I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of the word oxymoron. For those unaware, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave examples like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. As she snickered away, the last one she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class full of college freshmen, not unlike myself at the time, laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours in Iraq, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine when she suddenly remembered.
She gathered herself and attempted to move back to whatever lesson was slated for that day. Whatever it was, that wasn’t the lesson they would be receiving.
“Ma’am,” I interrupted.
“Are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 feet per second for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction, as well as factoring for differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)
“Furthermore, I feel that it is important to note that by the time many military people have reached the age of twenty-two they have become experts in occupations and fields of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.”
This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series) a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have, by that time, achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) Let’s also not forget that many have learned to perform their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the threat of someone shooting at them.
“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”
“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”
I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that so many people perceive the Military as being synonymous with adjectives such as boorish, crash, or doltish, i.e. stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at work, church, or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry on an intellectual conversation with anything beyond a six year, much less anyone else. We’re sadly typecast into roles around being disciplinarians, authoritarians, or the types of guys who will be “kicking in doors” for the organization. If roles such as these do not exist, we’re looked over in a manner that is becoming societally unsettling. We couldn’t add to a company for our empathy, our artistic abilities, for our overwhelming scope with respect to the world and it’s people. We are forever known by one overriding perception; the military is made of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since a college education is the equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most civilians will ever have to go on.
What the average person doesn’t understand is that most MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and mine was much harder than anything I took in college.) Few are aware of the massive education system that exists within the military for its members. They also don’t know that by the time a military person is nineteen, many have been deployed overseas, where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. I was a Data Network Specialist. That is the equivalent to the company network administrator who sets up the computers, runs the switches and servers for five hundred people. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sights rifle from five hundred yards away, run three miles in less than twenty minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. My friends and I ran code and we ran convoys.
By the time I was twenty one I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over four hundred words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone, which I was forced to more than I would like. It had it’s upsides, though. For instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, who just so happen to be curious how much you would sell your iPod for if you might get a good deal for your sister-in-law on the Iraqi arranged marriages market, or if anyone around had heard of a men with bombs (pronounced ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was twenty-two I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.
What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “my job was a lot worse than that” and they would be right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. Oh, but a civilian in my job made three times my salary, and if he ever got shot at doing his job it was a news breaking event. That’s different. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks people like me are stupid?”
As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in a school where a four year degree, which takes most students five, in three and half. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50% or so that made it to graduation from when they laughed at a funny joke about people like me and our inferior intelligence. Since then, I’ve worked in a Silicon Valley startup and am now teacher and a writer, with one book under my belt and another on the way. Although my family and others in my life were instrumental in pushing me through every step of the way, I know that really set me apart in achieving all of this was my intelligence, my military intelligence.
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