Wait…Did I Just Join the Military?

I want to tell you a little story about the time when I attended a military ball with my friend Shannah. Full disclosure: I am writing this as if it occurred years ago. It did not. I got back from the ball yesterday. Anyway, let’s begin.

Shannah is in Army ROTC at the university that she attends in Kentucky, and they have a program each year to celebrate the squadron (this is the first of many times that I will misuse military labels in the post). I had a blast when I attended the ball with Shannah last year, so I was thrilled when she reached out to see if I’d want to escort her to this year’s event. Oddly enough, the ball was on a Thursday at 4:30 p.m. For how organized the military is, it is surprising that they would have an event like this on a weeknight. However, I was beyond excited to go and happily took time off.

It was a four-hour drive to where Shannah lives in Kentucky, but the time flew by because I had audiobooks, coffee, and a lot of energizing music. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the bullet-riddled sign welcoming me to Kentucky that clued me in on my whereabouts. Instead, it was the moment when I passed an old pickup truck with its bed filled with roadkill that made me stop and say, “Ok, I guess I’ve made it to Kentucky.”

Once I arrived at her place, I dropped off my gear to get ready for the evening before heading out for lunch. I was thinking that we’d end up going somewhere fitting like a fried chicken joint, but we instead settled on a sushi restaurant. Feeling adventurous about the prospect of southern sushi, I ordered a cooked fish roll with noodles. The food was delicious, and it gave me the right amount of energy to get ready for the evening. I’d try to describe a montage of me getting ready for the big night, but those are hard to write. So instead, just picture a guy putting on a suit.

After we were ready, we drove to the university’s alumni center for the event. At this point, I was feeling a little nervous. You’re probably saying, “Dan, why would you be nervous? You totally have a personality that fits with serious, militaristic people.” Oh wait, you didn’t say that? Yeah, no one ever does. I get nervous when I have to interact with people whom I have very little in common, and since I didn’t think anyone there would want to dissect Kylie Jenner’s baby announcement, I worried that there might not be much to talk about.

I was kind of right. Once we arrived at the center, I was introduced to a few of Shannah’s stern-looking comrades (is that the right terminology?) Each man had a more bone-crushing handshake than the one before him, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the time the introductions had been made. Conveniently, the introductions took place at the start of the receiving line, so all we had to do was follow the crowd forward.

I craned my neck to see what we were approaching (hoping that it might be a celebrity guest speaker) and realized that it was the high-ranking officials who were in charge of the ROTC program. This is when the panic set in even further. What if they thought that I looked shifty and reported me to the government? What if they questioned the cheap quality of my old, JCPenney suit? What if they asked me to drop and give them fifty pushups? These were just a few of the dramatic, over-the-top thoughts that swirled through my mind as we approached the leaders.

Once we arrived at the front of the line, I realized that my fears were unfounded. The receiving line went pretty quickly, and the only interaction was when one of the uniformed men commended me for flying in to escort Shannah to the ball. Not wanting to burst his fantasy of me jetting all the way from Ohio to Kentucky, I tried to grin naturally while saying, “She’s worth it!” Shannah, my wonderfully platonic friend, looked at me with an expression of horror etched across her face as she listened to me implying that I was on the brink of proposing to her. I chuckled, and we continued into the dining room.

We were seated at a table of first and second-year students, so I felt especially old and wise sitting at their table. I kept waiting for them to pepper me with questions about post-graduate life while we ate, but they never did. Instead, they murmured to each other and looked scared for most of the meal.

I contemplated asking if they needed to be rescued from something when one of the officials (I apparently have absolutely no idea what rank each person was) announced that it was time for the program to begin.

It started with a woman speaking about her experiences overseas while sharing her views on how to be an effective leader. It was quite impactful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After she had finished, I wondered if there would be more inspirational speeches. There were not. Instead, it was time for the first, second, third, and fourth-year students to share their skits.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I heard that there would be skits since the last time I took part in a skit was at vacation Bible school in the fourth grade, but I leaned forward with rapt attention. It turns out that the skits were a thinly veiled way for the ROTC underlings to roast their superiors. Seriously, they saw the skits as the perfect opportunity to trash talk their leaders in a similar way to Sarah Silverman at a Comedy Central roast.

The part of me that loves drama was fascinated by it, but the part of me that hates conflict couldn’t stop looking at the leaders who were being roasted. I saw a few forced laughs, but the most common expression was a grimace that said, “I will punish you in training tomorrow morning.”

After the final skit came to an awkward and abrupt close, it was time to be dismissed. Naturally, I wanted a picture to commemorate our evening, so Shannah asked one of the quiet first-year students to assist us with our Kodak moment. The student mousily agreed to help but clearly had no idea what she was getting into. We had her take photos in three different locations, and by the end of the impromptu photo shoot, it looked like we had just gotten our pre-homeschool prom photos taken.

Once this essential part of the evening was over, Shannah and I headed out to a restaurant to load up on fried food while continuing to catch up. It was a perfectly casual end to an incredibly militaristic evening.

I certainly felt out of place at the event, but that didn’t stop me from having a great time people watching. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, and I would volunteer to escort her again without hesitation. In answer to the question posed in the title of this post, I didn’t use this military ball as an opportunity to enlist. Instead, I walked away from the experience having learned the lesson that some people are meant to be in the military, but my awkward self is clearly not one of those people.

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