I’ve been wanting to make this post for over a week, but I feel I needed to wait until the time was right, and I feel like that time has come, so I’m going to share with you what’s been going on these last few weeks in my life, and what’s to come in the near future.
How to say it:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll paraphrase:
As soon as I can possibly do so, I’m joining the US Army. Whether I’m going the National Guard Active First program or regular Army has yet to be decided and mainly depends on the current recruitment opportunities offered by the two branches. Truthfully my first instinct is to join the ARNG (National Guard) only because though I’m still not given a choice of bases, I’m guaranteed to be based in North Carolina, which fits with the goals and reasons I have for joining in the first place.
What are you thinking, Tommy?
I’ve heard this one a few times this week, along with “you’re crazy” and “what??” followed by a quizzical expression that means they think I just started speaking in a foreign language and couldn’t possibly have meant what I just said. So I’ll tell you the real reason and hopefully you’ll understand it and support me in it.
I want to have a family. I have the single most wonderful woman in the world who loves me and whom I love with all my heart, who I hope one day soon will agree to be my wife. I want to raise our kids together, hers, mine, and maybe one of “ours” if life and the universe permits… To do that I need to be able to provide for my family.
Of course I already have a job. I own a company. I have responsibilities there too but they come secondary to my family. My daughter deserves a Dad who can financially care for her, help put her into college one day. My wife (future-hopeful-tense) deserves a husband who can provide for his family and who can be a breadwinner and put food on the table every week of the year. My family needs someone they can count on to care for them and in this economy it seems the best method I can think of (and I’ve spend considerable time considering alternatives this last six months).
I want to serve my country. I’ve always wanted to serve my country. I joined the US Marines when I was 16 years old in the DEP program and shipped off to basic in August of 1995. Unfortunately at that time the condition I had with my knees prevented me from qualifying for the Marines because they would have had to assume a huge insurance liability. (In short, they thought I would get hurt because of my knees and since it was pre-existing, the Corps was open to a lawsuit if I wasn’t operated on first. The operation would have put me on Parris Island for 16 months, so I chose to avoid that and pursue college instead.) I could have enlisted in the Army that very day, but for whatever reason I didn’t. Maybe 15 weeks of Parris Island had predisposed me to not wanting more torture at the time. lol.
I’ve sat idly by and watched my best friends (Doc and Desmond) be pulled away from their families to serve their country and to fight to defend the freedoms I have and I’ve spent many years thinking it was my duty to stand with them and do the same. I don’t think anyone who isn’t willing to fight for freedom deserves to have it and I love the freedoms my country has to offer, even considering the horrible shape I think it’s in right now politically. That’s a blog post for another day…
Since this economy started the perpetual nose dive it’s been on, my business has suffered tremendously. Everyone is feeling the pain and I am no worse off than any other. I don’t want pity for my circumstances. I simply want them to change. Considering the changes I have tried to affect in the last eight months or so have born little fruit I’m choosing an option that will allow me to continue to own my company, continue to see it survive, and will put me in a financial position to pull it back on course.
I’ve spent the last 12 months staying one step ahead of the collectors. Tax payments due. Auto payments due. Child support due. I make enough money to pay one of them if I rob the other two, but I have to pay another the next month and rob the other two and the circle has been going on so long that I’m tired of it. I’m too good at what I do and too smart to be where I am financially. For the last three months I’ve been facing the fact that if i want to support my family, provide for Amy and Hannah and Jordan and Josh – a family of 5, keep out of child-support court, stay out of jail, evade the tax agencies, and in general just be able to enjoy my life; something has to change. If I serve and volunteer to go active duty immediately upon enlistment, I can affect that change. No one gets rich in the military, so in case you’re thinking of sharing your horror stories, Don’t. I don’t want to hear them. I’ve done the research diligently, asked the right questions, and spoken to the right people to know this can be a financially sound investment in my family. My insurance will be provided for. Amy, Hannah, Josh, (I include Jordan too, but she’s covered already through her own enlistment) will have better insurance. There are bonuses for certain MOS enlistments, such as Infantry. (If you volunteer to get shot at, that’s worth a bonus apparently.) Enlisted pay sucks but if I go active and deploy the bonuses for combat pay, danger pay, and others kick in. It will most likely take me two to three years if I can fast track to Officer, and then the pay just about doubles again.
What Comes Next?
Well, I go to enlist tomorrow, depending on how things turn out with the ARNG I’ll either be National Guard or regular Army. I’m going to volunteer for 11B (infantry) and I’m going to volunteer for Active First, which means “Here I am, Sir. Learn me and Burn me and send me to the sandbox as fast as you can.” From the time I enlist there will be some unknown time until I ship for OSUT. (One Station Unit Training). Rather than go through 9 weeks of BCT (Basic Combat Training) and then 5 weeks of AIT (Advanced Individual Training), certain MOS’ (job descriptions) like Infantry have a program called OSUT (One Station Unit Training). This means me and everyone who’s training with me for Infantry will go straight through BCT and AIT all at the same time at the same base, hopefully Fort Benning, GA. No pass Go, no collect $200.00, and no break home in between. From there, it’s unknown yet and fairly unpredictable how things will go.
What’s the Goal?
The end goal here is to volunteer for active duty overseas as quick as I can and get it over with. Do I want to get shot at on a daily basis? No. Am I crazy and wanting to get myself killed? No. Truth is I stand a much higher chance of dying in a car crash driving back and forth between Greenville and Albemarle than I do ever even getting hurt in a foreign country during active service. I’m hoping to National Guard because as soon as I return (in about a year) I’ll be able to return to Twisted Networks on a full time basis and continue to serve my country on the ARNG schedule as needed indefinitely; 6 years, 8 years, 20 if I’m able. That keeps me in the state near my family and if I bust my hump and work hard I can get a full time station close enough to live home with Amy during the week all the time. Is that guaranteed? No sir it isn’t, but it’ a hell of a lot better way to care for my family than what I’m doing now.
33 and Joining the Army?
I’m well aware how old I am. I know it’s hard. I’ve been smoking for 15 years and I’m going to be (competing is the wrong word here) having to stand toe-to-toe and excel with a bunch of 18 year old boys fresh out of high school. I’ve done the research for the qualifications needed to score the best possible on my “point areas” and I know what I need to meet to ACE the equivalency scores of guys almost half my age and they’re within my capabilities to achieve. The army promotional system is based on Scores. You score enough here and there and you qualify (depending on TIS) for promotions, etc. The APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) isn’t that hard compared to the Corps, but it’s still going to be tough regardless. For a 33 year old male smoker, in order to score a perfect 100 on the APFT I’ve got to be able to do 75 pushups in 2 minutes, 76 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and run two consecutive miles in 13 minutes and 18 seconds. Can I do all that now? Yes. Can I do it all in two minutes meet the run time requirements? Hell no! Can I do all THREE consecutively in order and maintain those numbers… GOD NO. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me before OTUS arrives. Thank God I already nail the weight class requirements on the head. The ideal weight for me is 200-205 which I’ve been at for almost a year now. I’m pretty sure the running and working out is going to shave that down a few, but I can add some back easily enough if I need to I suppose.
In other ways I stand to benefit from my age. I’ve been through USMC basic and I survived and I remember the head games and I know what to expect (and I don’t care who you are, USMC basic for the uninitiated teenager is the closest thing there is to Hell on this earth!) I remember puking my guts out in the gas chamber, but even though you want to die, you don’t. Even though you THINK you’re going to hold your breath… you’re not. lol. I remember literally doing pushups counting in the hundreds until they made grown men cry like babies for it to stop. Drill sergeants in the Army are different from the USMC and expect you to act your age and 15 extra years of living has granted me (hopefully) a maturity 18 year olds don’t possess. That’s an edge. It makes me more eligible for leadership positions and those in turn improve everything else. I really don’t want to be one in a group. I want to lead. Always have.
The ASVAB is going to be another challenge. I took the ASVAB right out of high school and scored a 98 out of possible 99. I’ve taken three practice ASVABs recently just to see where I stand and I scored a 91, so I haven’t forgotten TOO much since the good old days but I’ve got studying to do still. The army requires a 31 to enter, which isn’t saying much but MOS’ like 11B require a CO score of 90 (CO is AR+CS+AS+MC), meaning I have to have score high enough in the areas of Arithmetic Reasoning, Coding Speed, Auto and Shop Information, and Mechanical Comprehension to qualify for certain guarantees and bonuses for enlistment. Can I pass the infantry test? Right now yes, but I’d like to pass it with enough shining color that when I’m compared to the other guys billing for my slot that I stand above. In the Army (and every other branch) your ASVAB score follows you forever like a story about a bad ex-girlfriend in high school. You never get away from it.
I’ve received all my college transcripts from ECU and COA and tracked down my DD-214 from the Marine Corps. The only thing left is to take the ASVAB and sign up!
What About My Company?
Yes, of course there are considerations there, literally hundreds of them, but they’re being handled. Twisted Networx has good people and we do good work and it will continue functioning as normal during my hiatus through BCT and AIT. Once I’m active, I’ll be less involved in the day to day operations but I’ll still retain oversight and still be doing work, if not on a “daily” basis. The truth is, and I know it comes as a shock to some people, but I never intended to be the chief technician of my company forever. I built it to own it and to see it grow. I’m lucky enough to have one or two good people, who I think in my absence, will actually make it in to more than it is now. The proof will, in the end, be in the pudding as they say. I do things MY way, so my team does things MY way because I’m the CEO. We’ve worked together long enough to know that we all share the same vision of where we want it to be, but we have different methods of getting there. Getting me out of the way for a little bit will be a chance for the others to step up and grow themselves and prove to both themselves and the world if they’ve got what it takes to run a business. Will things be done “my” way while I’m not present? Probably not. They’re probably setting up a list of “Things to do away with when Tommy is gone” as I write this, which will be followed by a New York Times Best Seller titled “What Tommy Didn’t Know” which I’ll have to stomach daily when I return…. I’ll deal.
The Hardest Thing
The single hardest thing I’m going to face is leaving my family. Amy and I have worked so very hard this last year for me to at first “BE” home at all, then to be home 2 days a week, now it’s 3 and sometimes 4 days a week that we’re able to be together as a family. Once this starts I’m going to have to live not seeing her face for months at a time. That’s going to kill me. I’m trying to remember she’s the reason I’m doing this and to use that as my fuel for getting back home as fast as I can.
I’m going to have my daughter this summer, for the first time ever. Michelle has been awesome enough to let me have her the whole summer! I’m going to get to spend every day with her, and then have to send her back to her Mom’s and tell her that I don’t know how long before Daddy will be home again. That part is just going to suck. But I remember what it was like with my Dad growing up. I love my Dad but he bailed on child support for most of my life, just as he did with my other siblings. I don’t want to be that kind of Dad. I’ve had to struggle to pay it and at times it’s been months between payments and my daughter deserves better. I want to be able to buy her a bike without thinking which bill I’m going to have to let slide to do it. I’m tired of having all the right ideals and not being able to live up to the man I’m supposed to be to the people I love. So it’s time for a change! I hope they know that I’m doing this for all the right reasons and not because it’s something I “want” to go do.
I wasn’t raised to be the kind of man that can live off his wife. True, Amy makes a great salary, and I don’t feel like I need to make more than her to be a man. Amy went through most of a decade of school to get where she is and I’m so proud of her… you have no idea how amazed I am by her daily, just seeing the independent woman she’s become. But at the end of the day I’m in love with a really strong woman, a really really strong woman, and it takes a stronger man to earn that kind of love and to keep it and I need to start doing that better than I have this year so far. I need to provide for the family I have and to be able to look them in the eye with pride and to ensure for their health, their safety, and their future and this is how I know I can do it.