How the Army Changed My Life
Our Army Life
I was 24 years old when I enlisted in the U.S. Army delayed entry program. In May of 1979 at age 25 I entered basic training. Before enlisting, I worked as a grocery clerk in a small Indiana town. I was married with two children, and I wanted to travel and to get an education. I knew that I could not do those things on a grocery clerk's salary, so I decided that one way to make it all happen was to join the army.
I told the Army recruiter that I wanted as much training as I could get. He said if I signed up for training as a medic and specialized as an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) Technician, that my training would last for six months; however, in order to get that much training, I had to enlist for four years of active duty, and two years of inactive reserves. I wanted the training, so I signed up for the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 91U medic and ENT Technician.
My basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. After basic training, I had two months in San Antonio Texas for basic medic training and two months in El Paso Texas for ENT Technician training. I had to be away from my family for basic training. My recruiter told me that I should not take my family with me to Texas, because I would be too busy and would not have time to spend with them.
I had never been away from my family before basic training, so I decided that I was not going to be away from them for the four months that I would be in Texas. After basic training, I went home to Indiana, picked up my family, and we drove to San Antonio Texas.
We arrived in San Antonio on a Friday morning. I had orders to check into my Army Unit by 5:00 PM. We found a little one-bedroom apartment not far from the army post. I said goodbye to my family and told my wife that I didn't know when I would see her. I thought that my training would require that I be on the army post 24 hours a day and that I would be living in a barracks just as I did in basic training.
That Friday afternoon, I found my army unit building and walked in carrying my duffle bag and uniforms. After I checked in, I was expecting to be assigned a bunk; however, the clerk said, "Do you have a place to stay?" I said, "Yes" and she said, "Okay, we'll see you Monday morning at 8:00 AM." That was it. I got to spend the entire weekend with my family.
On Monday when I checked into my unit and found my training class, I found out that I would be attending class from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and the rest of my time was free. It was just like a regular job. I did have a lot of studying to do, but at least I was able to be with my family. It was wonderful.
We lived in that one-bedroom apartment. Yes it was cramped and the kids slept on cots in the living room, but it was only for two months. We had a great time exploring San Antonio. We toured the Alamo and the beautiful River Walk which runs right through San Antonio. The River Walk is an amazing place with brightly lit stores and shops that line the banks of the San Antonio River.
After my training in San Antonio, we moved to El Paso for phase two of my training. We stayed in a hotel for a few days until we found a two-bedroom apartment close to William Beaumont Army Medical Center where my ENT training occurred. We enjoyed El Paso. It is a beautiful city next to the Franklin Mountains. We got to visit Juarez Mexico, and on a long holiday weekend, we drove to California where we saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
After El Paso, we moved to Denver, Colorado where I was assigned to Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. My sister, Faye, was active duty army and stationed at Fitzsimons. We stayed with Faye and her husband for about a week until our apartment was ready. I don't know how they tolerated us for so long. It must have been like having a house full of monkeys. We finally moved into a three-bedroom townhouse a couple of miles east of Fitzsimons. While living in Colorado, we got to see singer John Denver at a free concert on the steps of the Colorado State Capital Building. We often visited the Rocky Mountains. We saw the Molly Brown House - "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" who survived the Titanic. There are so many places to explore in and near Denver. We loved experiencing it all.
The restaurants were amazing. Denver has a restaurant called, "Casa Bonita" that has a waterfall inside where every few minutes a cliff diver dives off of a ledge into a pool. Some of the divers juggle fire torches. The restaurant looks like a cave inside. It is a fun experience and the kids loved it.
The army gave me so much more than I expected. The army gave me a true pride in our country. Unexpectedly, I noticed that every time I saw the United States flag when I was active duty I felt moved by what it stood for. I was acutely aware that my job was to defend that flag and our country at any cost. It was a good feeling and I was pleased to be serving our country.
At the time I was active duty, there was no G.I. Bill money for education. However, we did have an educational assistance program where the government would match funds we saved each month for education. We had very little money, but since my goal was to go to college after my enlistment, I saved each month. That money and the government match helped me with my college degree.
Field Training With Army Reserve Units
As a medic working in a hospital clinic, I was required to spend at least three days per year getting field training. We spent three days and two nights in remote desert areas. One of the best experiences I had was working with the Army Reservists. The Reserve Units came in with a convoy of trucks and jeeps. They set up an Army Base that included an inflatable field hospital complete with an operating room. The troops were amazing as they set up the base tents and hospitals. Seeing them work with such speed and expertise was an awesome experience.
A Military Family
Being in the military is like your entire family is active duty. It's not easy for everyone to move from time to time, especially for children to change schools. Sometimes the difficult experiences in life end up enriching our lives in unexpected ways.
During my enlistment, I also trained as an operating room scrub technician to assist the ENT Doctors during surgery. All of that medical training helped me after my enlistment was over. As a veteran civilian, I completed a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing.
After working as an RN in Intensive Care for ten years, I worked as a Computer Software Applications Analyst installing medical software used by hospitals. It was a wonderful career.
So the Army gave me training, travel, and helped me with my college degree and my career. I wanted all of those things when I joined the Army, but I did not expect that the honor of being enlisted and always ready to serve if needed would mean so much to me.
When I was in high school, the thought of being drafted into the military worried me - a lot. At 18, I was not ready to go to war. My lottery draft number was 73. That was a low number, and I could have easily been drafted into the Vietnam War. Thankfully, by the time I graduated from high school, the Vietnam War was ending. I was not drafted. To this day, I still think that 18-year-olds are too young to be drafted into the military. By the time I was 24 years old, I felt that I was ready and willing to go to war and if necessary die for our country. I am sure there are 18-year-olds who are mature enough to go to war, but I was not, and I would not want my children to have to go through that at such a young age.
So many have been injured, and so many have given their lives. May God bless them and their loved ones. Without them, we would not have the freedom we know today.
I was active duty for four years and then spent two years in the inactive reserves. There is no need for anyone to thank me for my service. I got a lot more than I gave. The army gave me a lifetime of experience and benefits for which I am completely grateful. I thank God for it all.
© 2019 Ron Grimes