It seems like a lifetime ago. I was only seventeen and had recently graduated from high school. I had my whole life ahead of me. I made the decision to join the United States Navy. During that time, I came of age during that four-year enlistment. Through my travels, I saw parts of the world that I’d only read about in books or saw on television. The Sydney Opera House, the Red Sea, and Pearl Harbor, just to name a few. I visited countries such as Australia, Croatia, Italy, and Mexico. I broke bread and partied with people from various cultures. We talked about life, love, food, and politics. It was a journey that changed me profoundly.
I’m not here to chest thump about veteran bro culture. Or endorse endless wars or the death of innocent civilians in faraway lands in the name of freedom. Or blindly promote the monster known as the Military-Industrial Complex. Like many people who came from where I did, the military offered us an opportunity to leave our respective hometowns. It opened doors not usually reserved for people from working-class or poor backgrounds. Black and brown people whose untapped potential is often left unknown all because they were born in the wrong zip code. Time in the service has changed that for countless people like myself. I do think that we’d be a better country if young people all had to do a couple of years of service post-high school. It’s an unfair question to ask an eighteen-year-old young adult what they’d want to do for the rest of their lives. Hell, at thirty-five, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I do think time in service can give people some time to reflect and find themselves. It doesn’t have to be military service per se. It could be the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or Habitat for Humanity.
The Mission Continues
I am grateful for my time in service. At the same, I’m also conflicted by it. Our nation has burned bridges and bomb hometowns of countless people across the globe. People who could have been our friends, people who had their own dreams now never to be realized. At the same time, the armed forces have provided humanitarian relief for devastated foreign lands after natural disasters. I’m not alone in this feeling. But I know one thing for sure, I’m a much better human being for my leaving my little corner of the Windy City. I learned the world is a much bigger place than the South Side of Chicago. Traveling the world also showed me that it’s a much smaller planet than we’d like to believe or could ever imagine. People everywhere all have the same fears, passions, faults, flaws, insecurities, triumphs, and desires no matter what place they call home. No matter if that place is Quinto, Ecuador, or Helsinki, Finland. Humanity is diverse and strange, all at the same time. Yet, we are all the same, and we are all connected, even if we fail to see that sometimes.