If you and I are close on social media, or real life, you probably knew that I took two and a half months off this year to attend Officer Training School (OTS) in order to pursue my commission in the Air National Guard. The whole endeavor was fairly intense, so blogging about it in its entirety would be virtually impossible, but I want to highlight a few aspects that I think will be worth remembering throughout the rest of my career.
Making the decision to get married is absolutely exciting, but the process of actually going through the ceremony of committing to your betrothed can be a logistics nightmare. If you live in a rural area and have a large extended family, you might be able to pull-off a do-it-yourself (DIY) wedding, but for many of us that just isn't an option.
Which leaves one of two options: Renting a venue, handling vendors, and orchestrating the wedding with a very hands-on approach; or hiring a "turn key" venue or wedding planner that handles all of the details for you. The idea of negotiating with about eight different companies and trying to make sure that we avoided unnecessary hidden fees or bloated packaged options was a nightmare, and we simply couldn't afford to pay someone to take care of it for us.
Luckily, Disney came to the rescue. Well, more specifically, the US Department of Defense resort, Shades of Green, came to our rescue.
Going to Disney, arguably one of the more magical places on the planet, is somewhere in the middle. A destination wedding may seem like a good way to waste money, but compared to the Arkansas average ($14,000) or the U.S. average of $25,000, the $12,000 wedding at Shades of Green was a steal. The wedding packages offered by Disney are fairly expensive, but if you or your fiance are veterans, then you may be eligible for a wedding at Shades of Green, the military resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Just being eligible doesn't mean that a Shades of Green wedding is right for you, however. To help you make that decision, I took some pretty good notes while planning our $4,000 wedding and $4,800 honeymoon (for you math wizards: $8,800 for both the wedding and honeymoon is well average in Arkansas for the wedding alone) to help you understand what's involved with a Shades of Green wedding.
As an Atheist Airmen, I do not sacrifice for the betterment of society with the belief that I'll be rewarded in the next life. I do so knowing that, if I am called upon to sacrifice, it is not a matter of divine providence, but of personal choice. This doesn't make me heroic, but it certainly doesn't make me villainous to simply want that distinction recognized and respected. Every service member is more than their military service; we are first and foremost American citizens who deserve the same respect and rights in which our civilian counterparts are afforded.
Rather than thank us for our service (a hollow gesture), take a moment to recognize that we're a person outside of that uniform. A person with whom you may disagree on a great many things; a person who may be a novelist, an atheist, or an engineer. Do not typecast us into a group of people deserving "hero cookies," but understand that our military service, like your day job, is mostly office politics and paperwork; it's fairly rare that we do anything "heroic."
I grew up during Operation Desert Storm and I would one day enlist to serve during Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom; and I'm not alone - my entire generation has had one single unifying fact that binds us together: we've been a generation at war. More specifically, we've been a generation that has been engaged in an unconventional war with very asymmetrical forces and we've seen a complete overhaul of the modern war fighter. As a result of my employment within the Department of Defense, coupled with my insatiable curiosity, I have been following our engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq with great interest.
So it should come as no surprise that when former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, released a new book - I jumped at the chance to read it.
I am a man of the ripe old age of twenty-three, and while my generation may lack some of the experiences of past generations, we carry an interesting perspective on life that must be acknowledged for its importance. We have always been a generation at war.
The realization that our generation has always been in war is not a solemn one for me, it's actually quite a trivial matter; statements like: "We've always been at war," or "My father, brother, husband, or myself may deploy and not return [the same]" have become facts of life. I say them with the same emotion and conviction that I would tell a child that the Earth revolves around the Moon, or that there aren't monsters under his bed. There is no trepidation, anxiety, or fear in my affirmation of these simple truths; they merely exist.
They exist in the same purgatory as this perpetually never ending conflict exists. This purgatory we find ourselves in is one of our own creation and its one that thousands every year seek to escape. We find ourselves in a limbo that we know nothing outside of, because it's all that we have ever been taught. We grew up in a post 9/11 world, where terrorism has surpassed communism as the 'big bad boogie man' and regulation for safety at the expense of freedom has become the status-quo.