Well the day is upon us again, where all the veterans on Facebook change their profile pictures to them, in their respective uniform, holding a machine gun (or spatula and tongs for our special 92G’s) or standing in formation or saluting. I’ll be honest, I’ve done it too. I am no veteran though. At least by my own definition. There are better men that have done much more than I and deserve the veteran name. My time in the military was short and uneventful, but I am proud of it.
I signed a contract in August of 2011 for the Army National Guard. My family had a pretty average ratio of people in the military, my father was in the Navy as well as both of his brothers, and my grandfather served in the Air Force. Plenty of other extended family as well, so it’s safe to say that I knew about the military. I considered joining active duty straight out of high school and I had a buddy who did the split option, where you go between your junior and senior year of high school for boot camp, and he made it look easy. I decided to go to community college instead, seeing if I could get a scholarship, which I did, and subsequently wasted both my time and their money. When I dropped out of community college I knew that I had to change my attitude and just my overall way of thinking. Two of my best friends, from high school and my brief stint in college, were in the National Guard and told me all about it and it seemed appealing to me.
Basic Training, or “OSUT” for me was 14 weeks in Ft. Benning, GA on sand-hill. Personally, it was physically demanding, I had never run more than a mile and had an addiction to carbohydrates. Mentally it was a breeze because I was accustomed to being yelled at by my pops, which I appreciate. As far as the being away from home part, I missed home but, it didn’t hinder my general mood or motivation from day to day. Looking back, I realize that it was easy compared to what I was told prior, and I hear its hella easier now. Sad. Anyways, I completed that and went to airborne school which I was booted from because of a shoulder injury I received during boot camp. So I flew back to ‘Bama and began training with my first duty station; 1st Squadron, 131st Cavalry Regiment, Troop C, LRS ABN Infantry (AL ARNG) in Geneva, Alabama.
For those of you not familiar with the National Guard let me enlighten you; essentially, instead of being a full-time job, your duty is to “drill” once a month and during the summer time you go somewhere for 2 weeks, it’s called “AT” (annual training, often called anal training as a joke). Drills consist of 50% training and 50% sitting around talking about football, drunk stories, or guns waiting to go home. That training includes rucking, which is just walking at a fast pace in a tactical formation (sometimes) with a heavy bag on your back for several miles. We also trained with all kinds of firearms, most often the M-4 Carbine which is a shorter and lighter version of the M16A2 assault rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm. My MOS, the only one that matters, is 11B which is an Infantryman, so we also got to train with crew served weapons like the M240B and M249 which civilians mostly know as machine guns. We often stayed in the woods and did field training. Before my Squadron switched to Light Infantry, it was Calvary and I was in Charlie Troop, which was an Infantry LRS unit. We did reconnaissance and surveillance which I very much enjoyed. I did not think I would like it to begin with, I am a very loud and hyper person so when I was told I would have to travel 17 klicks and get buried in a hole to watch a bridge or building for 24 hours all while being completely silent and unseen, I scoffed. I did it though, because the army said so, and it turned out to be somewhat therapeutic. We trained in other ways as well including; combat lifesaving first aid, military vehicle operation, night operation, tactical maneuvers, room and building clearing, radio communications, land navigation, and many more.
There is a nickname for people in the National Guard, “weekend warrior”, its meant to be an insult I think. People in the military kind of look down on it in the mindset that if you’re not full-time you’re not good enough, or couldn’t cut it in an active duty unit. While that may be true with some NG units and some soldiers, it certainly isn’t the case for all. There are “shit bags” in both active duty and reserve/national guard components of the military. For the beginning part of my time in I could have been considered one of those people, I had sub-par PT scores and wasn’t invested the way I should’ve been. That changed, I reached the rank of Sergeant before getting out and that is because I began to take it seriously and became more responsible and disciplined. The National Guard is unique because you are a part-time soldier. On the civilian side you have a full-time job and responsibilities, then once a month and two weeks out of the summer you become a soldier. There are doctors, lawyers, cops, mechanics, EMT, personal trainers, truck drivers, lineman, and every other occupation you could imagine that serve in the National Guard. A lot of guys have families as well with an added responsibility of being a parent. Overseas deployments for the National Guard are less frequent than Active Duty of course, but as a state entity the guard can be activated by the governor for natural disasters all over as well. My first unit was activated for the tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in 2011 and provided relief after the fact. I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m simply saying that they are both vital in this nation’s defense. I am proud to have served in the National Guard and will represent that “Nasty Girl/Weekend Warrior” name till the day I die.
While I was in, I was exposed to a vast assortment of people. That is one part of the military that I think many people over look. Without going on a 9,000+ word tangent about diversity and racial issues, which believe me I could, I’ll say that I am the person I am today mostly because of my experience in the military and the men I served with. I served with people from all walks of life that taught me about varying cultures and lifestyles that I will cherish and apply to my life forever. I met people that I hated and people that I loved. For all those people, I would have, and still will take a bullet, and I’m a better person because of it.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the military. There certainly were times I wanted to quit and hated everyone and everything in my general vicinity. Like the time I was moving with my team during an AT in the woods of Eglin AFB for a 72-hour recon training mission. I wanna say it was my 2nd Annual Training with that unit. We were like 14K into a 24K movement, it was probably 175 degrees, and I was basically carrying an apartment in my ruck sack. I sucked down most of my food and water because I was a half-witted dough goat. Everyone else was in the same general mindset as I; “Screw this, I’m over it, I wanna go home, my feet hurt, I’m tired, hungry, thirsty, and if I had an actual grenade I would end this terrible misery”. That is probably an exaggeration looking back, but we were in “the suck” if you will. At a certain point in time I called it… I remember a mosquito or fly wouldn’t leave me TF alone and my straps on my ruck sack just couldn’t get comfortable. I broke. I would compare the beginning of my episode to an inaudible “Operation Meetinghouse”, the single most destructive bombing raid in human history. I started to spaz out violently, my being was filled with rage trying to escape like a freshly shaken bottle of champagne. I was on a recon mission, so I didn’t yell or make a sound because, sound discipline, duh. I imagine it was quite the show. At that point my Team Leader sharply whispered, “Cooke, what is your problem man?”. My reply was full of expletives, comparisons to hell, wishes for the sweet release of death and, by the account of others on my team, tears, which I can neither confirm or deny. After the dust settled, I was fine, don’t get me wrong I still wanted to eat a cheeseburger, drink a beer or serval, and go home, but I was finished with my toddler like tantrum. We decided as a team that it would be silly of us to continue seeing as everyone else was also black on ammo, water, food, and give a damn. It turned out that the grid points for our objectives given to us by our LT. were incorrect and the route we planned was 3x longer than everyone else’s because of that incompetent butter bar. That was the Army sometimes though; unnecessary tasks, planned by literal babies, through impossible terrain, in undesired conditions, carried out by grunts like myself.
Today I am thankful that I was lazy in college and quit, because if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have experienced the military and its many benefits. Without it I wouldn’t be the man I am today, and would probably be dead or in jail. I learned what it takes to be successful. I learned about compassion. I learned many skills and tactics that help me in my civilian job. I learned the importance of brotherhood and camaraderie. Finally, I learned about people, and today I’d like to say, to all you people, civilians and veterans alike; Thank you for my service.