Hello virtual sangha,
I want to first apologize for being absent after so many helpful and informative posts. Please know that I am not ignoring you all, and that I greatly value and appreciate your advice. This is such a dynamic conversation and I hope it continues even after I leave for boot camp. (Update: I swear into the USMC Delayed Entry Program tomorrow morning. I will receive my boot camp start date, as well as get to declare my top 3 military occupational specialities [MOS]).
I'll try to address all of the many concerns brought up in this one post.
First, to Venerable Gavesako:
Thank you, Venerable, for the reminder that right mindfulness must be grounded in right intention and right view. Mindfulness without the moral component is definitely bare attention, and I should not fool myself into thinking that I am making progress on the path without acting morally.
Choosing an MOS in the military:
All branches of the US Armed Forces allow a recruit to declare their top choices for military occupational specialty. There is never a gaurantee one will receive their top choice (or even one of their top three choices). Recruiters, if they are responsible and honest, make every effort to specify which MOS are open and which are closed (due to over-crowding and/or what the military needs most from you). For instance, my first choice is military firefighter, but all indications from recruiters in the Marines, Army and Air Force indicate that the firefighter MOS is crowded and I will most likely not get it. I have been strongly recommended to consider military intelligence since my ASVAB scores (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, the standardized test that informs the military of which MOS' you are qualified) are quite high. I have also been recommended for the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group since I have a strong desire to travel the world and experience different cultures, but do not have a desire for combat. Furthermore, I have been recommended to not make a career out of the military (that is, stay active for 20 years), but instead work in military intelligence and/or embassy security, retire after a couple of tours, and then work for the FBI, CIA, NSA, FEMA or Homeland Security. All of those are possibilities for the future, but they are all dependent on if I can receive the MOS I desire. Again, there are no promises, especially in the Marine Corps where "every Marine is a rifleman" and you will be sent to combat if they need you. This is something I have had on mind for quite some time and I am fully aware of this potential.
My intentions for joining:
My intention for joining the military is complicated, but it mostly involves securing my financial and occupational future after having made some very bad decisions that put them in jeopardy. I have been struggling in the job market for quite some time now, and there just aren't a lot of opportunities out there for me, especially here in Georgia. Many employers have simply ignored my applications and resume submissions, so it's been hard to find a job making enough money to pay off my debt in a reasonable time period. Coupled with my lack of a college degree, you can see how this has been hard on me.
But I don't want to blame the job market or the economy or politicians for my problems. It's my fault - I didn't do well enough in school to graduate on time, and because of that I lost my scholarship. So I had to drop out due to financial hardship. I couldn't pay for college without that scholarship. Then I quit a decent job due to some disillusioned desire to live as a revolutionary off the grid, and ended up back with my parents, where I am today. I have been trying to rehabilitate my career path, but it's been near impossible.
The military offers me a chance to immediately start a career with a salary, benefits and the real prospect of continuing a career after enlistment. Rather than spending everyday submitting applications that may or may not be read by civilian employers, and wondering how I'm going to pay bills and eat, the military offers me the chance not to have to worry about those things. There is the very real prospect of experiencing combat and violence, yes. That's true. But my plan is to make my skills valuable to the military so they will give me what I want and need. I want to show them that military intelligence or embassy security (or firefighting if it becomes available in the future) are the right MOS' for me, and that combat is not. I'm not sure how I'm going to do that, but that's why I have mentors to help me.
I'm happy to see there are teachings from the Buddha specifically geared towards soldiers. I will read and dissect them and take them to heart as much I can.
Real Sangha vs. Virtual Sangha
I have never received a face-to-face teaching from an ordained Buddhist monk, although I have sat with a former monk and several teachers trained by monks. I have been practicing for a few years now, and virtual sanghas have been my main source of learning. I am tremendously grateful and indebted to ES and DW for all they have taught me and continue to teach me. Most likely, I will not have access to a F2F sangha for a few years while enlisted, depending on where I am stationed. So I will continue to rely on DW and others as a source of teachings, learning and community. Hopefully I can get in touch with the growing military sangha through the links provided here as well as contact information given to me from friends.
I would love to sit with an actual sangha, but it doesn't seem likely that it's possible, at least not for a while. So the virtual sangha will continue to be my home.
Thank you so much for your heartfelt concern for my well-being and peace of mind, as well as your desire to help me continue a fruitful practice no matter what decision I ultimately make. I do not take your desire to dissuade me from enlisting as "disobedience," especially since I was not and am not in a position to enforce rules, laws or guidelines as to the responses and behavior of my fellow DW members. I simply made a suggestion, but you don't have to feel obligated to follow it, especially if you've made it clear that you are generally concerned for my welfare.
I do want to reiterate, however, that I am not looking for reasons not to join. I already know all the reasons not to join and I contemplate them every second of every day. The vast majority of my family is telling me to join; the vast majority of my friends are completely against it. I am being pulled in every direction right now by the people I love, so you can imagine my confusion and frustration. If I decide to back out now, after having already qualified for the mental, physical and academic requirements (as well as swearing in tomorrow morning), my parents will be very very upset, and will question my ability to make and keep decisions as well as my commitment to securing my financial and occupational future. However, if I continue with my plan to enlist, I will alienate myself from many close friends. My confusion right now is palpable.
In any case, I am taking this day-to-day and leaving all my options open. I will go with my heart in the end. I will listen to my conscious as well as my intellect and hopefully I make the right decision. If this time next year or three years from now I feel it was a bad decision, I will not re-enlist and will start over again.
And just so we're clear: I'm not making this decision because of my family's military tradition. My decision to join the Marines specifically is because my twin and cousin are Marines and they offer guidance for me, but my decision to join the military in general is for many different reasons.
Daily Practice while enlisted:
Some helpful advice on this topic has been given. I think Goofaholix is right when he says that the more "religious" of the practices will be hard to do on a daily basis due to living in close proximity with many other people who are unfamiliar or opposed to such practices. Mindfulness will be my main practice (as it always is I suppose) and I will make every effort to stay in touch with fellow practitioners and teachers. Once I am settled in my own apartment on a base (or off-base) and have a bit more freedom on a daily basis, I will try to acquire Buddhist reading material to help with practice.
I hope this post helps clarify some things as well as inform the rest of this discussion. Thank you again to everyone for contributing and please keep the advice and suggestions coming. I am taking them all to heart.