In the military, you have time for 1, maybe 2 hobbies

Originally published in 2016.

If you take your job seriously in the military – which you should – then you likely only have time for one, maybe two hobbies.

It’s a dismal realization that was thrust upon me by a senior leader over a decade ago.

His chief hobby was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He made it his hobby by ensuring he went to practice a few times a week, to include Saturday mornings. He loved doing other things, like shooting, but given everything else he had to do, he had to choose which hobby got his attention.

The work week is consumed by work, often starting well before the sun rises and ending after it sets. Time at home during the week is characterized by reconnecting with loved ones, eating, and preparing for the next day before collapsing into bed.

On the weekend there are likely family obligations, house tasks, and basic errands that need to be done. In the moments that remain, there might be time for one, maybe two hobbies.

It’s a tough thing to come to terms with, because many in the military are ultra-ambitious. There are lots of things we would like to take up as hobbies, but we just can’t. The nature of the work requires a lot of time and energy, and there is only so much time during the week.

The only thing I have found helpful is carefully selecting the hobbies I want to commit to and then making the time for them, which often comes very early in the morning on weekends.

I am interested in knowing how others manage their hobbies, especially if a bulk of their time is dedicated to work and family.

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Strange military terms: Snowbird and Blackbird

As I’ve written about before, it’s not uncommon to go through an Army life hearing terms over and over again without knowing the meaning. For me, Snowbird and Blackbird are two of those terms. I first started seeing them when I was getting ready to go to OCS and looking  up information in online forums. I’d see people use the term in sentences like “you’ll have time to do that school while you’re Snowbirding,” or “generally, you’ll have a lot of Blackbird time.”

I’ve come to understand that the terms refer to the time that soldiers get in-between mandatory training events. That is, if you have a course that ends in August and your next course doesn’t begin until October, you would be Snowbirding (or Blackbirding) in September.

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I have no idea where these terms came from or who started them, and they’re a bit obscure. Not everyone uses them, but those who do tend to use it with the confidence that everyone knows that they exist. They’re certainly not doctrinal terms, although in a cursory search for some information on this I did the term “Snowbird” used in an official-looking ALARACT message.

My guess is these terms were more popular a long time ago and are being used less and less, in the same way much of the lingo popular in the Vietnam era is now completely out of fashion. If anyone has any information on the terms, I’d be curious to hear it.

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20 Round Magazine

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At some point during my first enlistment, I acquired a 20 round magazine. The standard Army rifle magazine is 30 rounds, and the 20 round magazine was no longer issued, as far as I knew.

It was shaped differently. Instead of the banana curve in the 30 round magazine, the 20 round magazine was angled and sharp. It was also just a little lighter, and when inserted into the M4, the rifle didn’t seem to tilt or wobble while leaning against something as much as when it did with a 30 round magazine.

Of course, it held 10 fewer rounds.

While the 20 round magazine was an interesting oddity to others, it became an object of disdain to senior Non-Commissioned officers who viewed it as a totem from another dimension. They didn’t like seeing it and they definitely didn’t want me to use it.

At first, I thought they were just jealous, which I admit today, seems very Gollum-esque.

Eventually, I learned their disdain came from the fact that the magazine just didn’t belong in the standard infantryman’s load anymore. It’s time had passed. These magazine were old and would likely fail at some point.

And most importantly, by using one as a leader, it sends the wrong signal that it’s okay to use whatever you want when it comes to equipment.

I put it away.

They still look cool though.

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I’ve met few people who don’t have some twinge of regret for getting out of the Army

Having left the Army once and then come back in years later, I’ve seen lots of soldiers make the transition out of the Army. After the initial honeymoon phase of not having to wake up early, no standing in formations, and the multitude of other absurdities that color military life, there comes a much longer period of time characterized by nostalgia. The miserable field problems in the rain and cold fall to the background. The camaraderie and sense of purpose rises to the top, and regardless of what the veteran is doing in the civilian world, nothing seems to ever match it.

I’ve seen the same in soldiers who leave the Army today. In separation counseling, I mention that with very few exceptions, I have rarely seen someone get out and not regret it on some level. A soldier determined to get out is undeterred, though. Still, I have not been surprised by the number of soldiers that have gotten in touch with me after getting out to say they definitely regret it, if even just a little.

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