Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A 43 year old looks to join the army, and go to Afghanistan


For those who missed it, July 24 was my 43rd birthday. So the forty three year old referenced in the title to this blog post, is yours truly.

I don't yet know whether I'll be accepted or not, but I've set the wheels in motion. I've been contemplating this decision for some time, for the better part of the past six months. I wasn't even sure that the army would accept a recruit of my age. I knew of a couple of guys who had joined in my age bracket, but thought maybe they had some specialized skill.

A trip to a recruitment centre answered that question quickly enough back in April. A Sergeant there told me I wasn't forty two years old, I was forty two years young. From what I understand the Army has a retirement age of sixty, and recruits joining as enlisted personnel must agree to a minimum three year commitment. So long as a prospective recruit can fulfil that obligation before retirement age, he or she is free to apply.

Of course there's more to it than just applying. There's an aptitude test, a background check, a physical and a medical. I've already passed the aptitude test, pretty much like a lot of IQ exams you see on-line. In fact I scored well enough that were I considering enrolment as an officer, my results would have qualified me. But I'm looking at this as a three year hitch, after which (assuming they take me) I'll decide whether or not to continue.

As for the rest, I'm no Lance Armstrong or anything, but for a 43 year old I'm in decent enough shape I think. That's part of the attraction certainly, I don't imagine there are many work out regimes tougher than basic training. The thought of being lean and of fighting trim does appeal to the testosterone coursing through my veins. The bigger hurdle is probably the medical, I think I'm healthy...but we'll see if there are any hidden medical conditions lurking.

There's more of course.

Some might suggest a guy in his forties, looking to enlist in the military for the first time...that part of the reasoning might have something to do with a 'mid-life crisis'. There is definitely merit to that argument, although instead of a 'crisis' I'd prefer to call it a reassessment.

I realize that my life is pretty much half over right now, and while I may be losing the battle to father time...I'm still in the game. I've always admired professional athletes who manage to hang on, playing past their prime. They're able to compete despite diminished physical skill by using their brains, and at times a bit of trickery. The body still knows what to do, but the mind takes on a greater role in devising strategies to survive against those younger and stronger.

Another aspect is my desire to live a life of significance, to see and experience different things. I've had debates over the past few years about our western way of life, versus the attitudes of those from other cultures. I have a brother who is a teacher, and he's told me what Afghan immigrant students have told him...and has framed his pro-war arguments around their experiences. But second hand accounts don't mean much from where I sit. I prefer to see things first hand, through my own eyes...not through the filter of another. Two people can see the same event, yet draw diametrically opposed conclusions.

Some have probably read my views on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and may be surprised by my decision. You shouldn't be.

If there's one thing I've learned in this life, its that very few things are absolute....and as I get older the list of things that are strictly black and white gets smaller and smaller. Experience has a way of nudging one's beliefs in one direction or another. Those who are pro-war have their reasons, as do those who advocate for peace. Is either side right or wrong? Not from where I sit.

Everyone knows the old saw about walking a mile in another's shoes before passing judgement. Well, given the opportunity, I will be walking in the boots of a soldier for at least 3 years.

I am fully aware that this decision could have serious and possibly fatal ramifications, that's a risk I am willing to take. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but I will take full advantage of the teaching and training the military provides if given the chance, using it to do all I can to ensure my health and survival.

I've been wanting to blog on this for a while now, but held off until I talked with my son about my decision. He's scared for me, and both of us cried...but he understands my reasons and supports my decision. Of course his biggest fear is that I'll be killed, that's my biggest fear too.

I still have some hurdles to clear obvioulsy. I went jogging tonight and managed 3 kms without being seriously winded, but my legs are sore. My cardio seems good for a smoker, thankfully I keep pretty active. I stopped at 15 push ups, that's something I'll build up to over time. I could have managed 20 or 25, but I'll have at least a month to work my way up slowly.

Life is an adventure, that's something we tend to forget as we get older. I'm looking forward and I'm hopeful for the chance to push the envelope and to broaden my experience.

In another year or so, that might be me in the picture at the head of this post. Children deserve to live in peace and security, and with freedom. The ultimate reason for Canada's involvement might be for reasons more geo-political in nature, but our soldiers are striving to improve the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians, that's what I believe.

We'll see. I hope I'm given the chance to judge whether actual experience measures up to my ideals.

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