When I was 18, I joined the military. The first stop for an enlisted member is, of course, Boot Camp!! At boot camp, for the first time, I saw some impressive men and women who had a unique job of breaking down 100 18-30 year olds and building them into a unique group of young men and women. It is, of course, deeper than that. The drill instructors are there to teach many things, like how to survive, to move forward without stopping, and they pick lives up where mom and dad left off. They have a unique and rewarding job that takes long hours, intensive training, and unbelievable devotion.
One drill instructor stood out from the rest. He was actually a junior drill instructor, possibly the most junior. While most of them showed off a chest full of ribbons, this guy did not….he only had 4!! It wasn’t his rank and it wasn’t his chest of accomplishments that were impressive, it was his uniform that stood out from the rest!! This guy’s shirt and trousers’ creases were ironed to the point they would cut your eyes if you looked at them for too long (he would make you regret looking at them, too….WHOLE different story!!) His shoes-they were literally shined to the point that when you were pushing the ground and he walked by, you could see your own sweat in them!!! (And god help you if you dripped on his shoes!!) This man was SQUARED AWAY!!
It goes beyond the uniform, though. This junior drill instructor was one of the toughest in the training camp. He caught everything. We could not get away with ANYTHING. We spent more time in front-leaning rest for him than any other…but it goes beyond that, too. While he would go around striking fear and discontentment, he also had a deeply human, deeply caring personality. As a part of our training, we have all of our wisdom teeth pulled. Mine were exceptionally stubborn, requiring 2 days in the recovery ward….which is bad, considering I would miss 2 days of important classes. Guess who stopped in those 2 days to tutor me through the classes!! He was NOT the person I wanted by my side when I was miserable….or so I thought!!
As my 2 days progressed into 3, This tough guy spent several hours at my side and at the side of other sick and sore recruits, bringing us ice water, classroom assignments, talking to us, not making friends, but making small talk and simply showing compassion.
As my 8 weeks drew to a close, I saw less of him, but he was at my graduation, he met my parents and the proud parents of the other 30 or so who made it through the training program. Finally, as I climbed into the car with my family to return home before heading to my first duty billet, I parted company with the Training Center and all of the greatest teachers I have ever known.
So WHY, exactly, do I share a boot camp memory with everyone?? Well, I layed awake last night thinking about the unique position we all live in. We all wear a common scarlet letter, something that, like a military uniform, unites us into a unique group. In the eyes of the community we live in, we are all in a category that is separate from the rest of society. We all appear the same to the others around us. To most people, RSOs and our families are simply set aside from the rest of society, wearing a common scarlet letter, the outcast.
While we are lumped into a category, we lose our individuality. Like the drill instructors at Boot Camp, we are all looked at as “them”. We are to be avoided, we all might bite!! We have a reputation for invoking misery and discontent among the people we live around.
We DO have the opportunity to shine, however. Like the D.I. that I spoke of, we each have an unique opportunity to stand out among the rest. It goes deeper than simply living. I know, some of us have different levels of restrictions, I am blessed in that I have almost none. We can, however, dedicate ourselves to our families, our communities, and our churches. We need to socialize, to mix in and to volunteer where we can and where appropriate. At work, work hard, be the first to accept the undesirable projects. (I just accepted one as I am writing this…work called, I said yes). OWN that project…you know what I mean???
Life takes more than participation. It takes commitment. We, more than any other group of people, need to give more to society than any others. We have an unique set of obligations, we have to check in here, stay away from there, and avoid this, and always be sure another person is around to account for us when we do that. We also have a unique opportunity to shine through it all.
You see, the drill instructor that stood out from the others was really no different than the others, but he found a way unique to himself to stand out from the woodwork. I invite everyone to join me in my personal challenge to step out from the rest. Imagine, an entire population of RSOs who put their 110% into living above and beyond the letters we wear. Of course, it isn’t easy….nothing that brings about good ever is. It is early here this morning. This means we have a whole day to get started.
It isn’t the scarlet letter we wear….it’s how we wear it that counts.