Today, 15 years ago, I stood in the parking lot of my high school and kissed my family goodbye, heading to the Portland, Maine MEPs station to enlist in the Army. Getting to August 25 was a challenge for me. The Army hadn’t wanted the little fat girl so I had to get in shape if I’d wanted to do this. So I did and I headed out, enlisting as a little Private E2 with a pair little tiny mosquito wings pinned on my collar.
15 years later, I’m no longer a private and I feel like I’m a lifetime away from that eager kid who joined the Army because she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up. Tomorrow morning, my former brigade commander, my husband and my daughters will promote me to captain. If you would have told me I was going to someday be a captain, let alone married with two kids and happy about all that, I’d have asked you what you were smoking.
I don’t think any of us really know where life is going to take us. I always laughed when people told me their plans when I was a kid. I’m going to college to study this or that. Or I want to do this when I grow up. I really had no idea about any of that. I really did sign up just because I figured it couldn’t hurt, what’s the worst that could happen. But over the years, I’ve learned and I’ve grown and there are certain retired CSMs still around to kick me in my ass and remind me of when I was a smart mouth private. Turns out, that smart mouthed private was just as smart mouthed lieutenant. But I never said I was good at making friends and influencing others.
All that is changing tomorrow. Not so much with pinning on captain, though, I’ve got to say, I am happy to finally not be assumed to be stupid by getting rid of that lieutenant bar. On the other hand, I’ve gotten used to being called LT. Or XO. When I first commissioned, I had real problems being called ma’am. You’ve got to remember, I spent 12 years enlisted, almost 11 of them as an NCO. You NEVER call an NCO ma’am or sir. Ever. So that was a big mental leap for me in my transition to becoming an officer and setting aside some of my NCO tendencies. Tomorrow, another one comes.
Because tomorrow isn’t just about becoming a captain and pinning those shiny rail road tracks onto my stetson. A few weeks after that, I become a commander and the looming responsibility and the potential for screwing up of epic proportions is weighing on me. I realize that as the commander, I’m responsible for everything my soldiers do and don’t do. I owe them the very best that I can give them, nothing less than 100%. I owe them the training and the leadership that will take us through the next deployment. That is my responsibility and its not one that I’m taking lightly. I’ve watched over the last few months how my husband has changed since becoming a first sergeant. The responsibility is heavy but I read somewhere that great responsibility gravitates to the shoulders that can carry it. I don’t know if that’s true in my case, but I’m going to do my best to make it so.
The charge to lead soldiers is not an easy one. It is not one that someone is born to. At least, not most of us. Most of us are grown and trained and developed. All captains don’t get a shot at command. I’m fortunate to have a battalion commander who thinks I’ve got what it takes. I won’t let her down, but more importantly, I won’t let my soldiers down.
Because at the end of the day, its about our soldiers, not about me or what I wear on my chest. It’s about them. How can I make a difference in their lives and make the Army a better place? The day I stop believing that is the day I need to retire.