You are dreaming: a happy image of your hometown, a less complicated time. A person attractive to you walks up to you, opening their mouth as if to begin to speak.
Your eyes shoot open as the dream shatters around you. You jump quickly out of your top bunk in a panic and start to make your bed. You are in Basic Training for the Army. It’s your second week in. The Cold War-era speakers that abruptly woke you begin to bark orders.
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Morning formation is in 15 minutes! Uniform is PTs [physical training uniform for the military]! Short sleeve shirt! Shorts! Socks! Sneakers! You have 15 minutes!
In a fluid motion you smooth over your bed, grab your shower bag, and sprint to the bathroom. A long line of fellow soldiers are waiting, each person eager to shave and brush his teeth. After you are done, you quickly find a sink, shave and brush your teeth in record time, and head back to your wall locker. After putting away your bag and locking up, you sprint downstairs to formation.
As you wait in formation for the rest of the soldiers to arrive, you try to remember the dream. The only thing you remember is the face of that person who was about to speak. The thought feels like a drop of water in a desert, a small relief in a hostile environment. That memory will get you through the struggles of the day.
Fast forward a year almost to the day. You are sitting in a C-130, a military plane that is flying you from Kuwait to Baghdad. The seats are uncomfortable; the weight of your body armor is cutting off blood supply to your legs. You shift your legs often to get just a couple minutes of relief before they start hurting again. Mercifully, your brain shuts off, and you sleep for what seems like an eternity. The pain in your legs wakes you back up. You look down at your watch, and only 10 minutes have passed. You have 50 more minutes to go. You try to doze off again.
Once again, you are jolted awake, but this time it is because the plane is descending, and fast. It feels like you are falling out of the sky, that the pilot is trying to crash you into the concrete of the runway instead of landing on it. You miss Delta Airlines. The plane slams onto the runway. It bounces a few times, but you have landed safely.
Immediately, dust begins to fill the air. The back of the plane opens, and light shines through as if it is a light at the end of the tunnel. The heat hits you in the face like a violent punch, and you stumble off the back. Your very first thought as your boot hits the concrete is:
I am now in a war zone.
Fast forward three weeks. You are still in Baghdad. Your bleary eyes open, and you stumble to the showers. As the water hits your body, the quiet is pierced by an alarm.
Bzzzz! Incoming! Incoming! Incoming! Bzzzzz!
You freeze in the shower and turn off the water. You wait and listen.
Shew! Shhh! Shhhhheww!
You hear four or five explosions nearby. You punch the wall in anger and keep on showering. It is your job as a military intelligence analyst to find these people who are firing the rockets at your base. Each rocket attack is a blatant reminder of how you have failed thus far.
Fast forward 15 months. You are on a plane that lands back in the United States. You want to kiss the ground as soon as you get off the plane. Your appreciation for your country has grown a thousand fold.
Fast forward a year later. You are back in Iraq for your second tour, lighting up a cigarette and standing over the location where your friend committed suicide only 12 hours ago. You take a long drag, just stand there, and stare.
Fast forward one year. You are in a nondescript, nearly empty room. An emotionless person stamps your paperwork and shakes your hand. Your service in the Army is quietly over. As you leave, you know that the past five and a half years has changed you, mostly for the better but with some heavy burdens. You know that you will never quite fit in again with the rest of society, but you are determined to make a positive impact wherever life takes you next. You hold your head high. You are decorated. You are strong in mind, and you are hopeful for the future.
Fast forward two years. You walk onto the Wesleyan campus for the first time.
Wesleyan is, unsurprisingly, the antithesis to the Army. The Army was highly structured; Wesleyan is choose-your-own-adventure. The Army couldn’t have cared less about offending anyone and was not politically correct in any way; Wesleyan is much more concerned with the emotional repercussions of speech. The Army promoted uniformity; Wesleyan has a culture that encourages individualism and experimentation.
I have, though, heard and participated in some of the same conversations in the Army and on campus. The issue of equality for women was hotly discussed in the Army, and it’s obviously important at the University as well. The difference, though, is that in the Army, with its non-politically correct culture, these conversations were more honest: Everybody felt free to speak his or her mind. I wish I could say the same about Wesleyan.
Yet, surprisingly, I have found that there are parallels between Wesleyan and the Army. The Army was very concerned with ensuring equality for all its members, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexuality. It was a system based off of meritocracy: if you could do your job well, you could thrive. Like any organization—like Wesleyan itself—it still struggled with racism and sexism but attempted with varying degrees of success to combat these inequalities.
Like Wesleyan, the Army was diverse, with people from all over the country and all over the world. The mixing of cultures was not always harmonious and free of strife, but overall, both the Army and the University are examples of how diversity can benefit an organization and country as a whole.
Although Wesleyan at first appeared completely outside of my wheelhouse, a world foreign to my own, I’ve found many similarities. I’ve started to find my place here, as a writer for the paper and as a member of the Wesleyan Student Assembly. I’m very much looking forward to the next four years.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.