Lesson 18: Those before you had it rougher, those after you have it easier

Time goes on.  As we evolve, some things get easier, some things get more difficult, and the only thing that stays the same is that change is inevitable.  Young people tend to think they know everything, old people know that they know barely anything, and no matter how many answers you find, there always seems to be more questions.  These differences lead to an ongoing misunderstanding between different generations, but you start to see trends.  Have you ever heard someone older than you utter the phrase “back in my day,” or “during (insert difficult time or conflict), we had to (fill in something unpleasant sounding)?”  

If there is one thing I have learned, whether it is in the civilian world or military, anyone that was there before you had it tougher when they first started.  As time progresses and you see new people come in after you, it is noticeable that things are not as difficult for them.  What is happening?  During my third year on active duty, new recruits were talking about having cell phones in their wall lockers when they went through basic military training.  My attention was immediately diverted from what they were saying to the question in my mind wondering, “how does that make any sense?  Access to cell phones during basic training?  No wonder these new recruits are so soft.”  It wasn’t just the cell phones.  It was other new policies that would have made my instructors laugh had the subject come up.  Ready for my phone story? 

When I got to basic training, it seemed like there was nothing that could be more difficult.  The yelling, the impossible standards and tasks, the frequent discomfort and stress, and the list went on.  They took everything from us that individualized anyone and turned us into people that could operate in difficult, high stress environments.  There were plenty of times I did not think I would succeed.  You dig deep and adapt to the situation and then evolve as the things change.  We weren’t allowed to read or write letters for several weeks, didn’t even get our first phone call until Christmas morning (almost four weeks in), and that was ONLY because it was ordered by the squadron commander.  It was exciting until we were told that the 56 of us had 30 minutes, total, to use the four payphones.

This was in 2009 so you might be wondering, “where were your cell phones?”  All our personal belongings that were not authorized were stuffed into a closet and the door was locked.  All electronic devices were first confiscated.  We were issued sandwich bags and a permanent marker.  Cell phone batteries had to be removed from the phones and all electronics were put into these baggies and stuffed somewhere in the instructor’s office.  There was one instance in 59 days when members were reissued their phones to use for a call.  It was in the second to last week and was solely for the purpose of giving family members graduation information.  We were authorized 10 minutes and the entire flight would be punished with intense physical training if anyone exceeded the time.

The same concept applied to garrison bases and war zones.  I always found that the people who were there before me were talking about how bad things were and how easy we were getting it.  When you are in the moment, most people brush off the “old timer or veteran wisdom” and could care less about the “glory days.”  I have even worked in civilian jobs where they talked about the difficulties of a time long since gone and I have found that the only thing you can really do about it is smile and nod.  Most of the time, there are good intentions behind the stories.  They are trying to make things seem not so difficult so that you have a better or easier time.  Whether it is good natured or deliberately to make you feel bad, smile and nod.  There is not likely anything you can say that will change their attitude.  Don’t try.  Smile, nod, and press on.      

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