Hurry up and wait.
During my years in the Army this was probably the most common phrase I heard and one of the few phrases used throughout all the branches of the military. We had different missions, different uniforms, different ranks, different words for the same things, even everyday things like where we went to the bathroom (we called it a latrine, the Navy called it a head, the Air Force called it who knows what and the Marines just go wherever).
But one thing we all understood was hurry up and wait. It’s not as common in civilian life, for certain, but any soldier, airman, sailor or marine knows damn well what it means to hustle to be at some place by some time, only to sit and do nothing after arriving. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I was awake before dawn, scrambling into gear, scurrying to get to a formation, a rally point, or into my seat on the tank to fire up the engine simultaneously with the other tanks in the platoon (we did this to mask our count), only then to sit and wait for whatever was going to happen next. Only those who have served know what it means to hightail it somewhere and then spend the next few hours trying to make a comfortable seat out of a duffel bag.
Hurry up and wait pretty much sums up my Desert Storm experience. We were training in the California desert when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we spent the next 2 weeks in a dirty, hot misery practicing tank formations, wondering if we’d even get to go home. We did get to go home, and then we waited. We waited for the call to come that entire autumn, and then, as December rolled into January and the lines in the sand became ever more pronounced and we got increasingly anxious, we somehow managed to find a way to both hurry up and wait at the same time.
I was fortunate then. My Reserve unit never got the call, and other than some extra duty providing support by letting the Idaho Air National Guard use our tanks as practice targets we sat that conflict out.
I came on Active Duty 2 years later and was fortunate again. I spent a lot of time hurrying, and a lot of time waiting, but once again the conflicts of the world didn’t summon me. I missed going to Kosovo because a minor training injury held me back, and then, for a little while, the world was relatively peaceful. I left the service a few years later because of the small injury, long before the events of 9/11 changed the world forever.
For the most part I enjoyed my time in the military. I did my share of hurrying. I did my share of waiting. I trained, with all the others, for whatever it would be that we would have to face if the waiting ever stopped.
I’m proud of my time and I’m happy I served. Today, though, I’m grateful that I never had to find out what was on the other side of the waiting. For those of you who did, who hurried up, who waited, and then were called to action: my helmet is off to you.