With Veterans Day I am always reminded of my personal situation and in the last few years it has become stronger. Basically I fall in between because I did serve in the military but did not make it through boot camp. For years I never considered myself a veteran but now I will talk about this experience.
I probably need to explain it better so it makes more sense. When I was 17 instead of going to college I decided to enlist in the navy. I did this for purely selfish reasons, such as I figured they would pay for me to attend college while paying me money. In my immature mind I remember thinking “free money” and in the fantasy I lived in a fantastic condo in the navy, worked during the day while attending college at night. The recruiter was untruthful about what really happens in boot and I arrived at boot wondering when we got our cool condos. Ever see Private Benjamin? that is me to a T sadly.
I should mention though that before I got to boot that day the medical examiner at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station, where you go to enlist)didn’t think I should have gone because my ankle wasn’t as strong as it should be for a 18 year old (I enlisted as a 17 year old but by the time I left I was 18). Long story short it did me in once I got to boot but in reality I would have been discharged anyway for failure to adapt. I was the last person at my age to have gone. I was very immature and would rather spend the day at the mall with my friends than working. I did really well on the running and swimming and physical fitness aspects, in fact I did better than the men (I was at that point a student athlete)but the ankle would give out at times and I needed a brace to give it support.
After a few weeks I was sent to the out processing facility to be discharged and met many others who were all being discharged. Some were discharged due to drugs, or being a lesbian (back then being gay meant an automatic discharge) and plenty were dishonorably discharged. There were a few creepy people who scared me to be blunt. Also, many being discharged (along with those in the company I was in before discharge) were from a different sociological group. By this I mean the majority were from lower income families where the military was the only choice. I was from a family that while not rich could have helped me attend college. Years later my mom told me she knew the navy was a bad choice for me and knew I would be discharged. A friend of mine (also discharged early from boot camp, only army)said he knew the ankle would cause me problems.
As time went on I basically buried my feelings of insecurity with having not finished my term of duty. I went on to college and graduate school, did a variety of jobs and went on with my life. If an employer asked if I served I would either say no or explain my situation. However around the 20th anniversary of me having served the feelings started to emerge and I started watching various boot camp videos. I also started talking to people who were also in the same position. I asked someone not long ago in the know if I am technically considered a veteran and they said yes but (and this is a big but)I am ineligible to receive benefits. I generally can’t join veterans groups (though I am not sure this means across the board)and when I die I can’t get a military funeral I don’t believe (though I am not 100% sure of this). Awhile back someone broke into the veterans bureau (or whatever it is called)and I received a message that my info was among those hacked. Every so often I will get messages from groups looking for veterans and they got my name from some list.
Many things from boot have stayed with me. To this day I will still find myself breaking into a march and singing a cadence. I also fold clothes the military way. I have to organize things a certain way and at most jobs my employers will assume I am a veteran because everything is orderly.
There are many like me out there because as many as 50% of all recruits never make it past the first 6 months.