seconds to run and grab a pair of underwear, put it on, then run back to our bunks. Nobody got their original pair. At 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, I ended up in a pair of smalls that had skid marks on them. The 5-foot-2 guy across from me was clearly wearing a size way too large for him. We then put our uniforms back on and spent the rest of the day like that.
I don’t even know if I made a valid point about overall military life with this last one. But it really scarred me, and no amount of nudity has ever made me feel uncomfortable since.