Let’s Look at the Military for Writing Inspiration
Inspiration is all around. And so it should come as no great shock that the military can be another source from which to draw.
So let’s look at military service in depth.
Basic Training on the Military
Probably the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not all a monolith. And it’s not all about war and wartime.
In the United States, the main branches are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The newest addition is the Space Force.
In addition, consider that there are very big differences between people who are drafted versus volunteers. There are folks who only stay for their single tour. And there are others who reup and become career soldiers.
Yet another type is people who attend military training schools.
It’s a Job
Yep, it’s a job. It has hours, duty rosters, supervisors, and training. The TV show M*A*S*H shows the bureaucracy of the military. Watch the characters Radar O’Reilly and then Max Klinger and see all the forms they fill out.
Another good example of military bureaucracy is in the book Catch-22. In both instances, soldiers are drowning in paperwork.
And don’t forget that the military has courts, judges, and lawyers. The Judge Advocate General’s Corps can bring a legal twist to any stories about the military.
Starting with the Military
Volunteers may want to serve their country. Or they may want to go kill the enemy if we’re at war or are about to be. Or they may just want the benefits. These days, joining the military comes with major perks. It can be the ticket out of poverty for many.
But draftees, on the other hand, may resent being forced to serve. They might feel their lives have been interrupted, or they don’t want to risk themselves. In particular, if to them it feels like an unjust conflict, they could end up becoming downright dangerous.
For both types of soldier, basic training is a must. It can be very indoctrinating, turning reluctant law-abiding folks into killing machines.
Military Colleges, Academies, and Schools
There are dozens of schools for soldiers and sailors. They go from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont to the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Military prep schools offer something of the experience to high schools. Plus many universities and colleges—otherwise unaffiliated with the military—have a chapter of the ROTC on campus or nearby.
Recruiters promise civilians a lot. And sometimes they deliver. But during the war in Afghanistan in particular, there were a number of soldiers who hadn’t quite expected to have to fight when the only thing they were in the military for was the free education.
In addition, there’s been some spoofing of the recruitment process, in films such as Stripes.
The Front… and the Back
So the front, of course, is where the real action is. However, in this, the age of nuclear bombs, the front might just be everywhere. In addition, with the advent of drone warfare, there may not be an actual front. At least, not one that any human beings actually go to.
Contrast this with the fighting in the Somme during the first world war. Or Pickett’s Charge. But while both of those were happening, there were still soldiers who were nowhere near the fighting.
Without getting into medical care, of course members of the military can be hurt or even killed. And sometimes the wounds are psychological, where a veteran suffers from PTSD. For a good portrayal of a veteran with PTSD, check out Downton Abbey episode two of the second season, where new valet Lang has what at the time they called ‘shell shock’.
There’s also the matter of self-inflicted injuries so as to escape the front. Again, Downton Abbey delivers; this time it’s Thomas the butler raising his hand in a trench to have it shattered so he can come home. This is episode one of the second season.
Every war has soldiers who get sick of the fighting and just plain go AWOL. Changing sides and betraying your country can be great fodder for drama, as can the reaction of the folks back home.
Conduct Unbecoming and Court Martials
The court martial is a particularly good source of drama. A Few Good Men makes it the centerpiece of the film. So there’s even a court martial in the original Star Trek series.
Getting out can mean an honorable discharge. But discharges can also be dishonorable. Soldiers get out because the war ends, or their enlistment period does. They may get out because of injuries making it impossible for them to fight. Older career soldiers and sailors can retire.
Or you can be kicked out essentially. A dishonorable discharge may be rendered only by conviction at a general court-martial for very serious offenses (e.g., treason, espionage, desertion, sexual assault, or murder) that call for dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence.
There are also general discharges and bad conduct discharges.
One role for veterans in real life can be attempt to correct a less than honorable discharge. Veterans might also march in parades or speak at schools—and not necessarily for recruitment purposes. Plus there are veterans with permanent injuries. The VA administration exists to help with their transition to civilian life, but the VA is chronically underfunded.
As a result, there are homeless veterans, and vets who need medical care but aren’t getting it.
Military Inspiration: Takeaways
This barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the ways you can turn to the military for writing inspiration.
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