"I was 34 years old, soon to be 35. The cut-off age to enlist into the Army is 35; talk about waiting until the last minute!"
This week's guest blogger is Darnell L. Pierce--who entered the U.S Army National Guard at nearly 35, the cut off age. As an LGBTQ individual too, who was also older than most recruits, he overcame impostor syndrome each day, and realized he could help others who questioned their sense of belonging too.
I remember the moment that I officially swore into the United States Army National Guard: February 26, 2018 at approximately 2:18 in the afternoon. I was 34 years old, soon to be 35. The cut-off age to enlist into the Army is 35; talk about waiting until the last minute! My recruiter, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Jaskot guided me through every step of the way ensuring me that, in her mind, I was the perfect candidate to become a soldier. Except for a small barcode tattoo on the back of my neck, I was considered a “clean” candidate. After graduating high school, I almost enlisted into the Marines, but decided that I wasn’t ready to die, a misperception that many people still have when thinking about joining the military.
August 27, 2018
I left my civilian life to embark on my five month journey to becoming a soldier. I was headed to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to forget about all of my civilian habits. My flight was super long, and I was hungry but didn’t have time to eat because of how close my connecting flights were scheduled. I arrived at the military base in Fort Jackson at about 9:00pm. The bus ride to meet our reception drill sergeants was terrifying even though I knew what was coming. There are several videos on Youtube (if you search “Basic Combat Training Reception Arrival”).
"All of the trainees on the bus had to have been between the ages of 17-21, and here I am a week away from turning 35 years old!"
All of the trainees on the bus had to have been between the ages of 17-21, and here I am a week away from turning 35 years old! As we arrive, the Drill Sergeant, who’s wearing the distinctive drill sergeant hat, introduces himself much like I saw in the Youtube video. Approximately two minutes later, I find myself in what’s called the “front leaning rest position.” The front leaning rest position is basically a plank position like you’re getting ready to do a traditional pushup.
"It’s not like the Drill Sergeant is going to say, 'Trainees, you will address me as Drill Sergeant, and my pronouns are he/him/his.'"
I had trained super hard prior to Basic Combat Training (BCT) and wanted to show all of the young people I still had “IT.” If you’re wondering, I still do have it! What I wasn’t sure about, was if I would stick out like a sore thumb because of my age. These were recent high school graduates that I was about to live amongst in very close quarters. I also had to quickly figure out how to operate in a heteronormative military environment. It’s not like the Drill Sergeant is going to say, “Trainees, you will address me as Drill Sergeant, and my pronouns are he/him/his.” That definitely was not a thing, and neither did I have that expectation.
"I was always asked if I had a wife, and kids to which I simply replied 'No.' Except this one time, and I am not sure why, I responded with 'No, I don’t have wife because I don’t date women.'"
As the days and weeks went by, my battle buddies (that’s what we call each other) learned my age, and some were shocked because of how I kicked their butts in PT (physical training), and others wanted to know my life story. I was always asked if I had a wife, and kids to which I simply replied “No.” Except this one time, and I am not sure why, I responded with “No, I don’t have wife because I don’t date women.”
"We were at the shooting range having an open conversation about drag queens!"
My battle buddy was so shocked that he kept asking me if I was sure. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to give a little LGBTQ education! He was so intrigued and asked lots of questions. I began to have my of these conversations as the weeks went by. Another one of my battle buddies, a female, asked if I had ever been to gay pride (I didn’t come out to her), and I remember smiling and saying, “I sure have!” We were at the shooting range having an open conversation about drag queens!
There is a novel that I can share about this experience, but what stands out the most is the impact that I was able to have on many of the young soldiers. They respected me for many reasons, and I respected them for a different set of reasons. I don’t think I could have handled this experience at 18, but at 35, I was super ready.
I didn’t graduate Basic Combat Training a new person, but I did graduate feeling proud that I made one of the most selfless decisions anyone could ever make; serving our country, and serving out and proud. I didn’t need to blend or fit in because that wasn’t my calling or purpose.
I wasn’t only there for me, but I was there for gay young man who was afraid to come out until he met me.
I was there for the mom of three who didn’t think she could pass her PT test.
I was there for the soldier who almost gave up.
I was there for the young man who had mental health complications, and I was there for you.
Because of these reasons, I enlisted at the right age, at the right moment. “I am a warrior and a member of a team. I am an American soldier.”
About Darnell L. Pierce
SPC, Darnell L. Pierce is a Specialist in the New York State Army National Guard where he is a Human Resource Specialist. SPC, Pierce's civilian involvement includes working at Bard College as the Director of Residence Life, and Co-Owner of the Miss Gay Finger Lakes pageant.
SPC, Pierce is also a competitive bodybuilder.