Terrible things happen in war. Many otherwise innocent people have to commit not so innocent acts. Humans are constantly at war. Is it human nature? There’s a broad range in the way people react to war and then an equally wide range of how they feel afterward. Many wrestle with the reality of killing people later, or not having been in combat at all. One thing is for sure; the experience stays with you forever, because it’s if nothing else, an experience unlike any other. Much in life will not phase you in the same vein after exposure to combat or, in some regards, just the service. But that’s because life in the service and specifically, time, isn’t yours as it is as a civilian. It’s sobering reality when you join and realize free time is a luxury.

Yes, we romanticize military service and war is hell. But, it’s also a thrill and fun. It’s somber, not a joke, but you’ll have the time of your life at the same time. These two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. Deploying to a war zone, being at war with your team, your unit, isn’t Watership down on the run for your safety. You’re there to do a job, one you chose to do, and you get to help a lot of people. You also have a powerful sense of contributing to the greater good. You can even see the results. We built a school in Afghanistan. Now, the next Nobel laureate is not likely to flow out of that system, but who knows?

The point is you get to do something almost no one else in a society gets to do. Service is awesome – it just is. There’s heartache that does and can go along with it. There a chance of mental anguish that plagues some for the rest of their lives. But, there’s also real glory and a sense of purpose. At times I felt like this was the best job I could ever imagine. Even training our partner forces can be highly entertaining and exciting. Leading people in another culture, in another language, is interesting, different and fun.

An article in Foreign Policy speaks to the desire to see combat without a realization of what that means and the toll it can take. There is truth to that. But, if you’re joining the military to see a glorious firefight alone, you’re probably immature. Military service at war means much more than that. In fact, a relatively small portion of your time will be spent in a firefight. It’s not like you’re a character in a video game, always running and gunning.

But if it’s appealing to you to be in the intensity of a gun battle and survive, so what? Like any intense event where emotions run high things can be hilarious and devastating. You hope they aren’t devastating. These wars happen and will continue to happen. We need to have solid people to fight in them. I just hope we aren’t missing out on good people who would excel in these challenging environments because they listen to the after action review of those who’ve gone through the gauntlet and comment on the other side. It’s a journey nonetheless, and your experience is unique to you, not uniform, like so much is in the military.

Featured image courtesy of gizmodo.com and is undeniably badass.