Because only about seven percent of Americans have served in the armed forces, and only one-half of one-percent serve in it today, it is no small wonder that the fever swamps of Facebook are infested with myths and misunderstanding. You’ll never meet someone more invested in how “soft” the military has become than some middle-aged cable news junkie who never wore the uniform. So to help you out when they go on a rant, here is a handy article you can link to and tell them they had their shot and elected to watch the war on TV instead. Moreover, if you are newly enlisted and waiting to ship out, you’ve probably heard a few horror stories—most of which are untrue. Here are a few myths about the five branches of the armed forces.
“Basic training has gotten so soft—I hear they are handing out stress cards now, and whenever a recruit feels unsafe, they can present it to the drill sergeant, who will leave them alone.”
Oh, if this were only true! If only such cards existed in my day (2002), when four instructors had me surrounded, each taking turns shouting about how I was single-handedly going to lose the war. I’d have played that stress card with relish. (Life never sucks worse than when you can feel on the back of your head the hot breath and livid shouts of an angry man in a round hat.)
No, stress cards do not exist. They’re not handed out. No branch gets them. And the reason for this is that the whole point of basic training is to be a stressful experience.
“When I was in basic, they made you drink two glasses of Gatorade with every meal. The first three-quarters of my time there, though, it wasn’t Gatorade. It was a special drink that had saltpeter in it to reduce sexual urges.”
I’ll try to write this one delicately in case my mom is reading this. No, the United States military did not drug you with saltpeter when you were in basic training. Here is why you had no sexual desire throughout the ordeal of basic: BECAUSE REALLY MEAN MEN WERE SHOUTING AT YOU FROM THE MOMENT YOU WOKE (and sometimes before you woke—woe to the young man who forgot to tuck in his bootlaces when they were under the bed!—I can still see Sergeant Harvey lifting one half of the rack and dropping it, startling the entire bay, and particularly the guy who was sound asleep) UNTIL THE MOMENT YOU WENT TO BED.
As you might imagine, this has an unsettling effect on one’s libido, and it works better than would the most potent Heisenberg-level saltpeter on the planet.
About that Gatorade machine, because I remember it being pointed out to me at the time: “Hey Brown, check it out! They switched to the regular stuff because they know we’re leaving soon.”
They didn’t. But chow was such an exhausting time, the three-minute meals, you weren’t looking around and taking in the sights, reading the brand labels like a field reporter for Ad Week. You were looking squarely at your food and shoving a fork in your mouth before getting the hell out of there.
“Drill sergeants are psychos who will do everything possible to make your life a living hell.”
Part of this is true, part of it is not. First: for the most part, your drill or training instructor is (probably) not a psycho, though some of them sure do get into their work! It’s all a game, basic training, designed for you to lose in the short term and win over the long haul—you just have to keep telling yourself that. They want to get you out of the civilian mindset and into the team-centric, grace-under-fire mindset of a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine. And that requires applied pressure and an ever-present uncertainty that at any moment, all hell could break loose, and the best way to avoid that is to count on the men and women to your left and right.
Your instructor will acquaint you intimately with flutter kicks and the front leaning rest position, but he or she isn’t going to steal the mail coming from your family (oh how they will relish handing out that mail, and particularly if the envelope is in any way decorated, or if you get a package containing anything embarrassing) and your (brief) call-home times will happen. No one is going to hit you, and hazing is prohibited. (When it does happen and the services discover it, the consequences are severe for the offenders.)
Nobody fails basic training. You want to graduate. Your instructor wants you to graduate. The service wants you to graduate because there are more bodies coming through and feeding you isn’t cheap.
“Your fellow enlistees are there as part of a plea deal with a judge.”
The Army is not a chain gang. It’s not an alternative to prison. And though a judge can pretty much order anything he or she wants, the Army isn’t interested in delinquents looking to duck that manslaughter charge, and isn’t required to take them. Just the opposite! You have to pass a background check. Your recruiter is going to run your record—and there is no such thing as a “sealed record” in this instance. Moreover, if you are here, you probably hold a security clearance… you might even have gotten that clearance in military. And that’s not happening with a fresh felony to your name.
Now it’s your turn, ClearanceJobs readers.
What are some annoying military myths that won’t seem to die? Let me know in the comments below. And for the love of all that is good and decent, when porcine, never-served Uncle Carl at Thanksgiving Dinner starts raving about the stress cards he heard about on cable news, and how soft soldiers are today, send him this way. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.