Editor’s Note: City Savvy editor Pete Mayes joined the City of Houston after serving for just over 20 years in the U.S. Army. As the nation paused to salute military service members on Veterans Day, Mayes reflected on his own service.
“Do you miss it?”
The question comes up every so often. Friends, family, co-workers, it doesn’t matter — people want to know if I miss being in the military.
A little background: I enlisted in the U.S. Army back in 1998 and served for 20 years and 27 days before officially retiring in 2018. Note the 27 days, a dead giveaway for anyone wanting to know if I counted down the days.
The question of whether I miss life in the service is both expected and unexpected — meaning five years after my retirement from active-duty service, I expect it will come up in some form or fashion. I just never know when, where, or who will bring it up.
It’s an innocent enough question. For many people, there’s a lot of mystery attached to anyone who served in the armed forces, as well as a lot of depictions in the media that might or might not be accurate. They might portray service members as either incredibly noble people, full of virtue, standing tall, shoulders straight and jaws squared, who look danger in the face and laugh while saving the world from evil.
Or service members may be seen as broken individuals, forever physically, mentally or emotionally scarred from the horrors of war, ticking time bombs just waiting to go off.
But at the end of the day, people want to know one simple question: Do you miss it?
Sometimes the question comes from other service members who served during peacetime for say two to four years and have long been away from that life. For them, it’s a means of trying to find common ground. They’ll talk about their time in Germany or South Korea as part of some artillery or fires brigade and the exercises they took part in. And all I can do is smile and nod. My experiences are much different than that.
Others never donned the uniform for a variety of reasons and want to know what it’s like. I don’t know how to explain that life in a way that will make any real sense.
But to answer the question, it’s simple: Do I miss it? Yes. No. Maybe? I don’t know.
It’s not as confusing as it reads. There are great memories and times while serving, and I lived in amazing places. I met the love of my life while in service. I have some incredibly crazy stories to share and got to be a part of history.
There are other parts of the life I didn’t care for — the separation from family for years on end, the 24-hour shift on staff duty on a Saturday night, and other things. Those were not fun.
But there is one moment that always stands out: I was at my final duty station in Hawaii and had just been reassigned to the Division Public Affairs Office as the senior noncommissioned officer. My background in the Army was broadcast journalism and I was a master sergeant.
Two junior noncommissioned officers were in my office. I remember they both stared at me for about a week. Both were nice enough people, but it was a little weird.
Finally, one morning I saw one NCO staring at me — as usual — so I asked: “Morning sergeant, is everything alright?”
The other sergeant, Ian Morales, spoke up: “Hey, master sergeant, we wanted to clear something up.”
“OK,” I said.
“You’re a master sergeant, right?”
“That’s what my rank says.”
“And you’re a broadcaster, like us?”
“Thank you!” Morales yelled. “We have never seen a master sergeant in our career field. We didn’t think you all existed!”
We all laughed briefly. “Yes, we actually do exist,” I told them. “Like the mythical unicorns of yore, or the legendary Jedi warriors of ‘Star Wars,’ we exist. It is possible to be an Army broadcaster and attain the rank of master sergeant,” I assured them. “There is hope for you.”
To mark the occasion, we took a selfie. I keep in contact with Morales, and he’s doing well in his career. He’s now a sergeant first class, one rank away from being a “mythical unicorn/Jedi warrior” himself. The Army is fortunate to have his leadership.
I never really know what to say when I’m asked the question, “Do you miss it?” And honestly, I’m not certain I will ever have a straight answer to give.
But I can tell you this much: I miss moments like that.