You Cut the Crap and I’ll Cut the Crap

My Friends,
   Recently I saw this picture floating around the facebooks:

This bothered me for the obvious reason that it was being thoughtlessly shared by most of my fellow army guys.  This type of gung-ho propaganda is odious to me on the best of days, but something about this particular pic struck me deeper.  I think I have finally figured out what aspect of it bothered me so.
   First, let me ask a couple of questions:

   Have you ever been deployed with the military to a war-zone?
 
   Have you ever attended a post-secondary institution?

Many of you will answer “yes” to one of these questions.  Many will answer “no” to both.  A few will answer “yes” to both.  I count myself among this last group, and thus consider myself well-informed to speak on this picture.
   Basically, my feeling is that I have never been as stressed as I was in the middle of a busy semester.  Even during my very worst times in Afghanistan (which were very mild compared to many others) I never dealt with the all-consuming stress of a full academic workload.  I don’t expect military types with a high-school diploma or less to understand this (although maybe they should understand better than anyone because obviously school was kicking their ass), but the military existence, or at least the “grunt” existence which I am qualified to speak on, is relatively simplistic and stress-free.  Let me illustrate the difference between these two lifestyles so you can better appreciate where I’m coming from.

Stresses of the Student Mid-Semester
-“How am I ever going to get out of this mountain of debt?”
-“I am never going to be able to read all of this assigned reading”
-“I have to stay up and keep refreshing the course-selection screen or I won’t get into this class I need, which means I will be ineligible for a masters, which means I will be homeless on the street”
-“Since my parents are helping me pay for my education they scrutinize all of my marks”
-“If I don’t make a good impression on this professor I won’t get into this program and will end up homeless”
-“I have to buy that book from the bookstore before it is sold out or else I fail and end up homeless”
-“I have to stay up all night and finish this assignment/studying otherwise I will fail and end up homeless on the street.”
-“I have to study, but if I don’t work I can’t make rent and I’m fucked”
-“Wow, I wish I was back at home; this whole being an adult shit sucks”
-“If I don’t pay $XXX by the end of the month I am going to get kicked out of school”

Now let’s contrast that with…

Stresses of the Deployed Soldier
-“I hope me and my friends don’t die or get injured today.”

   Now I realize that there might be other concerns for the soldier, such as an overbearing NCM who insists you shave even though you’re in the fucking desert,

PO-LICE THAT MOO-STACHE!!!”

but provided you go through the motions and make all of your timings, you can otherwise coast through a deployment.  
   “But doesn’t the risk of death/injury trump all of the student’s concerns,” you ask?  Well no, at least not in my opinion.  It may be anecdotal, but I found I was able to adapt rather well to the threat of imminent death.  So were those around me.  And if googling “funny military pictures” is any indication, so are a great many other soldiers.  
   Now if you have read this and understood me to be saying that “war is a cakewalk,” you have misunderstood me completely.  War is a horrible thing which should be entirely abolished and I’m glad I made it through unscathed.  Many did not and they deserve the full support of the government on whose behalf they went to war.*  All I am saying is that war consolidates all of your stresses into the most basic stress of all, survival.  Once consolidated, that stress is much easier to handle, because you actually have a pretty good chance of surviving a NATO tour of duty.
   Similarly I think it is disingenuous of military types to paint other occupations (academics/students in this case) as less prone to stress.  When someone’s whole future very realistically depends on the outcome of one test or the predisposition of the person marking their paper, it is ignorant to say that they don’t know what stress is.
“You don’t man cause you weren’t there…”
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
*Military Minds is a great new site started by a Canadian soldier which offers a support network and spreads awareness of the very real stresses faced by soldiers.

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