When I turned eighteen, I realized that while I as a woman was exempt, my younger brother whom I loved and of whom I felt very protective, would have to register for the military selective service, to potentially be drafted into enlistment in the United States armed forces, risking life and limb. Being very, very inexperienced in the world, I felt that that was unfair. I felt if he had to go to that difficult life task, I should also have to go. And, I realized that there were “benefits that last a lifetime”, as they say, to military service, that is assuming one goes on to have a lifetime and is not killed in service. To a high school graduate such as myself, with no dependable way to get a higher education, benefits like a salary, cost-of-living, tax advantages, training, educational opportunities, travel, vacation, health care, and special pay for special duties (!), were compelling. Again, those benefits were assuming one lived through one’s service, which because the United States was involved in dozens of wars in the 1980's was not a given.
A few years later I took my boyfriend, a burly fellow who was smarter than the average bear, but apparently enough in love with me to join me on a mission much more dangerous to him than to me, in tow down to the local recruitment center, which would now be called The United States Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) or Armed Forces Career Center, which I certainly needed at the time. Naively I resisted when they tried to split us up for processing, saying, “We’re enlisting together, we’d like to stay together.” (In the back of my mind I was thinking that maybe we would marry and have military housing as a couple.) My boyfriend did not quibble, just ambled off down the hall to male processing, and I went along into female processing. Surprisingly the recruiter was not female, but male and gnarly in the seventies sense of seeming difficult, dangerous, and challenging. His mission was to discourage me from joining the army, and when narrating the dangers of military service did not work he turned to sex, “Are you a lesbian?” That flummoxed me, after all I had come in to join with my boyfriend which I thought made my sexual orientation quite clear. “No.” I replied. “Well, then you can’t be in the army, only lesbians join the army.” He retorted. It was a short interview, I was easily routed. Apparently, my boyfriend himself had second thoughts because he met me at the door and we left together, but we did not stay together. Nor did my brother enlist, he chose to take an exemption for his several lost fingertips, and he continued his blame of me for it, against all reason and reality.
I have occasionally wondered what my life would have been like if I had enlisted, survived the death lottery, gained the mental and physical training, earned a government financed university degree (maybe even attained my dream of a Ph.D.), and retired from military service young enough to have a second civil career. Those dreams are dust.
By the by, khaki means dust-colored in Persian. Dust to dust is a concept that often occurs to me when I am sad, the truth of it for all that lives is somehow comforting to me. None are exalted, none are exempt, all must endure. So, I try to rejoice wherever humanly possible.
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King James Bible: Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 16
“And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. 17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. 18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? 22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”
Caption: Wearing military khaki was not to be.
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018