I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of what an oxymoron is. It means a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave some like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. The last she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class, full of college freshmen like myself laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine.

“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Effects of trajectory on a round and point of aim

“Further more, I feel that it is important to note at this time, that by the time many military people have reached the age of 22 they have become experts in a field of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.” This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series)  a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have by that time achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) And many have learned to performe their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the treat of someone shooting at them.

“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”

“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”

Calculation sheet used to make marksmanship "less complicated."

Soldier training on a virtual training system.

I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that people perceive the Military as being stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at church or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry a conversation with a cat, much less anyone else. What they do know is that most of the military is made up of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since college is equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most have to go on.

What they don’t understand is that most MOS schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and they were as hard as anything I took in college). They also don’t know that by the time they are 19 many have been deployed overseas where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. For myself, I was a Data Network Specialist ( 0656). That is the equivalent to the network administrator at a company who sets up the computers in the office and runs the switches and servers for the company. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sightes rifle from 500 yards away, run 3 miles in less than 20 minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. I ran code and ran convoys. Oh, but a civilian made 3 times my salary as well. By the time I was 21 I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over 400 words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone. Like, for instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, are curious how much your iPod or sister-in-law would go for on the Iraqi market, or if anyone around has heard of a men with bombs (pronounced  ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was 22 I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.

Air Force UAV Pilot

What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this  are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “My job was a lot worse than that” and they are right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks these people are stupid?”

As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in business administration. In my school that is a four year degree that takes most people 5 years to get and I got it 3 1/2. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50 or so percent that made it to graduation from when they laughed at that funny joke. Although my family was instrumental in me pushing through, I think that really set me apart in achieving this was my intelligence, my military intelligence. 

- Jon

Images from MCRP 3-01A available on scribd.com. Link available here.