Say No To Say Yes: The Military as a Metaphor

The context of this post comes from the years I spent in the military though I encourage you to consider this whole thing a metaphor. Please apply this to your life wherever it seems appropriate. Hint: it is likely to be appropriate just about anywhere you are in a relationship. While I am at it, let me speak to relationships for a moment. Any place in your life where there is any type of give and take, I consider that a relationship. The obvious places may be in your romantic partnerships, family members, friends, and so on. The not so obvious places you may consider are your relationship with work, social media, or your devices with which you connect to the world; anywhere there is give and take. That idea of give and take is what I want you to keep in mind as we go through the rest of this. Military life is one that is often referred to as duty and service and all the other cool buzzwords that imply a certain amount of sacrifice. This isn’t completely out of bounds as anyone who agrees to put on a uniform, float off on a ship, or get dropped off in the middle of the desert many miles from their family and their homes will admit that choosing service is a sacrifice. Yes, the benefits are great, though that isn’t what I am here to talk about today. What I want to focus on is the sacrifice we are making and where it is appropriate and where I don’t think it is.

The last few days on my social media I have been seeing a handful of service members asking for their respective commands to step up and fix the little things. Examples of this are commands not fixing printers or computers and these service members having to use their personal gear and personal time at home doing work that is often unnecessary and in some cases not even required. Because unit commanders are given the right to add requirements, they can of course add on top anything they see is fit. A more specific example of this is when the Navy wanted to go paperless and shift all training plans onto the command intranets. The challenge is that you have the old guard and how they used to do it end up wanting the new program maintained as well as keeping the old paper copies around, you know, just because. So this “just because” and extra busy work starts to take its toll on gear that is allotted because we are using that gear for double what it is already specified for. Not to mention that most of the things we have are already serving double duty anyways. Many pieces of equipment serve multiple functions, many service members have multiple duties, and the expectation is 100% completion with 100% error free. This expectation coupled with a mission first mentality often has Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines doing more with less. Doing more with less may sound great and in some contexts it is, but when a service member completes something while gear is broken or out of service then perhaps that gear was never necessary. So today I saw a post on social media saying, “If I stopped using my personal devices for (insert unspecified branch) training, I would NOT be able to do my job”. This was followed by a statement asking for those above to get their shit together and give us what we need to do our jobs. I felt this deeply because while I was in the Navy, I habitually saw corners being cut, while money and time allotted for mission accomplishment being reduced. The expectation is that the mission is first no matter what, so let’s throw man hours at it until the mission is accomplished. The good news is that service members are generally selfless and pull it off 99 times out of 100. We use our personal gear, we spend extra hours, we spend less time with our families, and even less time taking care of our own physical and mental health. The mission gets accomplished and those above who are looking at the project from the 30,000 foot view don’t necessarily see the poor quality of our gear, the human cost, the degradation in mental health, and so on.

Those placed in leadership roles are done so with great care just as the intent of recruiting is with a very specific type of recruit in mind. Those in high up positions do well in their jobs because they look at the grid as 1’s and 0’s, accomplished or not accomplished, and all have academic backgrounds with a strong objective understanding of statistics. 93% or higher gets me an A. The enlisted ranks on the other hand and I am sure any enlisted service member understands is that so many of us join because there aren’t many other options available. Military service gets us out of our small towns, away from unfavorable domestic situations, and gives us the hope of an upgrade in our financial situation. Those with a strong sense of self and a strong vision for what they want to accomplish in life don’t join the military. I joined because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. I did know that I wanted to get far away from home though I also knew that I needed a certain amount of guidance at the same time. The Navy will pay me how much to go to school for the first year?! Fuck it, let’s do it.

Little did I know or truly understand is that the military is one huge dysfunctional family. You trade one for the other. This one pays you though. Think on that for a minute. I get to leave my unhappy situation only to replace it with another unhappy situation BUT I get money. This is an upgrade for many of us, though it shifts what may have only been a seed of internal hopes and desires to an external system of constantly growing carrots on sticks. Each year that passes chasing this stick, we choose to let go of what intrinsically inspires us. We in turn depend on external praise, paychecks on the 1st and 15th, and the little bit of liberty that we get to keep us going. Again, I get it. This is the duty and sacrifice we signed up for. However, the more we let who we want to be continue to be a mystery, the more we will sacrifice to get the job done so the illusion of the growing carrot won’t entirely disappear. Because if you don’t know you are then there is no way to know where else to go.

Saying no in order to hold those above us accountable is just about the scariest thing to do. The fear of the illusion being stripped away means a return to a life previous to what we are living now. Albeit this life isn’t great, we justify it because it isn’t what it used to be. To me, this is the shittiest way to live. This is also what lead me directly to depression, anxiety, and thoughts and plans of suicide. Metaphorically agreeing to do work at home on my personal gear is what had me planning my own death. The higher ups honestly don’t care if you have that gear or not, because the spread sheet they are handed says you are taking care of it. You are committed to the mission. You are an army of one. You are always on watch. Or whatever bullshit slogan they use to get us. Every time you say yes to using your personal gear, you take the responsibility from them and you put it on yourself. Ironically you get promoted and more is placed on you in turn. This is duty and service as designed by those above you.

The only thing they care about is the bottom line. What do you truly care about? And are you saying yes or no to it. Every single action, implies a yes or no to what you truly care about. Are you saying yes to yourself? Can you answer that question honestly? Sometimes in order to say yes to you, you have to say no to something else. My suggestion is to take a look at where you are saying yes. Then compare that to the things you truly want. Are those yes votes, bringing you closer to them or taking you farther away? Once you know the answer then you know whether or not to change those specific actions. As far as the military goes, please put in the paperwork that says the printer is broken and turn that in with the next quarterly training report. Continually stretching to make things work doesn’t make your life or your unit better. It just keeps it the same as it is already. Holding someone or something accountable isn’t attacking them. It could be the most caring thing you can do, for yourself and for them. Standing in your own power and raising your own standards doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact it elevates everyone around you as well. If you truly want your life, your unit, your family, and most importantly yourself to change, you are going to have to to say no in order to say yes. The only risk you are taking, is perhaps finding out who you truly are.


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