An Iraq Veteran Dispels Myths About Army Life
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jason Christopher Hartley is a member of the New York Army National Guard. After serving at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks, Hartley was stationed in Iraq, where he maintained the controversial blog Just Another Soldier until he was forced to stop by his commander. He is the creator of "Surrender," a play based on his wartime experiences, as well as the author of the book "Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq."
Question: What are civilians’ biggest misconceptions about military life?
Jason Christopher Hartley: I think the biggest misconception for sure that everyone has about military service in general is they always say, “Oh, I could never join the military because I don’t like being told what to do.” I hear that like so often and it’s… That’s the biggest misconception. Yes, you get told what to do because that is how you get work done, not because… It’s not like there’s people who join the military like, “I just love being yelled at.” “I have no self-esteem and I want someone to just like demean me all the time and tell me to do stupid stuff.” No, that’s… None of us join for that reason. It’s worrying about being told what to do is kind of like so completely secondary for soldiers when they serve. That’s just a way of accomplishing work. There is so much else that comes with service that is satisfying and rewarding that you don’t really… You stop thinking about the whole “my goodness, I’m being yelled at by somebody” kind of thing.
Question: Do you enjoy the camaraderie?
Jason Christopher Hartley: The camaraderie is definitely maybe even the most rewarding part of it. I mean as an individual, our ability to experience is completely limited to what happens, you know, inside the little prison of our own skulls and… I mean this is probably… I don’t really play a whole lot of team sports, so I imagine this is something that athletes could tell you all about and probably articulate it better than I could, but to be able to accomplish anything that requires a lot of people acting in concert is just -- it feels phenomenal. Even in a job that is like inherently so completely destructive, it still is satisfying to be able to say OK, we had that building. We had to raid it. We accomplished the missions. We found the bad guys. We detained whoever and the only way that we were able to do it was by all of us acting together, inherently selflessly, and accomplishing the task. And that’s that kind of thing that you don’t… I don’t think… You never really get tired of that feeling. You just, it feels… You always want to be repeating that feeling, because you know you can’t build something by yourself. It takes a whole group of people, and when you have a group of people who know how to do something well and you execute it, yeah, it’s satisfying and that’s what it all boils down to, is the camaraderie. That’s how you get it done is because you feel close to the people you’re working alongside.
Question: What surprised you personally about the Army?
Jason Christopher Hartley: Well, first I thought that oh, I’m 17. I’ll join the Army and somehow they’ll magically transform me into a man and I’ll be a badass afterward. That never happened. That was a misconception. I don’t know. I don’t feel as though I really had that many misconceptions. You kind of join and you’re fairly clueless. I mean I’ve always sort of said I think that people tend to join the military for really dumb reasons, really bad ones, generally because you’re usually young when you do it and you kind of like in the back of your head think I’m going to maybe a chance to kill someone, I just want to blow stuff up, it’s going to get me girls, something not terribly evolved, but I think people tend to re-enlist for a lot better reasons. You realize the ways in which it’s rewarding and it actually feels good. I mean I’m kind of a lazy dude, and the fact that I have a thing that I’ve been able to do regularly and feel, you know, maybe I’m broke most of my life, at least I’m providing some kind of service, maybe that might be of some benefit to somebody and at least I have that, and that does feel good, and it feels good to re-enlist for that reason.
What you can’t know about the Army until you join.
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