Three Things PJ School Didn’t Teach Me

When my friend Bill Harris asked me to write an article for Trauma Monkeys.  I was honored and torn. Torn because I never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. What in the hell would I write about? There are tons of guys out there with more experience and an even greater number of consonants following their names such as M.D., PhD etc. Bill suggested that I write about the three things they didn’t teach me at PJ School.

            I racked my brain. It has been some time since I graduated that course of instruction and for the life of me I couldn’t recall any medically related deficiencies. That’s not to say that there weren’t any; it was just so long ago I couldn’t recall them.  I’ve thought long and hard about those three things and here is what I’ve come up with.


One. How to lose.

Not in the sense a reader might assume. We lose games all the time. We lose our keys, we lose our cool. You have to lose to learn how to win right? Without hundreds of failures you can’t perfect success? That’s not the kind of losing I’m talking about. I never learned how to lose the people I care about. As a paramedic I know injuries and treatments, vital signs and clinical indicators. What I never learned was how to deal with the loss of a friend, a fellow combatant, a brother-in-arms. Those are loses that no matter how much or little we are involved we feel their impact. I still don’t know how we are supposed to handle that. We lose men and women every day yet somehow we are expected to move forward performing our duties as we have always performed them. There are grief counselors and chaplains and a myriad of other avenues that are supposed to help us navigate our turbulent sea of emotions but it was never anything I learned at PJ School. Coming from a world were “losing” was synonymous with failure, I still struggle with those loses.


Two. How to sacrifice.

Though I be the Lone Survivor” was our mantra in the Ranger Battalion. “That Others may Live” was the motto as a PJ.  The expectation that went with those mottos, the assumption, was that one be willing to lay down his life for another or for the mission. It’s the job. Everyone knows it. But what of the sacrifices we make in our day-to-day lives and the people that are affected by our jobs? Like many with a similar background, we sacrifice time. We alienate spouses and became strangers to our children. How do we as a collective cope with that kind of sacrifice? Most never differentiate between job and home life. It’s the military. Sacrifice is part of it all the way around. But is there a better way? I don’t know. I never thought I would get to a point where I would be the guy writing such an article but here I am. Having sacrificed every personal relationship I ever had in pursuit of a career that also asked I sacrifice my life if necessary. PJ School never taught me the difference. To be honest, I didn’t care to learn even if they had because I didn’t expect to be around this long. Which brings me to my next point.


Three. How to plan.

Not operations mind you. I’ve got that down to a “T.” Rather, how to plan for a future with me in it.  Explanation? Here it is: I thought for sure, from the moment I signed the documents at the MEPS station that I would be dead before the end of my time in service. I hoped for it. The only thing I cared about in that thick stack of paperwork was the Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and making sure it was filled out correctly. I honestly believed that my death would solve a lot of financial issues for my family. When that didn’t happen I chose to reenlist twice more.  In secret and often aloud I longed for the blackness of death and when it didn’t come I was disappointed. I never planned for a future that didn’t involve throwing myself out of helicopters and airplanes and shooting guns in preparation for return fire combat that ended in some sort of Lieutenant Dan style death. In my mind, that kind of foresight was for the folks that worked those “regular” jobs in the military. The longer I’ve been out of the service, the more people I meet that had similar expectations; and if not expectations, similar lack of planning.


So what does this all mean? Nothing at all. If you’re a barrel chested freedom fighter doing the do, kicking ass and taking names, I applaud you and wish I was still you. I love you and those like you with all my heart and soul. But hopefully you take away these small bits of wisdom from a guy that doesn’t know shit; you’re going to lose people you care about and you can’t walk that off. You’re going to sacrifice relationships for your job and rubbing dirt on it or a shot of go-juice doesn’t bring them back. In all likelihood your days of runnin’ and gunnin’ will come to an end and you better make damned sure you’ve planned a future with you as a part of it otherwise you’ll end up floundering in the shallows like a beached whale wondering how someone who had such an illustrious past filled with adventure and excitement wound up all alone with nowhere to go.


Those are the three things they didn’t teach me in PJ school. Feel free to rip me a new one for being a sentimental p*%##y.

Wil Willis