Copyright 2013 by John T. Reed

Below is an email I got from a reader on 3/30/2014. It shows how a somewhat mature, experienced adult processes the various articles I have written about the military. Two other types of responses I get about those articles are from either teen-aged boys who want to believe Hollywood hype about the military or from “professional vets” and lifers who have been trading on the Hollywood hype. The teen-aged boys don’t like my revealing to them that they are being conned. And the “professional vets” and lifers don’t like my revealing that they are running a con on the teen-aged boys and their own friends, relatives, acquaintances, and co-workers.

I have one or two mature beyond their years teen-aged boys who read my articles, typically because an older relative or friend referred them to the articles, and who could see what this 30 year old did. Most teen-aged boys, however, are so desirous of believing the Hollywood hype that they get mad at me.

I will warn them by telling them about a guy who was in the class behind me in high school. His name was Ken. He came up to West Point with his father in May of my plebe year (1964-5), his senior year of high school with his father. I had a conversation with the two of them in front of Grant Hall, the building where cadets meet their guests. I told him how you get through plebe year: just try to make it to the next semi-pleasant event like a meal or bed time or an honor code lecture in an air-conditioned auditorium or sitting in bleachers in the shade. Don’t think about the whole year or whole summer or whole week or even the whole day. And never let yourself think about quitting.

Ken laughed and said, “You don’t understand how much I want to come here. I would never think of quitting.” I said, “No, you’re the one who doesn’t understand. I thought this place would be the hardest thing I ever did and it is far harder than I thought. At the end of my first 48 hours here, my most fervent wish was that a doctor would knock on my door and tell my I had to go home because they discovered a flaw in my physical. Then I could go home and not have to say ‘I quit’ to my friends and relatives.”

Ken entered West Point about two months later—probably on June 28, 1965. That Fall, I ran into his father at an Army football game at Michie Stadium at West Point. He said Ken sent him a one-sentence letter during his first week in Beast Barracks (the first two months for a new cadet in July and August before freshman year). All it said was, “Jack Reed was exactly right.”

So you teenagers can reject what I am trying to warn you about. And I smile knowing that like Ken, you’ll find out soon enough. Unfortunately for you, it may be too late. One of the first things you do when you enter West Point or any other active-duty military unit is swear in as a U.S. military active-duty person. From then on you are locked into a commitment. There are certain ways to leave early, but generally you are stuck until your enlistment, commitment, or whatever they call it in your case, runs out, or for the rest of your life, whichever comes first.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The articles I have written about the military probably took me thousands of hours cumulatively to write. And most teenagers who join the military will spend infinitely less time trying to make sure it’s a wise decision. Go figure.

Hi John,

I've been starting my morning for the past couple weeks by reading a military article or two on your site. I also just ordered your book, "Succeeding" and I'm looking forward to diving into it. 

I'm now 30 years old and graduated from the University of Arizona (I think you mentioned your son was football manager with them). I was a Peace Corps volunteer, worked in the private sector for a few years, and now I'm dabbling in self employment. 

I've considered military service many times in my life. If timing were different, I may have ended up in the military instead of PC after graduation. Anyways, I was in a rut with my self employment situation recently so I considered doing military again. I looked into various Army MOSs and also considered SF National Guard on a REP-63 contract. I studied Russian like you did. I also got to spend a lot of time in Russia and former Soviet countries so I figured my Russian, civilian skills, and now waning athletic ability might be useful to the military in some way.

If I were younger I'd probably have a contract signed already and I'd be trying to improve my PT scores before shipping out to basic. But over the years I've learned it's important to avoid landing in the wrong jobs. So I reached out to everyone I knew who was active or former military to do some research. And just about everyone discouraged me from doing it. 

A former military friend forwarded your site to me and I ultimately decided against military after reading your articles and some emails your readers sent in. The "elite" ones were particularly interesting and make sense in retrospect. I don't think the reality would be what I was expecting going in. I'm sure I would've made some good friends and had some good times. But overall, I feel I'd be dealing with a lot of ridiculousness and counting down the days until IRR. 

Thank you for your honesty and not hyping up your experience at West Point and Ranger School. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard or read people saying things like, "I developed my leadership skills and mental toughness." Or some other vague phrase when talking about their military service. 

I think it's important to get the truth out there. 

I wrote a fairly honest blog post about my time as a Peace Corps volunteer. Current and former volunteers have emailed me or left comments on how they've experienced the same things I did. Soon-to-be volunteers appreciated my candid write up since they've mainly heard hyped-up versions of what volunteers actually do. 

I still recommend doing PC to anyone who asks me about it since there aren't as many downsides as there are with military service. Service time is shorter, you can leave at anytime, language training is good, the lifestyle is relatively good and safe, and you get to travel. But just don't expect to do any great work or any sort of career boost afterwards. Most employers don't really care about it, especially in the private sector. Although it does make you somewhat more interesting as a person for whatever that's worth. Some mystique, but not as much as West Point, Ranger School or HBS I guess.

Of course, there are people who do PC and then end up in some government job afterwards. I guess those would be like the lifetime bureaucrats in military.

I can't really change PC as an organization and people will volunteer anyway. I just wanted to help them manage their expectations and give them the truth so I wrote about it. 

This was the post if you're interested:


Anyway, thank you again for putting all your experiences out there and I look forward to reading your book.



Joseph Choi

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed