Chapter 2 – The Translation of a Sigh
Thursday, August 30, 2018
MEMORANDUM FOR RECORD
FROM: Technical Sergeant Doofus
SUBJECT: A1C Timothy J. Lally
On 29 August 2018, during open ranks at 0705, A1C Timothy J. Lally failed his open ranks inspection by not being clean shaven in uniform and for his hair touching his ears. During open ranks, I asked A1C Lally if he had shaven that morning. He said that he did not shave that morning. I asked why he did not shave and he told me he shaves at night. I stated that the standard is to be clean shaven in uniform and that he was not adhering to the standard. I then told him that the hair on the side of his head was too long. I specifically said, “Your hair is also too long and is touching your ears. You need to get a haircut tonight. Do you understand?” A1C Lally responded with “Yes sir” and I took a 341 (demerit) from him, noted the discrepancies, and gave it to Technical Sergeant Bitchface.
-Technical Sergeant Doofus, USAF
Military Training Leader
Thursday, August 30, 2018
MEMORANDUM FOR RECORD
FROM: Technical Sergeant Bitchface
SUBJECT: A1C Timothy J. Lally
Yesterday, 29 August 2018, Technical Sergeant Doofus was conducting an open ranks inspection and told A1C Lally that he needed to shave and to also get a haircut because he was out of regulations. Today, at approximately 0800, I called the details office for A1C Lally to come and see me so that I could see if he got his haircut. The conversation went as follows:
TSgt Bitchface: Did you get a haircut?
A1C Lally: No.
TSgt Bitchface: Didn’t Technical Sergeant Doofus tell you to get a haircut?
A1C Lally: Yes.
TSgt Bitchface: Okay, so why didn’t you get a haircut?
A1C Lally: (in a condescending tone) Did you not read my email?
After that, I told him that I did not receive his email and that it was beside the point. I also told him that it sounded like he was speaking down to me and being disrespectful. He responded with “yes” and when I asked him if he cared, he replied with “no.” I simply told him to get out of my office and to stand in the hallway. He kept mumbling some things and I simply told him that was enough and to not say anything else.
Attached below is the aforementioned email that A1C Lally sent yesterday evening…a bit disturbing.
-Technical Sergeant Bitchface
Military Training Leader
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Technical Sergeant Bitchface,
Earlier today when I came into your office and you asked how I was and I sighed and you asked me what that sigh meant, I knew what I was feeling but didn’t really have the words for it on the spot. If you’re interested in knowing, here’s what happens in my head all day at the DLI. Here’s the translation of that sigh…
When I’m hanging out with friends and we order a pizza, everyone who wants a slice of the pie chips in some money. That’s what’s fair, that’s what’s right. If I didn’t chip in money but went ahead and ate some of the pizza anyway…well, that in my opinion makes me nothing more than a free-loading piece o’ shit. And it’s against my principles to be a free-loading piece o’ shit. Of course, I would never judge a friend for having some of my pizza, I’d happily share what I have with him or her, but when it comes to myself, I don’t wanna be that person. I can’t allow myself to be that person because there’s too much guilt and shame involved for not having earned my share and the voice in my head will berate me for it.
When I was asked in BMT (Basic Military Training) what my favorite line of the Airman’s Creed is, I replied, “Guardian of Freedom and Justice,” because I know very well that the armed forces are the fine line between chaos and order in any given sovereign state around the world. Freedom isn’t free as they say. It’s paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of a very small percentage of the population. Of course, not everyone who joins the military joins out of straight-up hardcore patriotism. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that people like that are the underwhelming minority in the US military. People leave the civilian world behind and join the military for countless reasons, many of them self-oriented. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not here to tout service for the sake of service as some sort of categorical imperative, as I’m sure the guilt of not adhering to this maxim wouldn’t be nearly as effective an incentive in reeling in recruits as things such as signing bonuses, health benefits, retirement funds and the free education offered by the GI Bill. If you serve your country and do your job well, you kept the American Dream alive. It really doesn’t matter if your reason for giving four or more years of your life had been so you and your spouse could get a college education, you did your part. And that’s what matters. You earned your freedom.
Although I’ve always understood that if you want peace, you must be prepared for war, I’ve nonetheless always kinda just assumed this spoiled big-city liberal attitude like, “Fuck it, I ain’t joining the military. Someone else can defend my freedom for me.” And even though I’ve got numerous relatives who’ve served over the years from as far back as my marine grandfather who boasted of being able to “shoot a gook between the eyes from two-hundred yards away” in the Korean War to a cousin who’s currently an airborne medic in the army stationed in Italy, I’ve never really appreciated their or anyone else’s service. I’ve always taken it for granted. Even when I joined the Air Force back in March, I didn’t consider my decision to have anything to do with service to my nation whatsoever. I joined for selfish reasons. I was a pathetic thirty-year-old running away from mommy and daddy who happened to have an interest in learning Arabic as well as the intellectual capacity to do so. I took some tests, the stars aligned and, well, here I am.
I understand that the military, in addition to the funds it’s granted from our tax dollars, is able to function within the framework of the chain of command. Rules and regulations and orders come from the top down and are put in place to achieve the ultimate goal of defending our freedom. The system couldn’t work if everybody did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. There’s gotta be obedience. While in BMT and tech school, over-the-top courtesy-rendering and officer ass-kissing is imposed on all recruits as a means of reinforcing the chain of command and really ingraining in their malleable civilian minds exactly where they sit in the pecking order so they’ll do what they’re told when they’re told (even if done begrudgingly) and the system will continue functioning as a well-oiled machine. And although some policies and a lot of the bureaucratic processes in the military seem counterproductive and ass-backwards to a forward-thinking pretentious millennial douche like myself, I can’t deny that the system ultimately achieves its end goal.
As an element leader in basic training, I could see the aforementioned changes occurring in some of the other trainees. I don’t know if they started changing their attitude towards authority based on genuine respect for the chain of command or out of fear of the consequences had they not done so. A lot of them – although good guys – didn’t strike me as deep thinkers, so I’d bet on the latter. Although I hid it very well while I was there, I’m unfortunately what the MTIs (Military Training Instructors) at BMT would derogatorily refer to as “an individual.” I hate being told what to do and just as equally, I hate telling other people what to do which put me in a tight spot when I was voluntellingly appointed as an airman leader. I couldn’t sell myself out by being a hypocrite and barking orders at other people but at the same time, the MTIs were holding me responsible for the performance of a quarter of the airmen in my flight. So, what I ended up doing for the two months at BMT was handling everyone else’s responsibilities for them and covering up their half-assed bed-making and shoe-alignment and I folded more people’s laundry than I can count. And I hated it. I hated the marching and the formations and all the rules and regulations and I especially hated being talked down to by sergeants and officers. I found – and still do find – it all to be so very dehumanizing. Because I believe that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated equally. All this “sir” and “maam” stuff has never really sat well with me. Because I see the man behind the curtain – pardon the Wizard of Oz reference. We’re all just people. We all eat, we all drink, we all breathe, we all shit, we all piss, we all sleep, some of us fuck and – there’s no escaping it – we all share the same fate. We all die. And so, that said, no part of me gives a shit how many stripes anyone has on their sleeve or stars on their hat. And I understand that that attitude is incompatible with the military because it undermines the chain of command. And without the chain of command, the system can’t function. So for the time being, because I still was determined to get here and learn my language, I suppressed what I was feeling and just did whatever I was told, even though I could constantly feel myself becoming alienated from who I am and what I believe in. And as the depression set in, I pushed on and made it to where I am today at the cost of my mental health – thus last week’s breakdown which to everyone around me had seemingly come out of nowhere.
Since the very start of basic training, I’ve known the military isn’t right for me and have wanted to leave. I think back to the day we went over to clothing issue at Lackland and my MTI told our flight that these ABUs are no f’n joke, that people have died in these uniforms defending our country. I remember hearing that and feeling like such a massive fraud. I felt so ashamed wearing the uniform because I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to leave all these rules and regulations behind and go back to my carefree life where I had the time to do things I actually like doing, instead of just doing what I’m told all the time. And throughout my indoctrination at BMT, as the attitudes of my wingmen changed from “me, me, me” to a more team-oriented, order-obeying mentality, as they started developing a real sense of pride in being airmen and having their families come and see them on graduation day, I began to feel more and more isolated. I felt like such a phony bastard that during one of my two phone calls home I told my family not to come to my graduation. I told them I didn’t want them to see me like this. Living a lie. Pretending I’m something I’m not. A BMT honor graduate who hates being part of the military? What a farce. But my family ended up coming anyway and my mom was so proud. It killed me inside that she was made so happy by something that meant absolutely nothing to me. While walking around San Antonio in my blues during town pass, I felt so ashamed of myself every time someone said to me, “Thank you for your service.” After lunch, I got so tired of it all that when my family asked me what I wanted to do next, I said, “Just take me back to your hotel so I can get out of these fucking clothes and take a nap.” And I did just that. And the struggle has only gotten worse in the three months since that day, since my graduation from BMT.
So, what this all comes back to right now is that in the very same way I feel that I don’t deserve a slice of pizza if I didn’t put any money towards it, my military indoctrination has led me to believe that I’m a free-loading piece of shit who the government has spent a bunch of time and money on that doesn’t deserve freedom if I don’t fulfill the contract which I’d signed up for. Me, myself, my heart and soul, everything about me wants to leave the military behind and never look back. And it looks like that’s what’s gonna happen for me – inshallah. And oh what a relief it will be when that day comes. But in the meantime, I’m still here. And every day I go stand in formation and do details and whatever like I’m supposed to. I really am trying my best to not be an AirBag DirtMan and cause any more problems for anyone or for myself. But the guilt of me wanting to leave as soon as possible to go rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom provided by everyone around me that I’ll be leaving behind is eating me alive. All day in my head while sitting in details, my train of thought is like, “Fuck you. You are such a piece o’ shit. Just shut the fuck up. Don’t dare make eye contact with anyone around you. You don’t even deserve to look at other people. Just fucking go away already. Everyone hates you.” And the Main Day Room is very crowded because there’re so many detail airmen and, even though I understand on an intellectual level that this is not what’s actually happening, I project these feelings about myself onto everyone around me and emotionally experience each day feeling as if everyone I cross paths with hates me and is judging me for no longer sharing the same dream (“sharing the same dream” – I stole this quote directly from Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen” – thanks for the inspiration, Billy) as them. And then when details is over it doesn’t stop, because I’m a BTP airman and I gotta wear my uniform to dinner and I feel so fraudulent when I walk into the dining facility in ABUs, like everyone’s judging me for disrespecting the uniform by not wanting to be here. Wearing ABUs is a constant reminder of what a lousy citizen I am. And so I just find a corner to go sit by myself and eat real fast because the shame is too much to take. Because I don’t wanna disrespect the uniform anymore or any of the people who died in it. Or the people who wear it proudly defending our freedom. I sincerely thank everyone in the armed forces for all they do. During my time in the military, I’ve learned to appreciate all the sacrifices made by those who serve and have learned the very painful lesson that this life isn’t for me. And I swear I don’t wanna cause any more problems while I’m still here but, this is probably gonna sound ridiculous, I also don’t wanna get another haircut while I’m still here. It’s getting relatively long and I know I’m due for one soon if I’m to stay in regs and I’m getting paranoid about it. Because at least at the end of the day I can take my ABUs off and look at myself in the mirror and catch a glimpse of who I was five months ago before I joined and get a sense of peace from that. But if I get another military-style haircut or shave my head again like I’m back at BMT (I’m already self-conscious enough as it is about my stupid-ass receding hairline without suffering from this neurotic shame on top of it), I’m really scared that even when I take my ABUs off at the end of the day, when I’m alone and I look in the mirror, by that haircut I’ll be reminded of and won’t be able to escape from how big a worthless fraud I feel I am.
So yeah, apologies for the long rambling message. That’s what’s been on my mind. That’s how I feel. That’s the English translation of that sigh I let out at lunch.
Timothy J. Lally