Everyone has a story as to why they decided to join the military. In the Vietnam era there wasn’t a choice and many were drafted and forced to serve. Thankfully, after the draft ended joining the military became a choice. For some, it’s a family legacy, patriotism, college, or they had no idea what to do with their lives. Then there are people like myself who joined the military on a whim. My journey started when one of my oldest friends called me and told me she was considering joining the Air Force. She’d given the recruiter my name and number because she thought I might be interested too. I figured, “Why not talk to him? It’s not like I have any sort of life direction.“
When I enlisted in the military I enlisted as “open general” (meaning I didn’t have a guaranteed job). In typical Jessica fashion, I didn’t want to wait months for a guaranteed job. I knew myself well enough to know that if I waited 6 months to go to basic training I would change my mind. I knew I had to take a leap of faith. I gave myself 30 days from the day I signed the papers. I was in no way physically prepared for what I was about to put myself through. I’d never worked out a day in my life before I went to basic training. I was 5’6″ and 103 lbs on a good day. I had to get a waiver just to join because I was so underweight! My lifestyle was about to drastically change from being a smoker with my weekends spent in bars and clubs. On February 22, 2000 I boarded a van to Miami to begin the biggest journey of my life thus far.
Why I Joined
My decision to enlist in the military wasn’t initially to serve or because I was patriotic. I joined because I was lost and for once, my rash decision ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I served 12 years on active duty, filmed a war from the front lines, met incredibly brave people, and gained an unwavering love and appreciation for my country. Through my service I found myself. I never truly understood what it meant to sacrifice until I joined. It was a good thing for me. I couldn’t be a selfish clueless kid anymore.
My service became about being part of something bigger than myself. In Iraq I wore our flag on my shoulder just as my Army brothers did. And when the mission was over and we returned to base and our flag came into sight, we could breathe a sigh of relief. It meant we would live to fight another day and at that time, the odds of seeing tomorrow became less and less. I never thought in a million years that my snap decision would change my life in such a profound way.
There is never a day that I regret my decision to join. I may be struggling with PTSD and a body that feels a lot older than it should, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It made me into who I am today.