Confessions from failure

To wrap up my reflection on my short time in the Army, here’s a short piece I wrote a few years ago:


There are many things that remind me
Of the failure in my past.
The smell of gunpowder in the air
which follows
the crack, crack, burst of the rifle.
The burning in my lungs and thighs
after a long distance run.
The rough, gravelly concrete beneath my palms
with the strenuous rhythm of push-up and down.
The off kilter of concrete
slabs beneath my back
as my stomach muscles contract
Lifting chest to knees.
The sound of angry voices
crude language on their lips.
The screeching voices echoing
“Failure, failure. You will never be
anything more.”


For several years after my discharge from the Army I wrestled with the sting of failure. It started with a wrongly diagnosed sprained ankle. I was treated for an invisible fracture, told to walk until it showed up on the X-ray. Because it was sprained, the pain went away after a few days and I continued to run and jump. But within a few hours, the pain returned but too late to go to the Doctor. Without a trip to the Dr I had to train and we were severely punished because one man did something stupid. I spent an entire Sunday afternoon doing squat thrusts (some people call them burpees) using only my opposite leg and ended up with a knee injury. From there the injuries collected: resulting in damage to both hips, both knees and that initial ankle. I training injured for 7 weeks and then the day came: the final PT test. I passed the push ups and sit-ups with no problem and then failed the 2-mile run by 3 seconds. I remember collapsing in defeat after that failure. A few days later I tried again and once again failed the 2-mile run by 3 seconds. A few days later I gave up trying and failed again by more than a minute. I told them I wanted to go home. To get permission to be discharged I had to meet one-on-one with the Captain. He told me that it cost the military $50,000 to get me to this point in training and because they spent that $50,000 on me instead of on resources for another Private out in the sandbox, he was dead. It was my fault another private was dead and here I was quitting. I was a failure.

Those words haunted me for a long while. I do not believe them now. And I no longer feel like my discharge represents a failure. Did I fail? Yes. Was it a failure? No. It was the right path for me. The five years I would have spent in the military would have radically changed who I am and how I see the world. I am thankful. Thankful for the injuries. Thankful for those 3 seconds. I don’t feel thankful for that Captain, but he was only doing his job to the best of his ability. I think I’ll pray for him tonight.

I’m thankful for the experience. I’m not sure I could explain why. But I am.

How about you? What experiences are you thankful for?

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