(Back Story: I am enrolled in an English Composition class because they want to make sure I can write. The assigned reading is a concentrated pile of whale dreck entitled "Nickel and Dimed in America", an execrable piece of turgid prose from a pedantic, condescending upper middle class twit. I was to write on something brought to mind by my “active reading” of this schisse, but I wasn’t to mention the text itself. Think I made my point? %-)
If Soldiers make it through Basic and AIT, and into their first unit, they will have undergone a transformative process that they likely won’t even recognize until they return to the scene of their previous civilian life, either on leave, or, if they are a Reservist, when they are released to their parent unit. While one is in training, or assigned to a unit, the world inhabited is only tangentially related to the existence that was once labeled “normal”. When a Soldier goes home, things that bother friends and family will amuse them, or, sometimes, irritate with the pettiness involved. After all, it’s hard to get excited that they’ve run out of someone’s favorite soup of the day when the daily diet has been nothing but MRE’s and sometimes not even that, because the supply truck broke down, or got lost, or orders came to move before they could get to that far. People complaining that they couldn’t possibly drink tap water because “it’s so nasty” really irritate people who have picked pieces of ice up off the ground for moisture, or refilled their canteens with swamp water and hoped the purification tablets really do work.
If a Soldier is one of those who spend a good portion of their career in the field, especially in a Cavalry, Infantry, Armor or Artillery unit, they quickly develop new standards for cleanliness; sleep requirements, and life priorities. 18 days without a shower in 120* weather is uncomfortable, but when the choice is between getting enough sleep to function safely when the next tasking starts in 5 hours, or spending 2 or more of those precious hours on getting to the shower and back, one racks out in the first reasonable location to be found, bearing in mind, of course, that “reasonable” has precious little to do with soft, warm, dry, or even overly comfortable, and everything to do with security, and a reduced likelihood of getting run over by a moving vehicle, or worse, being woken up early.
Another cleanliness adjustment is dealing with things that need to be cleaned. One hasn’t lived until they have participated in cleaning a shower/latrine facility that is in constant use by thousands of troops. The diet of a field soldier is not conducive to intestinal calm, both from the nature of the rations themselves, and the fact that there’s rarely a sink to wash up with before eating. The end results must be experienced to be believed, as should the joy of being on the team that transports portable toilets from the field sites back to the dump point and then cleans them out for reuse. KP, which is always a fun filled adventure, includes, among other things, cleaning all the pots, pans, and other cooking utensils needed for preparing the meals as well as the trays and silverware the Soldiers eat with. However, it rises to new levels of sensory pleasure when said cleaning is done using only water filled trashcans warmed with immersion heaters and scrub brushes, while standing on wood pallets in a dirt field in whatever the weather is that day (or night). Still, it has to be done, and everyone gets a turn at doing it. That is why we have duty rosters, to share the wealth evenly.
The primary purpose of the US Army is to kill people and break things in pursuit of national objectives delineated by the civilian leadership. We are the best in the world at this, and over the years the organization has honed the skills, values and methods that make this possible. One of the first things inculcated into a recruit’s mind is that what matters is the mission. This ethos is expressed most succinctly in the motto, “Mission First, People Always” because, while each Soldier is a valued team member and precious asset, getting the job done comes first. GI’s don’t get to say “I quit” and go home when it gets hard. They embrace the suck and drive on. It has been said that a veteran is someone who, at least once in their life, wrote a check to the USA and it’s citizens, “payable in any amount up to and including my life”. What few outside the services understand is all to often that price may be extracted for the most trivial of reasons, even in peacetime. This is the bond that makes the relationship between all veterans unique, and it is our shared experiences of deprivation and sacrifice that often lead the sheltered amongst the general population to not understand when their delicate sensibilities and overly wrought “concerns” are met with our outspoken derision and often, utter contempt. We are not the same as them, and having been through the fire, we recognize dross when it is attempting to pass itself off as the pure quill.