I had a bad taste in my mouth, and I was choking on my pride. Neither would show up on my new patient questionnaire; there was no room alongside the motley combination of minor physical complaints and major psychological issues that I detailed. We wouldn’t have time to discuss that in the examination room today, but my few moments in the waiting room were my own.
Fourteen years ago, I spent the fifteen-plus hours of my journey from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Washington, D.C., listening to rock and roll anthems of freedom and independence won. Nestled into the first comfortable airplane seat I’d occupied in a long time, I basked and beamed, at least to myself, if not visibly. I was free of the yolk of the second military service contract I’d voluntarily signed, and I couldn’t have felt more alive.
I buzzed with energy within the confines of my seat, rewinding and reviewing the nuanced details of my new independence. For the first time in a dozen years, I wasn’t “traveling as a representative of the Air Force and the Armed Forces” regardless of whether or not I was wearing the same casual clothing popular with civilians of my age and economic status.
I was no longer mandated to carry two forms of ID, and I wasn’t required to show one of those forms of ID in order to buy a loaf of bread that was priced proportionately to my income. I was expected, but not bound by employer-controlled law, to arrive at a particular place at a particular time. There was mutual agreement instead of command. And there was appreciation.
That was the big difference. I don’t have a problem with authority. My girlfriend (and everyone who knows me) will attest that I am a natural rule-follower; I never had much of a problem with that. My complaint with my time in the military was the utter lack of genuine appreciation shown to me and to everyone I knew who deserved it.
Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of hollow awards and congratulatory ceremonies. I suppose that if that’s what does it for you, then that’s probably pretty satisfying. To me, it always seemed more like a formulaic matter of course than a genuine display of appreciation for a job well done.