For years, the U.S. Army has been receiving criticism for supposedly using video games as a recruiting tool. My only response is this: of course they are. The main demographic the military is looking for is men 18-21. Young men play video games, so of course they’re reaching out with something that would catch their attention. It also doesn’t work.
I’ve been in the Army for nearly five years, and I’ve never met a single person who joined because of Call of Duty, Halo, or Battlefield. Not a one. If you’re wondering about a sudden influx of recruits, the economy has a far larger influence on that. Plus, the boy who is a Walter Mitty for the military is probably too out of shape to pass basic recruiting standards in the first place. In fact, most potential recruits are.
While gaming does not leave you physically prepared, there are some habits I developed over nearly twenty years of gaming that actually came in handy in ways I never imagined.
1. The grind
I love a good RPG grind. Hours upon hours of doing a repetitive task over and over again, slowly watching yourself get better at the task, or get stronger as a result. We all have a RPG we replay every few years or so. I have two: Final Fantasy IX and Legend of Dragoon.
The ability to commit and do a task over and over again is a skill you need in the Army. Most training in the Army is repetition. I know Infantrymen who can drop their magazine, load a new one, pull back and release the charging handle, tap the forward assist, and fire again in about two seconds. I can do it in about five seconds, and I’m Intel.
You learn that by doing it over and over and over again. Same for dime and washer drills: you pull back and release the charging handle, switch to semi, and dry fire while balancing a dime or washer on the muzzle of your weapon. This is to learn control of your trigger squeeze, because pulling your trigger will shift your entire weapon off-target. You need to squeeze the trigger without making the dime fall. My record is thirty-three consecutive trigger squeezes.
This amount of patience is something I learned from the grind.
2. Staying awake
I love a good game marathon. Playing for so long I literally start to feel the controller sway and my head bob as I grapple with consciousness. Instead of submitting, you grab a Monster, Red Bull, or whatever your poison is. I smoked up until last year, so stepping out for a few minutes to smoke really helped.
Anyone who has ever been to basic combat training will tell you the hardest part is not basic, it’s reception. Before you go to basic, you spend a few days in reception. This is where most of your initial paperwork is done: medical, vaccinations, issuing your uniforms, etc.
Everyone is coming to basic from all over the country. In some cases, all over the world. I had several guys from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, China, Russia, Bulgaria and all over Africa in my company at basic. Because of that, we are all on different sleep schedules. The only way to fix that is that keep everyone awake for a terribly long amount of time, let us sleep, then wake us all up at the same time.
In replacement, I was awake for nearly three days straight. People around me were falling asleep standing. Some cracked, went a little batshit, and were allowed to go home and leave the Army then and there. Some people just couldn’t handle the yelling, the orders, and being literally falling-down tired wasn’t helping.
Other times you need to stay awake in the Army is when you have a twenty-four hour duty called CQ (Charge of Quarters) or Staff Duty. This is where you stand by your unit HQ and guard the premises. What you’re guarding is the Guidon (Unit Flag) and the TA-50 room, where your company’s equipment is stored under lock and key. You are also there to answer calls or respond in the event the unit command needs to be notified of emergencies or incidents.
CQ is boring as all hell, and staying awake is harder than you think. I learned to stay awake through years spent mastering the art of staying up all night to play games.
3. The competitive spirit
With the drawdown of the military currently taking place, this makes the Army very competitive. While with few exceptions the Army must honor your contract, the Army does not have to let you re-enlist. If your job is over-strength, and you’re disposable, that’s it for your career. You need to constantly be applying yourself to make yourself an asset for the Army.
This is why I’m Air Assault qualified. This is why I did dime and washer drills in the prone till my elbows bled, and I shot 39 out of 40. This is why I graduated with honors from the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) Academy. This is why I lost ten pounds and worked to improve the score of my PT test by thirty points.
I’ve spent my entire life in perpetual competition. This kind of goes hand in hand with having three older brothers. My entire life was spent trying to be as good as them at everything. While I was never as good at everything, I certainly loved the thrill of the competition more than I ever cared about winning. Winning is great don’t get me wrong, and I’ll always strive to win, but focusing just on winning is aggravating and often demoralizing.
Twenty years of video games sharpened that competitive spirit into the edge I needed to strive in the Army.