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December 4, 2012

The Civilian Viewpoint: My First Time On A Military Base

The Civilian Viewpoint: My First Time On A Military Base

Written By: Eliza J. Spencer, IVMF Marketing & Communications Intern

I am not a military girl. I didn’t grow up in a military family or with relatives that were part of the armed forces. I grew up in a family that was anti-war, liberal and feminist. The closest I ever came to the military was the running joke my father had that I would make a great drill sergeant, since I liked rules and disliked people who broke them. In other words, I was far removed from the military world.

Even though I’ve worked for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) for six months, I am still a novice on military and veteran issues and procedures. I’ve never even been on a military base, or experienced any sort of military ceremony. I’ve since realized, though, that no matter how far removed you think you are from the military world, chances are you are more closely connected than you think. So many of us have a friend, relative or even a casual acquaintance that is a veteran or currently serving. And I feel that we can all take the opportunity to learn from them–those who have served.

Last year I met Laura and Jake through my M.B.A. program at Syracuse University. Laura is an M.B.A. candidate, and her husband, a captain in the Army, is a company commander stationed at Ft. Drum, N.Y. As my curiosity in the unfamiliar culture of the military continues to grow, Jake has become a great source of answers to my constant questions. From naming the entire military phonetic alphabet, to explaining Army ranks, Jake answers all of my most trivial questions. Laura has also added depth to my growing knowledge, helping me understand the realities of being a military spouse.

This week, Laura invited me to Jake’s Change of Command ceremony at Drum, before his deployment in January. As we walked into the hangar, November snow swirling around us, there was a silent energy surrounding every man, woman and child in attendance. The hush seemed to say, this is a ceremony, but it’s not a celebration. The ceremony space had two sets of seats; for the incoming command and for the exiting, separated by the company of infantry soldiers. The flags were erect and the symbol of the battalion, a golden dragon, stood at the head of the room. At the five-minute mark before the ceremony began, the hush turned to silence. Only the sound of a baby’s laugh broke the quiet anticipation.

As the ceremony commenced, I studied the enlisted men standing in formation before me. Although I felt a sense of concern and sadness, I couldn’t help but also feel inspired by their call to action. Yellow roses were handed to the wife of the incoming commander, red roses to Laura. The gesture was a simple, yet symbolic token in recognition of the constant support and sacrifice of these military spouses—a crucial element for the success of a commander which I believe is often overlooked in the civilian world. As Jake gave his final address as commander of the company, he took the time not only to thank Laura and those who had advised him over his 18-month command, but also to lighten the mood with jokes to his men and fellow officers. It was a refreshing, lighthearted moment in the midst of a serious ceremony.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, we all stood to sing the 10th Mountain Division and the U.S. Army songs, and the mood changed. Maybe it was only perceivable to me with a beginner’s eye, but there was excitement and energy, more so than was felt during the national anthem. The soldiers had a special pride for their unit, and they demonstrated it during the song.

Every piece of the ceremony fascinated me, and my desire to learn and experience even more grows with such opportunities. I wouldn’t yet call myself a military girl, but I feel as though I’ve gained a little more insight into what active duty life is like.

Eliza Spencer is a marketing and communications intern with the IVMF and a second-year MBA student concentrating in marketing at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.

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