By Courtney Woodruff
I twisted the dial on the mailbox until I heard the familiar click of the latch as it gave way. I shoved my hand into the small, rectangular compartment to retrieve what I assumed was just another handful of bills and junk mail. Instead, my fingers wrapped around a coveted pink package slip.
With a bounce in my step, I fell into line behind the other post office patrons waiting for their turn at the pick-up window. It wasn’t long before I’d exchanged the piece of paper for the slender cardboard mailing tube I’d been hoping to see.
We’d been waiting for this moment for a long time: The diploma he’d fought so hard to attain would finally be in his hands.
When my husband enlisted in the Army, one of his main objectives was to finish his bachelor’s degree. After nearly a decade of working full-time and taking college courses intermittently, he was just a few credits shy of graduation. Thanks to long-distance programs and educators willing to work with service members, he was able to complete his coursework with the first university he ever set foot in–the one where we met.
Last year, when he finally earned his degree, pats on the back and words of congratulations were quickly followed by the inevitable question: “So, when are you going to Officer Candidate School?”
Becoming an officer is a great honor. It is a revered, noble position in our armed forces.
But it isn’t everyone’s call of duty.
My husband’s first few years in the Army were disheartening at best. Due to color blindness, he ended up with a position in communications he may not have chosen otherwise. When his first enlistment contract came to an end, he found himself at a crossroads: Should he stay in and continue down what felt like a fruitless career path . . . or get out without any clear direction as to where to go next?
While discussing his options with a retention specialist, he was encouraged to apply for a competitive medical program that would allow him to switch career fields if he made it through the intense year-long training course.
A little over 12 months, countless hours in classrooms and hospitals, and a new assignment later, it was apparent – my husband had found his calling as a proud member of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Now, three years into his new military occupational specialty, my husband has found a great sense of purpose and passion in providing healthcare to service members, veterans, civilian workers, and their families. In fact, it is something he hopes to keep doing even after his time in the military comes to an end.
When we knew my husband would complete his bachelor’s degree, we heavily considered the pros and cons of life after OCS. In the end, we decided that giving up a great job, along with the close-knit community we have come to love, was not the right decision. For our family, the risk of leaving Army medicine for an unknown career path was not worth the benefits of rank, command, and money.
A degree is not always intended to be the next natural step towards becoming an officer. That is not to say my husband would pass up an opportunity to serve as an officer in the Medical Corps if the right one came along; it would simply be a matter of deciding whether or not it was right for him. . . or for our marriage and children.
Whether you are an officer or enlisted service member, if you find yourself at a crossroads where you must make a monumental career decision, take my husband’s advice and consider the kind of life you want to give yourself and your family. Consider how you can best (and whole-heartedly) serve your country, and how you can honorably provide for your loved ones. Because, after all, you are invaluable to both.
These days, my husband’s diploma hangs proudly on our wall. Every now and then, I catch myself stopping to stare at it and run a finger absently across its frame. To me, it is a testament to my husband’s perseverance, work ethic, and fierce dedication to our family. It is also a symbol of commitment that our boys will see as they learn, grow, and make their own path in life.
My husband is proud to serve as a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer.
Yesterday, today, and every day, we are proud of him, and we stand by the choices he makes.