5 Incredibly Useful Lessons The Army Teaches You

Jordan Mendiola

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Bang! Woosh! Ka-Boom. These are all sounds you hear on a military deployment. There are shots fired, jets flying overhead, and big thuds or explosions from time to time. It’s hard to say that this was a reality at one point in my life. It was the life of a deployment. So many things happened that I’ll never forget. Some veterans like to talk about the things they saw or did on deployment, and others don’t.

I have been serving in the United States Army since 2016 as a Horizontal Construction Engineer (12N). It’s been quite the journey and this deployment opportunity surprised me, but I was always prepared for it. I’m very transparent and I am giving you as much information as possible without risking any operation security (OPSEC) measures.

My goal is to share five lessons that I learned from a military deployment and hopefully inspire you to apply them in your own life.

Personal Time Should Meet Your Specific Needs

In the military, we work long hours every day, sometimes every day of the week. That’s just the way it goes. We may not like it, but we can’t say no. It’s what we signed up for. Your personal time is a direct reflection of the type of person you are and what you need in your life.

For me, I needed stimulation. I needed to stay busy. Whether that was writing for my blog, or going to play in the recreation center with my friends, I did it. When you know your needs, your personal time is going to give you the most fulfillment. Do you feel like you know yourself? If the answer is no, it’s important to try lots of different things to see what clicks for your DNA.

Some days, I’d need to be alone and write. I’d spend hours writing and everyone knew it was something I was passionate about and they respected my space. According to Forbes, Studies show the ability to tolerate alone time has been linked to increased happiness, better life satisfaction, and improved stress management. People who enjoy alone time experience less depression.

On deployment, my battle buddies and I all bonded over Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as well as Mario Party. It was the way we expressed ourselves. We felt right back at home. Some days, we’d play on our entire day off and it was a way to unwind that we all desperately needed.

Everyone needs some form of escapism from time to time. When I got nostalgic feelings and felt homesick, I watched movies on my hard drive. Thanks to proper planning, most service members load a hard drive with movies and TV shows they know they’ll want to have access to no matter where we are in the world.

Watching movies such as Wolf of Wall Street or Elf reminded me of life back home and helped keep my entrepreneurial spirit alive. Then some nights, there were times when an episode of The Office gave me the sprinkle of humor I needed.

Life Is Too Short to Not be Grateful for Every Day

The fact that I could have been called upon and jumped into a firefight and die at any moment was a reality check. It’s scary not knowing if today will be your last day and if you’ll make it back home to see your loved ones.

I never took any day for granted because I understand the value of life. We only get so much time on this Earth to do the things we want with the ones we love. Being part of the military makes you sacrifice everything to serve your nation. It’s what we signed up for.

For anyone born in the United States in 2017, life expectancy is 78.6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Life on deployment isn’t the only place where life is short. Loved ones from back home passed away when I was serving too. It was hard. I lost my best friend, my little 17-year-Pomeranian, “Baby Girl”. I can vividly remember my parents video calling me. I saw her the night before she left us, and cried. I talked to her through a screen, but couldn’t hold her and comfort her. It was one of the worst days of my life.

One of my closest battle buddies lost his grandmother back home, and because of the circumstances, couldn’t go home and see her one last time before being laid to rest. You never know what’s going to happen.

That’s the reality of signing up with the military we all knew could happen. Your life is so precious and we’re all given a fairly short window to live it to the fullest. We have to make every day count.

Fitness is Essential to Maximizing Your Potential

Depression is something I deal with from time to time. It cripples me and makes me feel like life is not worth living. It’s a hard mindset to get out of without fitness. Thanks to running and lifting, I’m still here.

Getting together a group of friends and going to the gym was part of my everyday life — and I loved it. We were all living together, so we might as well get stronger together.

The health benefits that come with exercise are the ones we hear all the time. It reduces stress, improves mental health and mood, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves sleep. Without all of these benefits, life felt meaningless. Staying active can also help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and reduce your risk for some cancers according to Mana Medical Assoociates.

I was in a slump where I didn’t work out for an entire month because I was too exhausted from long days of work. I nearly broke down after two weeks without working out, but I haven’t felt that way since.

If you know how to put yourself in a good mood, you should do that thing every single day. For me, it’s exercise. That’s where I feel my best. As an overthinker, exercise was my antidote to getting outside of my own head. Exercise allows you to embrace life as it comes to you.

Build Strong and Mature Relationships That Last

We aren’t all robots in the military. Surprise surprise. We all have the same emotions and feelings as the people we’re serving to protect have too. But the day-to-day spontaneity is such an extreme weight on our shoulders that we have to endure.

For nearly a month, I worked 12-hour shifts from 7pm-7am and it broke me down like hell. But because I knew the severity of the situation, I toughened up. I stayed resilient. I knew I couldn’t quit on my battle buddies or my country when it needed me most.

Whether it’s the relationships with loved ones back home or battle buddies by my side, they all matter the same. Without one, you can’t have the other. A good relationship with family back home, but a bad one with your comrades isn’t a healthy balance and vice versa.

According to Northwestern Medicine, “As humans, the relationships we form with other people are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing, and really, our survival.”

I had weekly video calls with my family and sent them personalized video logs from time to time in order to keep them in the loop. Doing these things each week allowed me to feel whole when I returned back to my Army reality. Things were tough. People were getting hurt, the days were long, and I couldn’t stop thinking about home.

A large population of the military is extroverted. Extroverts gain energy from interactions with other people and that’s exactly what happened for me. I couldn’t spend too much time inside by myself. When I could have slept, I went out to bond with my Army brothers and sisters. There were nights when we all told stories from home.

We express ourselves through stories and pictures. Everyone in the military has a story. Beneath the uniform, we all have so much that makes every one of us unique. We’re all so different, but all serving on the same team for the same mission — to protect our country.

A Healthy Diet Elevates Your Mindset

The military didn’t necessarily turn me into a diet guru or intense keto-diet extraordinaire. What it did do is teach me a lot about overeating. Food is universal. You need it to survive. There are different types of foods all over the world and everyone has their own preferences.

When I was deployed I had the option to try traditional Middle-Eastern foods. One of my favorites was a “Schwarma” from Saudi Arabia and it was delicious. They put special spices on the food that gave it a tasteful kick at the end of every bite. It definitely helps to be a foodie and open-minded to trying new things.

Avoiding comfort foods like chips, Ramen noodles, and so much more was not easy to overcome while I was overseas. My go-to meal would be spicy Taki chips and two packs of Ramen noodles. I had this meal for a week straight and it did not go too well for me.

According to Healthline, “A varied and healthy diet is usually one that contains plenty of fresh, plant-based foods, and limits the intake of processed foods.”

I was skipping out on the healthy meal options served at the “chow hall” and eating a college dorm-style diet instead. This bad habit didn’t last very long. Finding moderation in a diet is crucial to the way your body will operate.

It’s true that your energy levels will match the nutrients in the food that you eat. When I ate chicken, rice, and drank water all the time, I felt like the most complete version of myself. I was hitting personal records on my long-distance runs and maxing out on my bench press.

It’s all thanks to consistency in my craft and eating quality food. At the end of the day, your body will run on the fuel you give it. It’s crucial to be mindful of what you choose to put in because that determines the output you get.

Final Thought

A military deployment taught me a lot about myself, my needs, and how we all live our lives very differently from one another.

  • Life is too short and we don’t have control of how long we live.
  • Fitness is essential and helps maintain a positive mindset.
  • Relationships matter — they take work and are well worth the investment.
  • The diet you choose for yourself will determine the energy have to live your life.
  • Personal time can’t be taken for granted and it should be used to alleviate our needs.

Through all the defining moments I experienced on my deployment, I wouldn’t change anything one bit. I’m incredibly grateful for every day.

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Creative entrepreneur, U.S. Army Engineer, and dedicated runner. Committed to sharing ideas that lead to more fulfillment in all areas of life. Email: mendiola1829@gmail.com 08.18.20 ?

Chicago, IL
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