The Things You Learn

"... I am happy about how the Army has changed me and, in my opinion, made me better."

I joined the Army in the summer of 2011 right after high school. Many of my friends joined, and my sister convinced me that having loan-free college tuition was the best route to go.

I've spent almost six years in the Army and have learned more in those six years than I ever thought possible. I would not trade these experiences for anything in the world. They have helped make me the person I am today.

One of the first things I learned is that most people in the military don't know what to say when people tell them "Thank you for your service." Personally, I have no idea what to reply or how to act because I'm just doing my job. I do not see myself as a hero. Soldiers who lost their lives or were deployed deserve the recognition more than me, but in the end I just say, "Thank you," and move on. Many people in the military feel the same way.

Another thing that I have learned is the strength of the friendships that we make in the military. These friendships will last a lifetime. I have met people from very different backgrounds with different interests and lifestyles. Seeing each other almost every day from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon is a sure way to get to know each other. This is even truer while on deployment. However, the flip side is we also get on each other's nerves very quickly. But it's all part of being a family. We are willing to do anything to help each other out, whether it's financially, emotionally, or just helping each other get into or out of trouble.

The military has changed me physically and mentally as well. When I first joined, I was a skinny 107-pound kid. Now, I'm still young but I'm 145 pounds, and I feel a lot different. That's only the physical part, though. I have changed a lot mentally, too. I feel as though I grew up faster than my peers who went to college. Since I received a decent steady paycheck, I began paying for all of my own groceries and bills, and learned to save money on my own. I also used to be shy and had hardly any self-confidence. Just a few years later, I am still shy, but I tend to come out of my shell more easily and make friends quickly.

The value of mail was new to me as well. On deployments, care packages are a soldier's best friend. While I was in Afghanistan, I always looked forward to mail. I worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I had a day off every other week, but after about two months I was drained and tired of going to work every day. So I found solace in the little things, like the mail I received. I got packages from many companies and programs that sent snacks, hygiene items, clothing, and various other things. Each box was a great surprise. I have never seen such an outpouring of support for troops as I did on deployment.

The USO was also a huge distraction from the tedious day-to-day activity. I spent many a night in the big tent that was the USO. I had heard of them before, but never actually visited them until deployment. Everything was free and catered toward military. They were a lifesaver in Afghanistan when I could go there and call home or just read a book in their comfy chairs. It made me forget about the stresses of work. It was a simple thing, but I will be forever grateful.

There is a lot of travel involved in the military. Aside from a small number of people, most soldiers will travel to many places. If someone told me when I was in high school that I would travel to Europe, Afghanistan, South Korea, and all over the United States, I would have said, "Yeah, right." But, in the end, they are all great places that I will always carry with me. I learned so much about other cultures and how they do things. Some places were better than others, but they are a part of me now, and that makes me happy. I am now in South Korea and have some of the very best friends that I could ever ask for.

Of course, there are times when I become frustrated. In the Army, we have a job and get paid, but we can't do everything a civilian can. I can't wear my uniform and protest anything. I can't just quit my job, and I can't call in sick. Some of these things may seem small, but they are things that most civilians can do without any problems. If I want to go on vacation, I have to submit a form requesting leave. If it's not approved, there is nothing I can do about it. I can't say, "I quit," and I can't just not show up without consequences. If I am sick, I have to go to the doctor and get a note saying I can have time off from work.

In the end, even though the job may be tough at times, I still enjoy doing it. I am grateful for the many friends I've made in my tours of service, and I am happy about how the Army has changed me and, in my opinion, made me better.

Check out the video below to learn more about the author of this story,  Jonathan J. Cervantes. 

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This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families: 101 Stories about the Force Behind the Forces © 2017 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

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