Steve Garrett and I had a few classes together throughout high school. He was tall, lanky, and had a twisted sense of humor. He didn’t run with the popular crowd, nor was he particularly athletic. Like me, he was just another kid out of the 400+ in our class trying to figure out what he was going to do after high school ended. I’m not sure who came up with the idea first, but Steve and I decided that we were going to join the Marines after we graduated. Although my grades were good enough to get into college, I craved a lifestyle of adventure and camaraderie that wasn’t going to be obtained from lecture halls and pre-gaming in the dorms.
My parents were a mixed bag when I told them. My mom was naturally against it, mainly because “Marines are often the first ones in and on the front lines.” I remember my dad being more neutral in his attitude, as ultimately, I would be 18 when I enlisted and was my decision alone to make. He accompanied me on a few visits to RSS Olathe to speak with the recruiter and learn about my career options. My plan was relatively straightforward: After graduation, I’d enlist, ship out for boot camp at Camp Pendleton in San Diego and then enroll at Officer Candidate School in Quantico with the goal of being an intelligence officer. I didn’t have the guts to be a door-kicker; I was going to be the one to tell them where the bad guys were at.
Being young and idealistic, I threw myself into preparation: I went down to my local Borders and bought a “how to survive boot camp” book. It became dog eared quickly. I started working out and studying for the ASVAB. Everything seemed to be falling into place…except for the fact that I was still in high school and the junior recruiter at RSS Olathe wouldn’t stop calling me. Every month, he’d organize activities for all of the new and prospective recruits to give us a “taste of what was to come” and build camaraderie. The activities were usually physical in nature: Lifting, ruck marches, or hill sprints. Every time I received an invite to go, I’d make up some BS excuse about “my parents really want me to focus on my studies” and tell them I’d catch them next time. However, that next time never came. I had homework, a job, and a girlfriend…in my mind, I didn’t have the time or the desire to go lift with some random dudes that I may or may not ever see again. At first, the recruiter was understanding and encouraged me to focus on my schoolwork. However, after the third or fourth rejection, the tone changed. “What, you can’t hack it?” “You’re too busy to work out with your fellow recruits?” “Honestly, I don’t think you have what it takes to join the Corps.” Keep in mind that at this point, I hadn’t enlisted yet, so I had no obligation to attend any of these voluntary activities. So I did what any typical 17 year old in my situation would have probably done: Metaphorically threw up the double bird and stopped returning his calls.
Months passed. I graduated in May and spent the summer working and attending classes at the local community college. August rolled around and I signed up for another full class load for the fall semester. A month later, 9/11 happened. I briefly considered going back to RSS Olathe with my tail between my legs, but the thought didn’t last long: That coming January, I packed up my white Dodge Daytona and followed my high school girlfriend and buddies west down K-10 to KU.
It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve seen Steve. We haven’t spoken since high school. Before writing this post, I tried looking him up on social media with no success. Thinking of him brings to mind more questions than answers. Did he end up honoring our commitment we made to each other to serve in the Marines? Maybe he didn’t and is flipping burgers now. No, Steve would be be in a cubicle farm somewhere, a desk jockey. Maybe he’s still in the Corps and is kicking down doors as I type this. I wonder if he’s even alive?
My decision to not enlist is one that still gnaws at me. While I’m thankful beyond measure for the life I currently have, a part of me will always say, “what if?” What if I enlisted? What would my life have looked now if I did? Would I have had the courage and dedication required to earn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor? I’ve gone as far as to see what the age cut-offs are for the various branches of the military (the Air Force and the Navy Reserve will take you up until 39, BTW.) Although given my current responsibilities, line of work, and the amount of people depending on me, the idea of enlisting now is out of the realm of possibility. That proverbial ship may have sailed long ago, but the “what if” remains.
On this Memorial Day, I am thankful for the men and women who served. To the ones who gave some, and to the ones who gave their all. To the ones I’ve personally known over the years…Ben, John, Pat, Mike, Cody, Brent, John, and Natalie, thank you for your dedication and service. I know that probably sounds trite, but I’m grateful you made the difficult choice when I didn’t. For the stories you’ve told, and the ones I probably will never hear, thank you.