My grand children often ask me what it was like growing up “in the olden days.” My response is often quip with light humor, along the lines of, “well, I was much younger. There was no electricity. No TV. It was the dark ages.” As a career military man, I’m also often asked how the military was different “then and now,” or how things changed over the years I served.
As is true with all manners of life, things must change. The same is true regarding the United States military. There is a great deal of differences between then and now. I think that the most pronounced difference is that the services are so much more technologically driven – technology has advanced so far and so quickly. Take aircraft, for instance. They are much more reliable today than when I was first flying. They’re more powerful and have fighting abilities far beyond what was used when I flew. I would love to strap my young body to an F-22 today!
When I first started flying in 1953, it was appalling how little we knew about weather and instrumentation. Appalling and dangerous. We have learned and advanced so much in these past 60+ years that there is virtually nothing we can’t detect, predict and evade. We used to teach range approaches to airports in bad weather – approaches that required that you listen to a signal through your headset and note if the signal got stronger or weaker. If you were flying from point A to point B the trick was to find point B. Today, with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Inertial Navigation, systems you can fly directly to point B or anyplace else on earth. No listening necessary!
Beyond the advances in aircraft, the services themselves have grown to take care of their own. They have initiated programs to help families cope with long and frequent deployments, injury, loss of life, and so many other aliments unique to the life of a military family. It is truly remarkable.
Even today, a life in the military isn’t a cake walk, and certainly isn’t for everyone. There are many good and bad aspects. What, to me, are the best and worst parts of military life?
I’ll start with the worst first. I would say that the worst part of being in the military is being assigned a long deployment. Being away from family for long periods of time strains the family, as well as the person deployed. But that is part of the job and we all recognize that.
I think that the best part of being in the military, besides the fact that you are actively serving your country, is the responsibility that the military gives to young people. As an example, when I graduated from pilot training, our first assignment was to France. They made me an Aircraft Commander (equivalent to a Captain on a commercial airliner) while I was still a second lieutenant and twenty-three years old. I also only had about 800 hours total flying time! They gave me the responsibility to fly this large passenger/cargo plane all over Europe, Africa, the British Isles and the Near East. The weather can be really snotty in Europe and it was a challenge. But I loved it.
Above everything, I would say the best part of being in the military is the travel. My stepfather was in the U.S. Army, so I started school in the Panama Canal and graduated from high school in Yokohama, Japan. When I had my own family we had two boys born in France, one in Texas and one in Japan. Accompanied tours overseas can be an exciting and full filling part of military life.
A military life can be a life of great adventure, but is will always be a life of great responsibility.