Joel Silva, 2001
Should I tell them? Should I keep it a secret? What will they think if I tell them, or worse, how will they react toward me? Should I keep hidden so that I can fit in and be treated with dignity? Will I meet people that will treat me for who I am, or will I just be another G.I.?
It’s Friday night. The guys are getting ready, and we’re going out tonight to meet some girls, drink, and have a great time. It’s boys’ night out. We get to the club, and we’re recognized right away, but we haven’t realized it yet.
More of our friends have shown up, and we greet them with a loud cheer. So have I just described a typical start of a Friday evening back home or here in Watertown, NY? Truth is, it could have been either, but the way a group of guys is noticed around here is by their haircuts first. Then they are just G.I.’s. Now that I’ve been recognized, all of the labels come my way. Immediately, I am a loud, rude, womanizing, abusive jerk. My main concern is me; heck, I’ll be gone soon anyway, off to some other land, and another conquest. Then you find out I’m in the infantry, so now you know I’m dumb; I only do this because I couldn’t cut it by doing a real job. Hey, remember that soldier who dated your cousin last year and got her knocked up and left two weeks later for Korea? Don’t forget about your best friend who moved all the way to Georgia when she married that G.I., and they got divorced because when he was deployed, they cheated on each other.
I have heard people say many of these things regarding men in the military. Get to know me. That’s all I ask. When you think of your friends and relatives, stop and think that it might not have been the military causing these problems. It might have been just the people. When it comes to women, I’m neither a user or an abuser. Often I get a good ribbing from other guys for treating a girl too well. That, I guess, is a guy trying to act like a guy. I do my job, and I’m proud of it, but don’t go around trying to make it seem like I’m better than those around me because they don’t choose or can’t do what I have chosen to do.
The other day I was paid a strange compliment. I told someone I was in the Army, and she surprised. The compliment was when she said I seem too nice and caring to be in the Army. While that was nice of her to say, I felt badly for everyone in uniform that doesn’t get a fair shake because of our haircut or the uniform that we wear, a uniform that when we go to another country proudly has our flag on it for all to see.
How do I deal with many of the stereotypes? Well, I have for the most part just hung around with other G.I.’s, because I’m looked at for who I am, not who someone else is or what he does. Whenever I go home, I never have a problem telling people who I am and what I do. They are intrigued and feel good that they know someone who is doing something for himself and his country. Luckily, these stereotypes are just that for me. The Army has only bettered me by instilling a better sense of pride and inner discipline. It hasn’t taken away my compassion for life and other human beings. I mostly want to let people know not to judge all haircuts the same. Hey, get to know someone in uniform. You may be surprised. If anyone wants to know more from me, ask away—you may be surprised at what I have to offer.