Uniform Envy

Our current HuffPost Book Club pick is "What It Is Like To Go To War" by Karl Marlantes. We are talking about different aspects of the military experience over on our Book Club page; this entry was created as part of the discussion; go to the page to have your say.

"The worst day at sea is better than the best day at the Pentagon," gripes my Navy husband. This makes me wonder if the man is an idiot. Who would want to spend even one minute deployed compared to working at the Pentagon and coming home to a nice, warmy, lasagna-making family?

No one, that's who. A recent study ranked military service as one of the worst jobs in the country, along with being a lumberjack or a dairy farmer. The jobs that ranked highest featured few physical demands, minimal stress, and a good working environment.

Apparently, those are not jobs my sailor wants to have. Apparently, those are not the jobs a lot of other sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coasties want to have. Our military spouse community over at http://spousebuzz.com puzzles over this all the time. Why don't our service members crave safe, clean, stressless jobs like everyone else?

It wasn't until I got a job in the real world that I started to figure it out. It ain't an Oprah show out here, folks. Although some people are doing what they love and lovin' what they do, everyone else seems so tired. I go into office buildings where there is floor after floor of workers starting into computer screens. Their faces are gray, as if the screen itself is sucking the color from their skin, drawing the calcium from their bones. I look at these workers and think that this must be what it is like for my sailor to put in his time at the Pentagon. No wonder he would rather spend a sunny day running amphibious operations with the Marines off the coast of North Carolina, right?

Wrong. My husband says that isn't why, God help him, he loves it so. Because he does love it. He loves the emotional and mental demands of the work that simultaneously fill him up and drain him dry. He truly believes that his sailors belong to him, that he belongs to them, that they are his responsibility. He thinks that it is the element of risk--that thing that makes his job seem so undesirable to the outside world--that makes the job compelling. The whole thing gives me Uniform Envy.

So why isn't there more work out there like this for the rest of us? I don't mean that we need more military members or that we need more war. Nor do I think I personally ought to join the military because 1) I am a coward and 2) I have not run anywhere since puberty. What I mean is that I want a big noble thing at work to fight for and belong to like they have in the military. I want work that eats me body and soul. I want my kids and your kids to grow up and do work that challenges them in a way that makes them vigorous and hardy. Maybe that kind of work is more physical and more dangerous than the work we do now. But maybe--when those elements are put into play for a purpose bigger than our own comfort--that kind of work pays off in a way we can't imagine.

Even though so many Americans have jobs with few physical demands and low stress, I don't see bazillions of people out here passionate about their work. I don't see boatloads doing what they love and loving what they do. But I see that all the time among my military clients, my military friends and my military family. Granted, the entire military does not go about their work like the cast of Glee, but they are engaged in what they do. They give me Uniform Envy.