Learning to speak Army

Story by Scott Morfitt

Three weeks ago, I was staring at the hard industrial landscape of an Army base in Iraq, and now I am sitting on a couch, under a blanket, trying to keep warm in Eau Claire.

To say returning home from war is a strange journey feels slightly cliché to me, almost like it is what I am required to write. The fact of the matter is that being back in Eau Claire feels very natural to me, and that is important.

Every day I bump into another smiling face, happy to see me and welcome me back home. Obviously, this is very heartwarming every time it happens.

Catching up with my friends and family gives me a feeling of normalcy and a connection to my environment.

I find myself trying not to give canned responses to questions asked by genuinely interested people. This is probably a universal experience for everyone. We all have had that open house, graduation, or, for some, wedding where you have to answer the following, “How was your journey over the last stretch of time?” and “What is the next activity you plan to pursue?”

Questions like these may feel almost robotic for all of us to answer, but at the core they are important for building commonalities between one another. Being activated as a soldier has actually given me some skills and perspective on how I communicate.

In the Army, whenever we are instructed about talking with the press, we are always told to “Stay in Our Lane.” What this means is that we really only should talk about our job and what we actually know.

This is an amazingly freeing idea at its core. Consider it this way: I am currently a broadcast journalism student here at UW-Eau Claire. With the idea of staying in my lane, I am really only knowledgeable (to some degree) in that field. However, if you ask me about accounting, I am simply allowed to say, “I don’t know about that field.”

In an era of armchair punditry, I feel like we are oftentimes expected as Americans to have perspectives on every hot-button issue of the day, whether we are versed in the topic or not. I, myself, get a little anxious when asked to address a topic that I have no knowledge of. This nugget of communication wisdom from the United States Army really helps with this.

One of the other things that was reinforced throughout my deployment is: “The whole is the sum of its parts.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t know that concept before, but it was illustrated vibrantly while working as part of the large machine that is the Army.

The human resources job I did might not have seemed very important on a day-to-day basis. However, when I saw my contributions to the whole, I felt like I was actually important to something much larger than myself. This is something that I hope I have in common with my fellow soldiers.

One of my hopes is that we as Americans view ourselves more this way. It is very easy to look at our day-to-day activities for our general self-worth. If we view ourselves as contributing to something larger, each individual’s input is valuable.

It seems kind of funny that the biggest gains from my deployment are a sense of larger purpose and personal freedom in embracing what I know. That is the beauty of life – all people build their own tackle box of perspective based on their own realities, both personal and shared.

Returning to the idea of “staying in my lane,” I find that people like to ask me my feelings on the Army, the wars and politics – left, right and in between – as a member of the military.

First, this is tough for me because I have not educated myself on the complexities that these larger topics tend to focus on. Honestly, I never really watched C-Span. Like most people, I followed my feed on Facebook, New Yorker articles and music reviews.

It’s embarrassing to explain this to people. That is, until I remember that I surround myself with things I value, with the possible exception of the Facebook news feed.

What I will say about the Army is that it directly created my current life. If I was not in the Army, I would not have gone to college at Eau Claire, had the opportunity to work in media or even written this article you are reading right now.

If you want to talk to me more about these issues, feel free. But remember, I am not a noble warrior or a disgruntled protester.

I am just a sojourner on the path that is life.

And that makes me happy.

Morfitt is a junior broadcast journalism major and guest columnist for The Spectator.