Have you ever taken a moment to consider how you got to where you are in life? I mean really thought about it? Most people would probably say that the path their life has taken was the result of many choices they made throughout their lives. People are forced to make decisions on a daily basis and many times, those decisions have the potential to alter the trajectory of their lives. After recently reflecting on my own life, I came to the conclusion that my journey was hinged on one single decision. Of course there have been a multitude of miniscule day-to-day decisions that made my life zig instead of zag, but I realized there was one decision that was so impactful that the others almost seem inconsequential. The idea of it made me take a step back to consider what my life might have been like had I not made that decision. And the truth is, I don’t have the faintest idea! Making that decision has changed my path in such a way that I cannot even fathom what the alternative would have been.
When I was 18 years old, I joined the military. I know what you are thinking….so what, lots of 18 year olds join the military. But throughout my 18 years of existence, the thought of joining the military had literally never crossed my mind. And it probably never would have if it weren’t for one chance encounter. I was recruited at a pool hall!
Let me paint the picture for you. I graduated high school the previous year, but college did not seem to be a likely prospect for me. I was renting a room in someone’s basement (and prior to that I had spent some time living in my car) and I was working long hours as a waitress at a diner. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to college, it just didn’t seem feasible at the time. Whenever I wasn’t working or sleeping, you could probably find me at Cue Time, the local pool hall. Shooting pool was my favorite thing in the world and you could literally find me at Cue Time 365 days a year (yes, they were even open on Christmas!). I had been playing there for several years and at the time I was even good enough to compete in tournaments. There was a group of regulars there that become more like family than friends to me, especially the owner Frank. While my life didn’t have much direction, I was content because my pool hall family always watched out for me.
Then one day I was playing pool, minding my own business, when the woman at the table next to me started chatting me up. Her name was Sgt. Silver and she was a recruiter for the army. After a few minutes of chit chat she asked me if I had ever considered joining the army as means to pay for college. I actually laughed in her face! The idea of me joining the military just seemed so preposterous at the time. But she went on and on about all of the benefits and all of a sudden, the idea seemed less crazy. She gave me her card and suggested I think about it.
I gave it some serious thought and the more I did, the more it just seemed to make sense. I didn’t want to work as a waitress at a diner for the rest of my life. And I didn’t have some crazy pipe dream about becoming a professional pool player someday (I was young, not stupid). I knew I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to travel, and I knew I had more potential than I was letting myself believe.
So I wonder…If I hadn’t joined the military, would I still be a waitress at a diner? Or would I have transitioned to a more up-scale restaurant? Would I still be living in someone’s basement? Or would I be able to afford my own apartment? I will never know the answers to these questions, but I think it is safe to assume the following would NOT have happened had I not joined the military:
1. Lived in Korea for 3 years
2. Lived in Germany for 3 years
3. Traveled all over Europe
4. Completed Bachelor’s Degree (debt free)
5. Assisted US Customs in seizing over 3,000 lbs. of marijuana at the Mexican border
6. Provided security for POTUS in Berlin
7. Competed in an international K-9 competition (and win!)
8. Deployed to Iraq and lead troops (human and K-9 variety)
9. Met my wonderful husband
10. Completed Master’s Degree (debt free)
11. Attained my current incredible civilian job in Washington, DC
12. Own a beautiful home
This list is by no means exhaustive. Joining the military has led to so many things that I am extremely proud of. I am honored to have served our country, but I am also extremely grateful for all of the opportunities it provided for me, as well as the path that was set for where I am today. I hope to share more with you about those incredible 9 years.