Below is the autobiography I wrote for Officer Candidate School. It explains my motives for joining the National Guard. I thought I would share it with you here. (I have removed some personal identifiable information.)
“Hey, I’ve been thinking about joining the Army,” I told an old college buddy one afternoon.
“That’s some serious stuff,” was all the reply he could muster.
But his eyes said what his mouth didn’t: Why the hell would you want to do that? Indeed, why would a then 36-year-old father of four leave the comfort of career and home to become a soldier? It would be easy to say that joining the army has always been something I wanted to do. Of course, the real motivation runs deeper than that. The answers to his unspoken question lay in the life experiences that made me who I am. And they are what propelled me to one of the most important decisions of my life.
I was born . . . in Provo, Utah. The first child in a strong Mormon family, I grew up to be a dutiful son. My parents, who were both school teachers, instilled values of hard work, service, and education. And my mother especially insisted on good manners too. After my father graduated from BYU we moved to Sunset, Utah only a few miles away from Hill Air Force Base. Watching those F-4 Phantom jets screaming overhead daily amazed and excited me. And watching World War II war birds like the P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lighting in mock dog fights with Japanese Zeros at the annual air shows sparked my interest in military things. I thought they were the coolest things in the world.
We moved from Utah to . . . Missouri when I was eight. I spent my adolescence during the 80s—the climax of the Cold War. Our military was strong, communists were evil, and U2 was the greatest rock band ever—things were so black and white for me then. I was a serious kid. While other boys were talking sports or muscle cars, I was poring over books and debating politics with friends. We would talk about ICBMs, nuclear winter, and Mutually Assured destruction.
My father also influenced my keen interest in military subjects. He was drafted into the army during the Viet Nam War, and he was stationed in Germany. He didn’t talk much about his Army experiences except to say that they helped him gain self-discipline. I remember looking through his old army stuff. His field jacket had a cool looking unit patch on it. To think that my dad was once a soldier filled me with pride, and I wanted to be like him.
After high school I served a two-year mission for my church in Brazil. When I returned home I went off to BYU ready to get on with life. I flirted with the possibility of joining the army once during that time. But my father wisely advised, “There are easier ways to earn money for college. ” However, my dad leaving the door open said, “But you may like it—blowing things up is kind of fun.” My hopes were quickly squashed when the recruiter told me my childhood asthma disqualified me.
After some academic setbacks at BYU I returned to Missouri. I took a year off to work and to decide what I really wanted to do with my life. I went back to school in 1997, and four years later I graduated from Southwest Missouri State University. During that time I married my wife who happened to be in the Missouri National Guard.
I took my first job hopeful of bright teaching career. But on September 11, 2001 I watched with my students as the twin towers collapsed. I stood in shock wondering how different the world would be from that moment on. In the fervor of nationalism that followed the attacks, I wanted to join the military. But like before, it was nothing more than wishful thinking. It was too late for me, I thought. I was too old, and I felt my duty was to my growing family.
The military has always been in the back of my mind, but that desire crystallized into a clear purpose in late 2006. My wife received several National Guard magazines. I happened to read that the army raised the enlistment age from 32 to 42. The wheels in my head immediately started spinning. What if? I asked myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try. And it seemed like everything pointed me toward the army. For example, I read about a 42-year-old local journalist who left his career and enlisted. This inspired me, and again I felt a tug in my heart.
My college friend was right. It was serious stuff, and I have never taken a decision so seriously in my life. I had to know if a 36-year-old could make it in a young man’s army. And most importantly, I had to know that my family would be cared for during the long absences that inevitably would come. I broached the subject with my wife and explained my reasons: I felt it was my duty, and I felt the leadership training I would receive would make me a better father, husband, and teacher. This would be my only chance. My wife readily supported me and said, “Ok if you’re going to do this, you’re going to be an officer.” I prayed about it, and I knew that I was making the right decision. However, because of contractual obligations to my school, I had to wait another year before I could join. But nothing could stop me now.
On May 22, 2008 I swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Only months away from my 38th birthday, I entered Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. I answered the call of duty. I wanted to take my turn—to let someone else have a chance to come home.