Stories have arcs. Good stories do, anyway. Looking at my career as a story, it certainly seems to fits the mold.
The arc started when I was in high school. I really wanted to join the military, and after watching every war movie ever made and talking to recruiter after recruiter, I made my decision and committed to the Marine Corps. At the ripe old age of 17 (and with my mother signing the consent form!) I raised my right hand and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and with that pledge I began my new life.
I didn’t immediately ship out for bootcamp, however. I was still in my senior year of high school, so I spent six months or so in the Delayed Entry Program, which meant that I had signed on the dotted line and was waiting until graduation for my very first set of orders sending me off to recruit training. The arc started with me raising my hand, and was very slowly rising in anticipation of the big day when I would be introduced to my newest and bestest friends in the world- my Drill Instructors.
Time passed and the big day arrived. It was June 24th, 1985, and my recruiter picked me up for my ride to the airport. It was early and dark that Monday morning, and I was trepidatious, to say the least. With a lump in my throat, I hugged my mom goodbye and headed off in pursuit of my destiny, I suppose, or at least for a shot at seeing if I had what it took to become a United States Marine.
After a plane ride to San Diego and a bus ride to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot I learned that I had made the biggest mistake of my life, or so it seemed at the time. My first indication that things were changing was watching the gate guards spit on the bus when we entered the base- not an omen of happy times ahead. I won’t bore you with the details, but the next 13 weeks or so weren’t much better. I did graduate that September (0n Friday the 13th, no less), so the arc of my story rose like a rocket- I was on my way!
I went to my Military Occupation Specialty school (if you are curious, I was an 0844 Field Artillery Fire Controlman, which means I was the guy who calculated the information that was used by cannoneers to point their guns and hit targets miles away- pretty interesting stuff, especially considering that back then because we used paper charts and sliderules to compute the firing data) and upon graduation joined my reserve unit. I was there for a long time as I worked my way through college. Ultimately, I decided that I liked this Marine Corps thing and raised my right hand again- this time to commit myself to the arduous and rigorous opportunity presented by Officer Candidate School.
In a serious case of deja vu a different recruiter picked me up before different dawn, and I was just as nervous as I had been riding the airport years earlier. After a very familiar plane ride and introduction to a new set of newest and bestest friends I found myself on the miserable hamster wheel that is Officer Candidate School. I again wondered what I had gotten myself into and wondered just how I could get out of it. Fortunately, I knuckled down and endured along with my fellow candidates. It wasn’t any fun! It was much more difficult than recruit training, but that is OK. It should be, because as Thucydides, the revered ancient Greek scholar observed, “he who graduates the harshest school, succeeds.” If pain and exhaustion are metrics of the severity of the school, then I was indeed successful! A bit more gaunt and a lot more physically fit after an incredible ten week long experience I graduated and traded my Staff Sergeant’s chevrons for the gold bars of a second lieutenant. Very exciting!
My arc continued to rise as I had the time of my life. Leading Marines, learning about my profession (I chose to become an Artillery Officer because I liked my time as an enlisted gunner so much), and seeing the world was a fantastic and wonderful experience. There were parts that were miserable, but they were far outweighed by the sheer joy of the dynamic and exciting career that I was fortunate to pursue.
That arc continued to rise through peacetime deployments all over the country and overseas, fighting in a couple of wars, divorcing, remarrying, having kids, leading Marines, and commanding numerous units and organizations. I had joined a true brotherhood of like minded souls who were all headed in the same direction, with the same goals, aspirations, ideals, and frames of mind. Despite a few very bad days, my arc rose higher and higher as I pursued the career that I truly loved.
As I have written before, however, all good (and great!) things come to an end. After nearly three decades in uniform it became time to leave. My arc, which had been rising steadily higher and higher plummeted like the proverbial man in the barrel trying his luck over Niagara falls. My arc doesn’t look like nice symmetric bell curve, but instead is more like the first part of a rollercoaster- moving up slowly, then more steeply, then reaching a precipice before plummeting back down to where it started.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining because it was my choice to change the vector of my arc. The ride down from the peak was disconcerting, but I have learned that life is a lot more like a rollercoaster than I had thought. My ride down the coaster did not end in a disastrous crash of smashed cars, but instead rocketed in a new direction and is now set to rise up a completely new, exciting, and different arc. It hasn’t quite started yet because just I spent months waiting to ship out to recruit training after signing my contract I now have some time after my last day at work as a Marine before my terminal leave expires, which is when I will fully rejoin the world I came from. As a wise man once said about transition, the next adventure awaits, and I am looking forward to finding the next rising arc that will take me into the exciting future that lies ahead. The good news is that my hair is getting long enough to stream in the wind as the rollercoaster picks up speed…