General Question

Berserker's avatar

What's it like being a soldier?

Asked by Berserker (33470points) August 13th, 2010

One question today made me think of that…I know there’s some few soldiers, military personnel and veterans on this site. Would you care to describe what it’s/was like?
The whole experience; training, jobs, war, if you’ve been to it. Only if you wanna though.

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39 Answers

CaptainHarley's avatar

It’s an entire lifestyle alteration for most people, which is why it can be so traumatic becoming “acclimated” to military life. The training is very intense, and very demanding for most, incloving changes in attitude, changes in physical development, changes in behavior, etc. Books have been written about each of the areas you ask about: training, jobs, war, etc.

plethora's avatar

@CaptainHarley is right. It is very intense, very demanding, both physically and emotionally. Attitudes must change, behavior must change and immediate and unquestioning obedience must be learned….at all levels, enlisted and officer. Doesn’t mean one turns his mind off and doesnt think, just that in critical combat situations, men will die if they question instead of obeying.

I speak of men here because I have no idea how women react to it. It would be different than men, I think, because men and women are different.

plethora's avatar

My opinion (and that’s all it is) is that most (not all) men who endure military experience successfully will be conservative politically. I may very well be wrong and would like to know differently if there are others who disagree.

SORRY..if this is considered off topic, can it.

mammal's avatar

@plethora that’s because these days the US and British military has more support from the conservative elements of society than the left, that’s because, the political left do not understand why the military are being used as an offensive weapon to further globalisation, expand/protect economic interests and secure resources rather than in a defensive role. it’s not because they are inherently anti-military, it is because the military has been hijacked for purposes that are not praiseworthy. Or in other words we have the old Lions led by Donkeys syndrome.

lilikoi's avatar

I imagine it’s something like having death looming over you 24/7.

JLeslie's avatar

I saw a on a show a gentlemen who recently spent time with soldiers in Iraq I believe, and he wrote a book. I’ll have to search for it tomorrow when I have time. Anyway, during the interview about his experience, what I found most interesting was the soldiers he was with almost looked forward to having an assignment to do something. That a lot of the time they were bored and in a waiting mode. “Battle” was not a negative as most would guess. Made me wonder if when soldiers want to go back after returning home, why exactly they want to go back, or why exactly they are in favor of the wars?

I think current wars are very different than previous wars. Our soldiers are much safer now statistically. Although, I am sure it is still scary as shit to be in a warzone.

Some great perks about being a soldier are the benefits you get. Free healthcare, commissary privilages, free Space A flights, maintain residency in one state even if you are moved so no reregistering your car, you get out of jury duty, retirement after 20 years of service, excellent pension, your moving expenses after retirement are paid for by the military to get you to the location you prefer to live, preference given to you when seeking a job after leaving the military.

augustlan's avatar

I had a good friend who had his whole future planned out. Join the marines, become an MP, come back home and become a police officer, go on to join the FBI. This was his dream. So, he joined up during peace time… and very shortly afterward got sent to Kuwait during Desert Storm. He lived in constant fear, but never once fired his weapon until his last day there. While withdrawing (as in, the war was “over”), his group were fired upon and they returned fire. Apparently, it was a pretty terrible firefight, as he refused to talk about it (other than to say “it happened”.)

The experience forever changed him. When he came home, he said he never wanted to hold a gun in his hands again. So much for his future plans, eh? He is now a computer technician, and a pretty strong liberal.

zenele's avatar


Don’t feel like summing it up here. 26 years is a lot of experiences and feelings.

plethora's avatar

@mammal Thanks very much. I had not really thought about it from that perspective, but I think you are right. However, I would note that if we wait until we need the military just for defense, it may very well be too late. We very nearly lost WWII in the first 18 months after Pearl Harbor because of our isolationist policies in the years before while Great Britain was holding down the fort.

Just read a book on Vietnam and my opinion is that JFK would not have committed to that war, although he did start sending advisors. LBJ was so distracted by his war on poverty and would not listen to his JCS, that he made the foolish decision to get himself in a war he shouldnt have been in and could not win. I digress here, but for all the people who hated Nixon, he got us out of that war and got us out honorably. You may say, well what about the fall of Vietnam in 1975? By that time the war had been won on the ground. Vietnam fell because our Congress decided not to honor the treaty they had signed committing us to do for Vietnam pretty much what we were and still are doing for S Korea. Just walked away from our obligation and handed the country over to the communists.

Berserker's avatar

@zenele I won’t say I understand, far from it, but thanks. :)

plethora's avatar

@JLeslie I’ve heard the same reports on Iraq. Yes, battle is looked upon as a plus when the troops are bored senseless. Doing nothing is the hardest work to be found.

The soldiers don’t want to go back. We don’t have a big enough military now to fight wars without using the Natl Guard and also sending men (and women) over for multiple tours. All the psychological problems we are seeing in our soldiers now are, I think, a result of multiple tours. Coming home for six months or a year only to be sent back will destroy hope.

I’m not sure whether safer “statistically” translates into safer in fact. Depends on whether you are the one who is killed or maimed.

plethora's avatar

@augustlan I can understand that. Many of those guys received little training. And in the case of the person you mentioned, he had himself on a civilian career track and war interrupted it. Big shocker and the outcome is not a surprise. Thanks.

chocolatechip's avatar


I think part of what factors into those “statistics” is the fact that the war in Iraq isn’t a general war like many previous wars have been. This war isn’t between two opposing forces with equally enormous destructive potential with the intent of obliterating the other side.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If you want more information, there are several web sites that provide personal stories by veterans. Here is one.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Keep in mind that “war” is about 90% mind-numbing boredom, and about 10% sheer terror. This is one reason commanders emphasize things like equipment maintenance, improving defensive positions, etc.

Ron_C's avatar

I was in the Navy for 12 years including 13 months in Vietnam. The military changes you for life and usually makes you a better person. Many of my friends and business acquaintances are ex or retired military. We have one thing in common, we understand that Americans have or are supposed to have a wide range of rights but we also have duties. One primary duty is that we all owe service to our country. I don’t mean just voting and paying taxes, I mean a normal part of your education should be military service, Peace Corps, or a commitment to community service. No one, in my opinion, is exempt. If you have a disability you still should have some service to offer to your country.

I notice that some of the loudest anti government and pro war have never done anything to serve their country. The people that started and expanded the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq specifically avoided military service, An experienced military veteran would never have committed lives and resources to such blatantly ridiculous endeavours.

So now I have a wide range of acquaintances, some disabled, that have a common experience. There were a few that enjoyed the “hunt and kill” type missions because of the adrenalin high. Most of us would have been happy to have never gone into battle and many of use are upset that the government and the fat white congressman sent our friends to die for no good reason except for the leadership’s pride, avarice, and stupidity.

CaptainHarley's avatar

“I notice that some of the loudest anti government and pro war have never done anything to serve their country. The people that started and expanded the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq specifically avoided military service, An experienced military veteran would never have committed lives and resources to such blatantly ridiculous endeavours.”

Amen, my brother, amen! Great answer!

chocolatechip's avatar

Wouldn’t having a job and contributing to society be a form of service to your country?

CaptainHarley's avatar


You could make an argument in favor of that, yes, but everyone does that. What’s being discussed here is service beyond what most people do to earn a living, but yes… a life well-lived is a definite asset to your Country. And if you have children and do your best to raise them to be honorable, honest, compassionate, intelligent adults, you’re blessed of God and one of the people we’re fighting for. : ))

Ron_C's avatar

@chocolatechip a lot of people feel that way, “I work;I pay taxes” that’s enough for the majority but it doesn’t in my opinion, fulfill your duty as a citizen. Working for a congressman is definitely not a fulfillment of what should be a moral obligation.

I would consider becoming a member of a township board, school board, or being an active member of the Rotary or Lions club part of that fulfillment. It is good that you work but taxes are just your portion to pay for schools, road, and many other government provided services.

Ron_C's avatar

@CaptainHarley thanks Captain.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C How do you explain veterans like John McCain? I’m not picking on McCain, I just always found it so odd that he seems so pro-war after his experience. If I try to explain it, I figure maybe he has to think war is worth while, or his suffering was for naught. Or, maybe he just very much believes in the current wars apart from his own history. Or, maybe it helps him in the polls (I doubt that is his motivation on this topic). What do you think?

plethora's avatar

@JLeslie There is a reason for war, and it is not because anybody wants it, least of all the soldier. Can you name a nation, other than Switzerland, that has ever survived without war? Sadly, what our nation does not seem to understand now is that a strong military serves to prevent war. Assuming it is not squandered on “humanitarian” ventures (not the job of the military) and foolish ventures like the two we are in now.

JLeslie's avatar

@plethora I agree with you actually, sometimes war is a necessary evil. And, I guess I agree a strong military seems to have been a way to prevent war. But, I hate the idea, I prefer to think in my girly why can’t we just all get along and be friends. For me, in my idealistic mind, the world seems wide open, war seems so unnecessary. Borders are like imaginary lines. I know so many people who have lived in other countries, immigrated to our country, it just seems like we should be a United Earth – and there I go referencing Star Trek. :)

Like that woman who paid to go into space, Anousheh Ansari, she describes the earth while looking down from the space craft, “when you see the Earth for what it is, you couldn’t see any borders. You couldn’t see any signs of wars. … It was just pure peace and beauty,” she says. “You wonder, ‘How could people ever do things to harm it?’” That really got to me.

plethora's avatar

@JLeslie I could only agree with that. Wish it were that way.

Ron_C's avatar

@JLeslie John McCain is one of my hero’s. He wasn’t the best pilot but he did a hell of a job keeping up the moral of his fellow prisoners, he could have been freed because of his family connection but he stayed until his fellow prisoners were released.

Unfortunately he got old and started believing some of his really bad ad visors. The day he hugged Bush (who painted McCain as a used up relic) I lost my faith in him. I feel very sorry for the poor man. I considered voting for him until he took a radical turn to the right and picked Palin as a running mate.

Now if you want to here people against the war, my brother did two tours in ‘Nam, my one of my son-in-laws did two tours in Afghanistan, my daughters are veterans, one Army, one Navy, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, even my Dad who was a WW2 veteran were against the war in Iraq and against the occupation of Afghanistan. That is to say nothing of the veterans with whom I work. The only time I hear full support for both wars and occupations is from people that dodged military service and I can only blame the fact that they did nothing for their country other than go to work and make money.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Ron_C “I notice that some of the loudest anti government and pro war have never done anything to serve their country.” – I guess we have a different idea of what serving one’s country means, is all. (and I certainly don’t mean working and paying taxes).
@Symbeline – War and Peace is a great read, just on topic.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C I think I have to agree, except for McCain who seems in full support. For me I think McCain should have been president instead of Bush way back 10 years ago. If it had to be a Republican that would have been his time I think. Now, he has moved very far to the right, something happened to him. I guess it is politics. He changed his stance on immigration, on abortion (wasn’t he pro-choice previously?) and then of course the Palin choice was the icing on the cake. His wife an daughter must have thought him an idiot for the stunt. Once the Republicans start running for national office they cave to the right. Ugh, it drives me crazy. Well, Juliani didn’t, but most of them do. Romney pretty much did, if he was the same Republican he was as Governor I would consider voting for him; but, he isn’t.

Ron_C's avatar

@JLeslie I probably would have voted for McCain if he had won the nomination. He actually was the Republican maverick. That is why he was hated in the party, he was truly a compassionate conservative, something that both Bush’s stole from him.

I guess it is time to put the poor old guy out to pasture.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I’m not sure what you mean by your comment.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

In 29 years of Army service, I spent less than 2 years in war zones, actual combat less than a week.

I joined up after grad school, family tradition. I thought I’d serve a few years then return to academia. The structure of military life suited me, I made Captain in less than 3 years, so I stayed in and made a career of it.

It was a lot of routine; paint it, polish it, salute it. A lot of interesting training, things civilians would never get to see; things like jumping out of airplanes at 30,000 feet with a simulated nuke on my back (like Slim Pickens in Dr Strangelove, but intentionally). Got to see the interior of Alaska, spent a 6 month Antarctic winter at the South Pole, protected a refugee camp in Kenya, provided a clean water supply for Burmese refugees in Thailand (and got a neat tattoo in exchange), played ski trooper in winter Norway and represented the US Army in many shooting competitions (and won the President’s 100 tab).

I had been in for 12 year before seeing action for the first time, in Panama. The first time I killed a man, I was sick to my stomach, the only way I can describe it. Even if it’s self-defense and he’s shooting at you doesn’t make it any easier.

In Desert Storm, I rode with a French armored brigade in their left hook through the desert; got blown off my Humvee while trying to spot targets. Rode into Kabul at the head of my own battalion in 2001, then had a close encounter with an IED in 2003.

I hope that most of my career will be remembered as saving lives rather than taking them. Like most professional soldiers, my career was 99% routine and 1% butt-pucker. I finished my career last year as a military adviser in Philippines.

Bluefreedom's avatar

So far, it’s been 22 years of service for me with about 6 more years to go before I plan to retire. The first 8 years was in the Army on active duty and then Army reserve and the last 14 years have been in the Air Force.

This whole train got rolling when I started 17 weeks of basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training), one year out of high school, at Fort McClellan, Alabama for a military specialty of 95B which was the Military Police Corps. It was my first time away from home and this experience helped me grow up and mature very quickly which was just what I needed at the time. The training was long and arduous and intense in several instances and was what I would carry with me for the next 2+ decades as I’m a military policeman in the Air Force now also even though they call us Security Forces. (And I hate that term. We used to be called Security Policemen and I liked that much better.)

Anyway, my first duty station was Fort Drum, New York which happened to be the coldest environment I’ve ever been in. I was born in and have lived predominantly in the desert southwest so this was quite a change for me. I was there for about 18 months before my PCS (Permanent Change of Station) to Yongsan, South Korea, in Seoul, came about. This was in 1988 and fortuitous in the fact that the 1988 Summer Olympics were being held here and I got to see one day of the events with some fellow service members. Only one day though because we were on alert so much that year. South Korean university students were protesting, sometimes violently, several times a month regarding our presence in their country. They were also demanding reunification with the North and asking to spend time with North Korean university students which was never going to happen. I also had an occasion to take a tour of Panmunjom on the 38th Parallel in the DMZ to visit the most heavily defended border in the world today. That was one of the most eerie, unforgettable, and sobering experiences that I’ve yet encountered in my life and my military career.

After returning home and coming off of active duty, I spent the next 5 years in the Army reserve and I still don’t know how I missed out on being called up for Desert Storm in 1991 but maybe it was for a good reason. After being honorably discharged from the Army, I had a short break in service and then joined the Air Force. (Air National Guard) and picked up an AGR tour which is active duty in the Air National Guard which is the best of both worlds. I’ll retire out of the guard on active duty to complete 20 years of active duty. Training for the Air Force was at Lackland, Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas and if you’ve ever heard that Air Force basic training/advanced training is nothing like the other services, that’s absolutely true. It is way too easy and stress free and not rigid enough and I’ve always been of the opinion that the Air Force doesn’t adequately prepare their Airmen for the challenges they’re going to face at their first duty stations or when they’re shipped overseas to assist in the “war on terror” in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. I was much more satisfied and challenged with the Army training I received. Now, on the other hand, it is true that the Air Force, in my opinion, takes the best care of its people and it is true that the Air Force lifestyle is more relaxed and stress free and plush, for lack of a better word, compared to other services.

My deployments overseas in the Air Force have so far amounted to the United Arab Emirates and Masirah Island, Oman and those were in support of Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom. En route to these locations, we stopped in Spain, Germany, Sicily, and Bahrain and one of many things that I’ve always been immensely pleased with in my military career is that I’ve been able to see so much of the world. I’ve never had to serve in actual combat but I was proud to serve in post Gulf War and post 9/11 operations that I feel were justified.

I know I’ve written a book here (even though there is so much more to my experiences and thoughts on this question) but I’ll wrap it up shortly. The military has been very good to me through the years and I’m very thankful for the opportunities that have been afforded to me. I will always view it as an honorable and respectable career and I’d recommend it to anyone considering it for a future. It certainly is what you make it and it is rewarding.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Ron_C I thought I was pretty clear. I’m pretty loudly anti-war and yet don’t consider myself in the group of people you think of as ‘doing no service to the country.’

plethora's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I think we would all be anti-war if there were an alternative. I know of no nation, other than Switzerland and even it maintains an armed force, that has survived without war. Do you?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@plethora I don’t know if that’s true – I don’t think all people would be anti-war if there was an alternative..war is a an exaggerated toddler tantrum done so often because someone can and someone wants more…(except in defense, I accept it as a necessary evil then).

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@plethora Even Switzerland has known war, the last invader was Napoleon.

Ron_C's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir o.k., I was just a little confused about your answer. No argument, just a little misunderstanding.

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