Becoming Not A Robot, by Joe Heaton

When I was a Plebe (freshman), I was getting onto a Greyhound bus. Before I got to the top of the steps, someone identified me as in the military. “Thank you for you service.” 

Wait? What? I have given no service. They had simultaneously identified me as affiliated with the military, and over-judged my contribution. I did not know how to respond. I think I just nodded bashfully, and took my seat. I had no intention to disrespect the person or their sentiment. I also had no desire to accept gratitude for nothing I had ever done.

It took years, after multiple deployments, before I really learned how to respond to that statement. I witnessed a Major responding to the exact same sentiment. He didn’t say, “You’re welcome.” He said, “Thank you for your support.” Simple. Classy. Brilliant. I learned from that. I am embarrassed that I did not think of something so simple myself.

Today, I got out of the truck. And old-timer in the truck to the right of me commented on the make of the truck I was driving. It is a 2010 Tacoma that I borrowed. Before I even closed the driver’s door, he said, “I can’t believe you’re driving a Toyota piece of crap.” He was sitting in a Toyota. “I bought this one new, and it only has 410,000 miles on it.” Obviously, it was sarcasm. I told him that the one I was in only has 141,000 miles on it. But this is not an ad for Toyota. That is not what I found interesting.

During my walks in Seattle, I wrote a lot. One of my friends told me that I *might* have changed some lives, but he was certain that those experiences had changed me. I am still not sure. But I am intently watching, introspectively and observing outwardly, to see if that might be true.

I hold that it is true that when I got out of the Army for 3 years from 2005-2008, that experience had a huge impact on my ability to be human. Prior to that, I had graduated from an Academy, gone to the Army, deployed to war, and I was mostly a robot. Those three years softened me in ways that I needed softened. They hardened me in ways that I needed hardened. I did not know what effect those three years would have had. I do know, looking back at my own experience, that I would have been a far worse Officer without those three years. I learned a lot about being human outside of the construct of the Army that was essential to being successful within the construct of the Army.

I still do not know how my time in Seattle walking the streets affected me overall. I do know that having an old-timer engage me in conversation as I got out of the vehicle is something that has never happened before. It makes me wonder if my aura hasn’t changed. It makes me wonder if that younger, purpose-driven and intense version of me hasn’t softened a little. To be more approachable. To be more amiable. To be less intense.

Don’t get me wrong. I will still get the job done with ferocity. But maybe, just maybe, that has become more of a switch to turn on and off instead of a state of being at all times while awake. Maybe, just maybe, I have made another step towards humanity instead of being a robot.

1 thought on “Becoming Not A Robot, by Joe Heaton”

  1. AC, thank you for a look inside your world… we can be mentored by superiors, peers and even those well below our “pay grade” (and even our age).
    Sometimes we don’t “get it” until we have a big number on the odometer of life:) 🇺🇸🙏

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