Updated: Jul 22
It was during the snowy part of winter in 2008 when I joined the US Army at a recruiting station here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had to go through a series of qualifying medical exams and countless interviews in Lansing at a place commonly known as "MEPS."
They finally got me on a bus that took me to Fort Knox, Kentucky after about 4 weeks of qualifying paperwork and such. This is when I learned you don't just walk into the recruiter and get on the bus to join the military. First things first, there's always some kind of bureaucracy that needs bureaucratizing.
Once at Fort Knox, we went through the classic "shark attack" where the drill sergeants scream obscenities in your face and tell you how much of a loser you are for several hours.
All around me I heard: "Who let you in my Army? Dump out those bags! You're the biggest turd I've ever seen. Pick up your stuff!"
Somehow, I avoided any direct verbal assault that day.
What followed was an agonizingly boring week, an almost eternal reception period spent collecting used Army gear for basic training, and sleeping in the oldest WWII barracks still standing at Fort Knox. Then one day quite all of a sudden, we were marched 100 yards down the road to another slightly nicer WWII barracks. That's where I went through nine weeks of basic training.
During those nine basic training weeks, I learned some pretty cool soldiering skills. The drill sergeants trained me not to be physically or mentally weak. It was then I probably reached my physical conditioning pinnacle, because I don't plan on working out that intensely ever again.
Basic training was the first time I learned to shoot a rifle properly.
My Army basic training company wasn't comprised of any infantrymen, but they still let us shoot multiple cyclical-fire belt-fed weapon systems, including .50 caliber machine guns. That was as awesome as you can imagine it would be, then a little extra awesome on top of that because it was the real McCoy, and we were wearing digital camouflage being taught by actual combat veterans.
The so-called "best shot" in the company, selected because he was the only rifleman to shoot 40 out of 40 targets at the qualifying range, was allowed to shoot a live AT-4 (the Army's more modern bazooka). He missed the target completely, and the projectile didn't even explode. The disappointment was so palpable he was ridiculed endlessly throughout the rest of basic training, primarily by our own drill sergeants.
I graduated basic training as a Private First Class in May of 2009. Since I had enlisted with truck driver as my military occupational specialty in my contract, it meant after basic training I was to be sent to Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
In Army truck driver school, we learned how to provide transportation capabilities to our units (because there's a very legitimate logistical side of fighting wars). We spent 7 weeks learning to drive all the motor vehicles the Army has in its motor pools. Naturally, we took them off-roading a lot.
One night they taught us how to drive humvees in the middle of the woods while wearing night-vision. My NVGs didn't work at all, so the (drill) sergeant had to keep reaching over and steering us back on the path. I didn't have a really great time with it because I was being told how terrible I was at driving the entire time, but the rest of the guys said it was awesome. I learned that excuses always fall on deaf ears. Even having a pair of broken NVGs is not a legitimate excuse for not being able to drive a humvee in blackout conditions.
The training culminated after seven weeks by driving a semi-truck on the highway; something I am happy to have only been required to do one time.
After truck driver school, I was charter bused to Georgia to attempt getting through Airborne School. Airborne school only lasts three weeks because the concepts are pretty simple. It's a static-line cable, so no matter what your parachute is going to open automatically like 99 percent of the time. The training goes like this, the jump master stands up and says:
"If you hook up to my anchor-line cable, when the doors open up, you're jumping out. If you don't want to jump, I'll throw you out. Got it? Airborne!"
They say at Airborne school, the first week, they separate the weakest from the physically fit. The second week, they separate the soldiers from the fools. Then on the third week, the fools jump out of planes.
What they taught me in Airborne school is how to jump out of planes with guns, but what I learned was I could conquer any fear and achieve any goal I set within my sights.
After jump school, I was sent to my duty station in Fort Bragg, NC, home of the 82D Airborne Division. There I was assigned to a Battalion S3 Operations office inside a headquarters unit. It was here I learned the ins-and-outs of running an organization, in this case, an Army Headquarters Battalion.
Our job in the S3 was to receive orders from our higher headquarters, then translate those orders into manageable segments for our own subordinate units. We also managed the operations calendar for the Battalion, which I loved because I always knew what was coming up next. In other words, we communicated and oversaw the commander's intent throughout the organization.
In the Battalion S3 Office, I learned how to use Outlook email and calendars to synchronize staff members, and I used the entire Microsoft office suite in one way or another almost every day. I was given an endless opportunity to write memorandums, research technical manuals, develop multiple potential courses of action for every assignment, as well as coordinate and track huge training events and other various unit projects.
The Battalion command sergeant major once walked in and told our office we were the Heartbeat of Battalion.
He said, "Everything that has to happen will happen because you planned it. If it doesn't happen the way it should, it'll be on all of you who failed."
It was in the Army where I learned the professional skills I needed to get me up to the accounting skill set that supports me today. I'm grateful for many Army NCOs and Officers who, over the four years I served in the Army, refined my ability to understand an objective, consider everything about what it will require for completion, and then break down all the subsequent steps which have to take place to achieve success.
I'm grateful for the Army doctor who blasted my eyeballs with laser beam eye surgery, also. I can still see like a hawk.
When I was in the Army and for a while immediately after I got out, I used to have regrets about not having served as an infantryman. They've got themselves this club that's pretty exclusive and I never got invited to any of their cool parties. I'm over it now- excluding any type of a "Zombie Apocalypse" or a "Red Dawn" type situation, I'll have very little need to be lethal between 0 and 300 yards ever again. All the while, the organizational, management, and office skills I learned have proven to be invaluable.
Out of all of the things I learned while in the Army, by far the most important thing wasn't anything to do with developing a great plan, but more importantly learning the discipline required to get it done.
To all my business associates and newer entrepreneurs. Remember this: Every single one of your plans for the future is worthless without having the discipline they will require to complete them.