After more than ten years, December marked my last month as a Red Bull. Technically, I had been transferred in November, but elected to make my last drill before Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) with my old unit, since the holiday party would be a fitting endcap to my tenure there. My new unit will not see me for many months, such is the length of the path of the warrant officer, and indeed I barely consider myself their man; viewing them rather as just some people who make sure I get paid once a month while I go somewhere else.
My new unit is still in Minnesota, but it’s not nearly as storied as the Red Bulls. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the Army is that sense of lineage, the history that pervades even inane shit like company change-of-command ceremonies. In a post-modern society that worships at the altar of new and shiny and looks upon tradition with disdain, the Army is a refreshingly grounded organization, fairly reveling in its heritage. Perhaps many don’t feel the same, but I am occasionally energized by the thought that I’m an inheritor of the Army of long past, that I am upon a page of history still in the writing, within the same book as the men of Anzio and Gettysburg – however small and anonymous my part may be.
Historical musings aside, I’ve worn the same patch on my left shoulder for all of my career until now, which means that I’ve “grown up” in the division, from a wide-eyed E-4 to the crusty E-7 (and soon to be lower-than-dirt, weaker-than-zygote warrant officer candidate) that I am now. In a very real way, the Red Bulls have shaped my career, my personality, my character, and my life for the last ten years. Of course, it’s not like I’m leaving the Army; and indeed, it is almost certain that I’ll wear the ol’ skull on my shoulder again. But it’s one of two stark transitions: the transition out of the division, and the transition from an enlisted man to warrant officer.
The Army, too, is in transition: the end of the war in Afghanistan is in sight, and post-war budget cuts loom large in nearly every conversation. The institutional memory of the lean post-Vietnam and post-Gulf War days is strong, and we enter 2013 wondering where the first hammer-blow will fall. Morale isn’t low, per se, and arguably the Guard has emerged from a decade of war the strongest, best-equipped, and most organized it has been perhaps in its entire history. Certainly, these years of integration with the active component have made us much more adept at asking for and getting support, influence, and money – though we will reap the bitter harvest of big-Army bureaucracy in the coming years as a price for our expanded role.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent more than ten years as a soldier – and it seems in many ways that I’m just getting started. I have a long career ahead of me, and I’m sure it’ll be just as surprising and will take just as many unexpected turns as those years behind me.