What is a Soldier?
By Thurman P. Woodfork - October 4, 2011
What makes someone a soldier? Well, just to take a guess,
sometimes all it took was a letter from the SSS. Hell, a
soldier can come from anywhere in our present society, and
be male or female, wealthy or working class, makes no
difference if you truly have the desire. Look at the recent
examples of Patrick Miller, Shoshanna Johnson, Lori Piestewa,
and Jessica Lynch, to name a few of the more well-known
members of the current rank and file.
really join up for those great sounding, patriotic reasons
like love of country and Mom's apple pie? Do they really
yearn to protect the Constitution and keep this country
free? Or maybe way, way down in their secret heart of
hearts, they're just adrenalin junkies: out for the
adventure, looking for a free trip around the world,
exploring exotic places like Khe Sanh and Kosovo.
There is a certain amount of joie de vivre to be had in
wearing a helmet and NBC uni in 100 plus degree desert heat,
or freezing one's unmentionables off in a snowed-in tent on
an icy mountaintop in Korea. Added zest comes from having
unseen, surly people drop mortars on you or craftily pick
off the last friend from your original outfit so that you
can hold him in your arms as he bleeds to death waiting for
Of course, there are some who choose to go
adventuring on the seas, regularly visiting such interesting
places as Japan, Italy, The Philippines, Yankee Station,
Yemen. It's said that the deck of an aircraft carrier is one
of the most dangerous places in the world. That could, in
itself, be adventure enough for many people. Okay, okay, so
you spent most of the trips between ports down in the bowels
of the ship in the engine room. So what? Think of the great
camaraderie you developed down there with your hard working
Then, one may simply decide to join the
military for reasons as prosaic as earning money to get a
college education after the enlistment is up. But what makes
so many reenlist after that first tour is over, and then the
second tour, and so on until they realize that they've
somehow become ‘The Dreaded Lifer'?
What is it,
really? It can't be the great pay or excellent working
conditions. Crawling through rice paddies or triple canopy
jungles while attracting leeches and sniper fire can't
logically be called a ‘perk'. No, it's something intangible,
like the enduring bonds forged with the folks who crept
through that jungle or froze on that mountain with you.
However, some people do their twenty without ever hearing a
shot fired in anger or having spent any time on the remote,
frozen tundra of some tiny, isolated spot like an Air Force
arctic radar station.
Can it be that there are people
who do require and enjoy the discipline and structure
inherent in the military life? They need order, a sense of
responsibility, the close-knit teamwork, camaraderie, and,
yes, love required of an effective unit. A unit that, after
all the trappings are put aside, is tasked to place its very
existence on the line in the continuing defense of a nation.
They are the bulls that always instinctively station
themselves on the perimeter of the herd and face outward to
deal with any danger that stalks their fellows.
after all is said and done, is a herd animal, though we may
call our particular herd a family, a squad, a neighborhood,
a tribe, a city, or a nation. Perhaps, in time, the limits
of our herd will be defined only by the boundaries of the
But, to be perfectly honest and to stop
dancing all around the question, I really don't know what
makes a true soldier. Maybe some do it because Dad was a
Lifer. Or, maybe like me, they just looked great in a
uniform. Plus, as Andy (Nicholas Andreacchio, Col., USA
(Ret.)) says, “We get to march in parades—and nobody can
beat our funerals.”
By Thurman P. Woodfork
Thurman P. Woodfork (Woody) spent his
Air Force career as a radar repairman in places as disparate as
Biloxi, Mississippi; Cut Bank, Montana; Tin City, Alaska; Rosas,
Spain and Tay Ninh, Vietnam. In Vietnam, he was assigned to
Detachment 7 of the 619th Tactical Control Squadron, a Forward Air
Command Post located on Trai Trang Sup. Trang Sup was an Army
Special Forces camp situated about fifty miles northwest of Saigon
in Tay Ninh province, close to the Cambodian border.
After Vietnam, Woody remained in the Air Force for nine more years.
Thurman P. Woodfork's site for more information
Comment on this article