With graduation season upon us, Judith Hargett weighs in on her post-high school entrance into the wider world.
When I began my senior year of high school, I knew change was coming. Though I don’t remember ever being told, it was understood that graduation meant the need to find some way to support myself. College, at least at that time, was not an option. For the most part, room and board was considered my pay for any work I did on the family farm. This was reasonable pay considering what a good cook my mother was, but it was hard to buy a car with such wages. No car. No skills. What to do? In an attempt to appear like I was making a good faith effort, I sent off for information on the military.
Apparently they needed women. A recruiter soon showed up on our doorstep. I quickly decided I had no intention of joining the military. Graduation day arrived. No magical options had appeared. I was soon on my way to St. Louis for my induction into the Air Force. I left behind the fertile farmland of Southeast Missouri and marched onto the humidity infested basic training grounds of San Antonio, Texas.
One of the purposes of boot camp was to teach discipline and discourage the questioning of authority, no matter how foolish the orders seemed. I was in shock and despair the first few weeks. What had I done? Was Paul talking about these people when he wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
I had always submitted to authorities in my life: parents, teachers, police and church leaders; but these drill sergeants were impossible to please! No toothpaste was to be left in my toothbrush, no hair in my curlers, no dirty clothes in the laundry bag, absolutely no wrinkles in my bed and no pushing up the glasses that were barely hanging on the end of my nose, as a result of the excessive humidity, while marching. Eventually, I committed an offense so awful it couldn’t be ignored. I left a stocking in the laundry room. Could the enemy use this to bring down our government? I was called into the sergeant’s office. What would be my punishment? 100 pushups? (I couldn’t even do one.) Scouring the bathroom with a toothbrush? No. That was normal duty. I think the Holy Spirit must have intervened on my behalf as my mind had gone numb with dread. After all, according to Paul, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) What was my punishment? I was to write an essay on why I left my stocking in the laundry room. Really?
That assignment was a turning point. I have no memory of what I wrote but it made the sergeants smile. They turned into humans. Life became bearable again. My time in the military helped me develop an appreciation for orderliness (we serve a God of order), acceptance that some things have to be done based on faith and obedience, and that God can take our poor choices and use them for His purposes. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The military also led to an opportunity to get a college degree that I had thought was an impossible goal. The Air Force did, however, make me compulsive about hangers all facing the same direction.