When I was a junior at West Point, acting as a Cadre for the rising plebes, basic training or BEAST Barracks, I was confronted with a completely unexpected question. A female New Cadet knocked at my door and asked if she could have a personal conversation with me. I was a bit of a hard ass during BEAST, so this was way out of the ordinary. I could tell something was really bothering her, and I asked her to sit down. She explained that she was a Christian and that the more she was around West Point, the more the reality of what we had signed up to do was coming to light and she was thinking about quitting. The cadences, the training, the education, the stress all of it was to get us conditioned to be able to kill other people and to lead troops to do the same. She looked at me, not as her squad leader, but as another human being and asked me how I was able to justify that ideal. I was 19, almost 20, and I was floored, so I abandoned all auspices of being wise and simply did my best to explain how I dealt with the moral challenge she raised. I don't want to kill anyone. If I serve my entire military career and never shoot anyone or get shot at, I will be a very happy man. Frankly, the idea of having to kill someone scares the shit out of me. She looked at me quizzically. It wasn't what she expected. Then why are you here, sir?? I paused for a minute, and then said, Because I know I can do it, and I know most people cannot. There are a lot of people in this world who don't share our beliefs about the value of human life who will kill at a whim, rape for amusement, torture to pass the time. I know they are out there, and I know that someone will have to deal with them. Someone has to keep them at bay. I think about my family, my friends, my girlfriend, my little cousins. I think about something happening to them that I could have prevented. Someone has to do this job. Someone has to. Not everyone can. Not everyone has the strength. I think I do. I think I can do a good job leading men in combat if I have to. It scares the hell out of me that I might be wrong because other people's sons and daughters and cousins and brothers and sisters will be counting on me. I work hard every single day to make sure I am ready. I push you guys to make sure I?ve done everything to help you be ready. At times though, my mind will run away and the idea of that responsibility becomes overwhelming. In those moments, when doubt creeps in along the edges of my consciousness, I ask myself, If not me, then who?? And I steel myself again. Someone has to do this job. We kind of sat there for a minute as she pondered what I had said and I realized this was the first time I had expressed my real belief on the matter. I'm going to pay you the only compliment you will ever hear from me for the next year. You're a smart girl, tough as hell, and your classmates respect you, which says a lot. What's more, I think it speaks to your character and beliefs that you are wrestling with the reality of this job. If you want to do this, you'll do it and you'll do it well, but don't let me convince you. I'm not trying to. It has to be your call. We each have to search our own beliefs and faith and make sure this fits. It's a tall order and the military asks for all of it. Personally, I'd rather have officers around me that aren't rash kids trying to prove something. I want people who really know what happens when they pull the trigger. I think that's you. I think you?ll show restraint, mercy, and compassion, and that is incredibly important. A brief moment passed and she looked up at me. I think I am going to stay, sir. You helped a lot, she said with a slight smile on her face. ?Before you say that, I stopped her, there's another piece to it. If you do find yourself in that position, where you are leading our troops and it's you or the enemy?? I paused, weighing how clear I should make my point. Yes, sir?? ?Old Testament. Fire. Brimstone. They should regret ever being born and they should know fucking with you was the worst and last decision they ever made.? ?Yes, sir. Sir, I?m staying.? ?Understood. By the way, your shoes look terrible and your belt buckle is smudged. If I ever see that again I will personally run you out of the Corps. Fix that shit and be back on my wall in 2 minutes!"
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