This story is part of the 2020 Project, a special men’s health project that examines the lives of 20 different 20-year-old men across America. To learn more about the others, click here.
YOU WERE BORN Shortly before September 11th, they grew up in an age of almost constant warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As they get into simulated warfare from their couch with the advent of blockbuster first person shooter games like Call of Duty. In a way, the danger of war has never moved further or our perception of it has never felt more incoherent.
– Like Josh St. Clair said
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Position: Mechanic for wheeled vehicles
I went ahead and enlisted in the army. My mother cried when I told her. She didn’t want me to jump out of airplanes. I was surprised at the bindings I made. You are stronger than what I knew from civilian life. Still, it’s hard to leave my family. On the flight to Kuwait, I remember how lucky I was to have the things I have. I am more self motivated now. When I got home my dad mentioned a problem with his truck and I went ahead and fixed it, which surprised him. I used to have to be told to do things like that.
Position: Information technology specialist
I GREW UP in a rough neighborhood. You’ll get caught up in things sooner or later. Parties. Smoke. Struggle. I moved in with my uncle to get away from things. He had joined the army and his life was going well. So I said, “Sign me up.” I knew I was yelled at every day for the kind of person I was. I would always talk back. You can’t do that in the army. They’re trying to tear you down Now I’m working on getting safety certifications because they will help me make decent money when I leave the military. I’ve always been hot-headed. I’ve never turned the other cheek on things. But here the army taught me that, that’s a good thing.
Hometown: Crosby, Texas
MOST PEOPLE Where I’m from in Texas, I go to work in the oil factories. But I wanted to go out and do more. I went in without telling my parents. Then one day I said, “Hey, I’m going to elementary school in July.” My dad said, “Hey, if you want to do this and start your life, that’s great.” I didn’t expect to deploy so soon. I knew it could happen anytime. Still, it was a little nerve-wracking. The greatest challenges are mental ones, like the willingness to leave the country. I would like to stay in the military, but I’m still not sure. You can travel a lot, but I want to travel alone. I think it could be more useful to me alone.
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Position: Train tanks / military police
MY TWIN BROTHER and I both entered when we were 18. We followed in our uncle’s footsteps. I remember walking with him through the gates of Fort Lewis, Washington as a kid and getting excited. People think others are joining the military to shoot guns and fight. But we also join in to improve ourselves. I want to be a sergeant and travel. I would like to be stationed in Italy. My brother is in Japan. The lucky guy.
My uncle has started three times now. Sometimes he has to sit alone in a room. I am afraid of PTSD. But I have resources. Some older men have gone through bad phone calls like suicides. They will tell me, “Hey, if you go through something just let me know. I’m up, three doors down. «
Hometown: Sinajana, Guam
Position: Office clerk
I would say about it 30 percent of my high school class joined the military. It is common where I come from in Guam. My whole family is also in the military, mostly the air force. At first I thought of joining the Reserves or the National Guard because I would have been stationed in Hawaii and near my home. But then I thought: Why not go further and meet more people from different backgrounds?
During basic training, it was difficult to get along with others. People tried to mess you up. And we have all been punished for one person’s mistake. But there are others from home here at Fort Bragg. We support each other. I don’t know if I will sign up again or not. My family owns a food mart and I took a cooking class in school while I was at ROTC. That’s what I want to do when I leave the army.
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Position: Information technology specialist
I did not do it TO HAVE any plans after high school. I sat around for four months. Everyone else just wanted to work at McDonald’s and Burger King, but I wanted to do something bigger. My parents were shocked when I signed up. They didn’t expect their only child to leave home at 18 and lead a life of their own. But finally they said, “You are an adult now; you have to do what will take you in life. “As an airborne unit, we had to jump out of an airplane as part of the training. It was exciting and scary. But I took it a lot easier than I thought. I wasn’t too nervous or panicked. Comforting my family has always been the hardest part. When I was posted to Kuwait, I didn’t tell my mother until after I got there. I didn’t mean to worry her. I’m still 50/50 on whether or not I will sign up again. I would really like to work in an office. My own chair and my own desk. That would be nice. I see things differently now. When I’m exposed to so many different cultures here, I see more with my own eyes instead of someone telling me what to see.
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
I WAS IN Architecture school, but after the first semester I didn’t want to take out a loan. When I was looking for jobs, an ad for the military came up. I went in, swore my oath, and then got on a bus. I only slept a few hours for the first two days. Everyone thinks life in the army is training. That’s just the beginning. Now, I’ll be in an office from 9:00 a.m. helping our lawyers advise commanders on everything from disciplinary action to overseas operating laws. My mother says I’ll eat faster at the dining table now. I think the biggest change is that I see others as part of a team. I plan to finish my architecture degree. I really want to design and build my own house at some point.
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Position: Audiovisual Technician
I WAS JUST THERE 17 when I signed up. College was a big factor. I wanted to be able to pay for it and not be able to cope with my debts. There’s this perception that people join the military because they don’t have options or they didn’t get good grades. I was pretty much a straight student. The military culture is very different from the civil world in that you can really be roasted by your staff. But I haven’t regretted joining the army. I just had my first assignment in Qatar. My goal is to get a top secret clearance and a bachelor’s degree. With that I could work in a wide variety of high-level government jobs. I have a lot of choices to make.
Hometown: Oregon, Wisconsin
GROW UP, I always wanted to go to the military. My parents were 100 percent on board. My whole family said it made them all proud. Some people think that the military is brainwashing people. But in reality we are all normal people with a different job that demands a little more. Basic was definitely the hardest part. Not so much physically, just being away from home. I’ve never been away from home alone. I definitely see myself going elsewhere in the military. I want to go to college too. Everyone gets married super early in the military. I don’t understand why, but I definitely see a family in the future. I want at least two children. Hopefully they’ll grow up to do something great.
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