In one year, at 18 years old, I will be considered old enough to join the U.S. Armed Forces. And I think that’s ridiculous.
I look around at my classmates, our future soldiers, and I worry. Perhaps they appear qualified to recruiters, who may spend an hour or two every couple of weeks on our high school campus, but to me, the person who has spent three years around them, they are far from it. At 18, you are not a grown-up. If high school is considered the bridge from childhood to adulthood, I will be the first to refute it. Yet we let these “adults” join a service that can deploy them into some of the most dangerous areas of the world, have them represent our country as a defending force, train them how to kill, and convince them it is honorable to die for its cause.
The armed forces runs an institution that can be downright discriminatory. Until only three years ago, soldiers weren’t allowed to serve and be openly gay. Trans servicemen and women are still being discharged for their identity. Military women face a sexual assault rate far higher than the rest of the female population, or as the Washington Times puts it, “The military is suffering a sexual misconduct epidemic.” Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are often encouraged by their leaders to join the military in preparation for the “race war,” and although they are banned from enlisting, they often slip through the cracks. Forrest Fogarty, a neo-Nazi who often flaunted racist tattoos and beliefs, was only discharged after attempting to send a submachine gun to his father.
At least 20 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. The approach to mental health has been long overlooked, a seemingly passive process that has allowed servicemen to duck under easy standards and resulted in shooting rampages in Afghanistan and at home bases.
If I want to work a desk job, I often have to have a bachelor’s degree, four years of education before I can even set my hands down on a keyboard. To join the military, to fight, protect, operate intelligence, participate in overseas operations, all I need is my 18th birthday.
I mean not to criticize any servicemen or veterans; in fact, I only plead for a safer, better-managed system. It is often not the people that are at fault but the machine they are thrown into and often abused in. Boot camp and advanced individual training (AIT) are not enough to prepare and nurture a mere teenager. I make extreme points to show that we’re putting our young men and women in a dangerous and corrupt organization. In one year, I know I would never enlist for an institution that claims to protect our country, but presents harm to those in and outside of it.