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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

womens committee imageWhy I Serve

By Daniel Voorhies ’03

I graduated from Reed in 2003 with a major in history, thinking I had an idea of what I wanted to do with myself. Three years later, I was living in Brooklyn, New York, working at a job I didn’t enjoy, and wondering what I was going to do next. I considered that great alternative to the real world—graduate school—but realized that further education would be pointless without some sort of direction or purpose. So, I joined the U.S. Army.

That may seem like a massive jump, and many who knew me were surprised that I would consider the army at all. I’d always been interested in the military, however, and I thought that serving for a tour or two might be beneficial to me and open up career options later in life. I was also filled with what some might refer to as “white middle class guilt.” It didn’t sit well with me that while my fellow citizens were getting shot at and serving multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, I should be sitting around in safety and comfort. Finally, I wanted a job where I could feel like I was making a difference in the world. Of course, my friends and loved ones pointed out that I could get this sort of job satisfaction in the Peace Corps or working as a teacher. My response was that I don’t have the patience to teach kids, and in the Peace Corps, you can’t jump out of airplanes or rappel out of helicopters.

After a month of introspection, I went to talk to a recruiter about becoming an officer. At that time, the army forecasted that it would be 1,500 lieutenants short in fiscal year 2007. Because of this, my application went through rapidly, and almost before I knew it, I was holding up my right hand, swearing to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Basic training wasn’t much fun. Mostly this was because for the first time in my life I was tired, physically sore, and under a significant amount of emotional and mental stress. I wasn’t used to doing push-ups for minor mistakes, often made by other trainees in my platoon. But basic is only nine weeks long, and in retrospect seems too easy. The army, simply put, does not want its soldiers to fail. It will go to great lengths to ensure that they succeed. After basic training, I went to Officer Candidate School, where the hardest adjustment was being placed in leadership positions under stressful conditions.

The army has proved to be not entirely what I expected, but I am still glad that I decided to serve in it. It fosters a sense of unity and purpose that would never be found in the civilian world. I believe soldiers do more to help each other than civilians will do for one another, which in my opinion is due to the deeply ingrained knowledge that one day our ability to survive will depend on the man to the left or right. There is a common slogan: “One team, one fight.” Most soldiers pay much more than mere lip service to this concept. Finally, soldiers recognize that everyone serving in uniform volunteered to do so, and therefore we all share a common bond, no matter what our other differences may be.

I imagine most Reedies have had minimal contact with the military, and might ask whether my experiences in the army have served to challenge my education or beliefs.  Everything I’ve learned in the army has ultimately been for two reasons: to accomplish the mission and to take care of my fellow soldiers. I believe that these two seemingly simple goals become very challenging in a combat zone, and that my ability to do my job well will be a matter of life or death for myself and for others. My understanding of that stark fact has served to limit the cognitive dissonance I may have felt between my experiences at Reed and in the military. In a similar vein, I don’t worry about whether differences in socioeconomic background will hinder my ability to command or relate to other soldiers. Soldiers volunteer to serve, and they tend to believe that what you do in the army counts for much more than what you did in civilian life. One’s capabilities are more important than one’s origins. 

Despite the hazards and sacrifices, I am proud to serve as an officer in the United States Army. I only hope that I can fulfill my obligations to any soldiers placed under my command, and bring all of them back home again. When I was a student, that phrase and many like it may have appeared trite and formulaic. However, when entrusted with the lives and welfare of others, I can see the meaning behind such statements.

Daniel Voorhies was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Transportation Corps earlier this year. He is currently attending the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007