Lynn Spruill: Dog tags

September 27, 2013 10:26:35 AM



I wear my Navy "dog tags" from time to time. They aren't fancy and they have the rubber around the edges and they are still on their original chain. But I think that they are pretty cool, so I keep them with my jewelry and hang them around my neck as the mood strikes me. I was wearing them the other night at a meeting when someone jokingly asked me if I needed to be reminded of who I am. Sometimes I do. 


His question started me thinking about when and why I choose to wear them. I have always had them handy, but have only recently started to wear them. I am prideful about my time in the military. I believe that it was one of the best decisions that I made in setting the course for my future.  


My mother wanted me to go to law school and do something more white collar and professional. I wanted adventure and adrenaline, fast paced excitement. I wanted to do things that were scary and challenging. Mostly I wanted to do things to prove that being a girl didn't mean accepting the smirky edict from those who said I couldn't do something just because I was one. That is one of the reasons that I wear them.  


I chose the path that at the time was "less traveled" and along the way I have come to many differing and sometimes contradictory conclusions; however, I never waiver in my belief that the military (or some form of service) is the duty of every citizen no matter the gender. Whether it is through a "Peace Corps" type option or through service in one of the branches of the military, it should be done by each and every physically and mentally capable citizen.  


At the outset I had no idea that my Navy years would be so formative for me. I have never met any former service member who didn't learn some personal lesson from those years. Whether that lesson was how much they couldn't wait to get back to home and hearth or how stimulating it was to travel the world. The service gives you an opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourself and it lets you learn about and come to grips with your limitations. Even better, you can discover and exalt in your unrecognized abilities. Alexander Pope exhorted us to "know then thyself" and there is no better road to take for that purpose than the one that leads through military service.  


I remember in detail the drive from Starkville to Newport, Rhode Island, my first duty station. It was probably the most exciting trip I ever took. It was certainly the longest distance I had gone by myself. There is something wickedly charming about setting off on your chosen life adventure. I mounted up my college graduation present of a brand new white '73 Monte Carlo with swivel bucket seats and took off for the east coast. I had a six-year life-changing adventure ahead of me.  


There is a unique atmosphere that absorbs a Navy base. The first time you are allowed entry as a member of the team captures your spirit, and, for good or ill, it never leaves you. There is a structure and an expectation of excellence and precision that exists nowhere like the military. There is something magical about a precision marching team, the sound of a chanted cadence, the mournful sound of taps or even the early morning call of reveille. There is likewise something magical in a whole different context with walking a midnight post. It demands attention and alertness and presence in the moment. It defies description, but I loved and hated it then and I miss it to this day. The smell of the ocean and the eternal sound of the movement of the water make the base a place of retreat even though it holds the strain and stress of training and serving.  


I frequently am heard to say that if I had more than one life to live I would spend at least one of them as a career officer in the Navy. I have found my way through multiple professional iterations, but there is still no career path that provides more internal satisfaction than having been part of a group that stands guard and protects those ideals and opportunities that make this country great.  


All of the above would be reasons that I wear them. Most importantly, they serve to remind me in unlimited ways of the imprinted presence of the past and the unlimited power of the future that comes with being an American.