I took my oath to join the Army National Guard on April 2, 2009.
I remember standing in a small room with about 15 other recruits. Everyone was wearing jeans, T-shirts that covered their shoulders and cleavage, and closed-toed shoes. I was the youngest in the group—17. I stood up straight and looked forward in the parade-rest position (hands behind my back, with my right hand in front of the left). All I could see was the United States flag and the Arizona state flag. The room smelled like a brand new carpet.
I, Morgan Shae Miller, solemnly swear to protect the Constitution of the United States of America ...
I first considered joining the military when my brother, Justin, joined the Army National Guard in December 2008. My brother told me the Army could teach me discipline, pay for college and give me the chance to do things most people don't have the opportunity to do, like go to sniper school.
But Justin also knows that in the past, I've had a hard time controlling my temper—especially at school. For example, I once got in trouble for wearing "short" shorts to class, and my teacher offered, in front of all of my friends, to buy me some longer pants. I snapped back, "I'm not a charity case, so take your money somewhere else!"
Growing up in a big, loud family always meant speaking up; if you weren't picked on, you weren't loved. In my family, there were no consequences for getting into arguments: I could yell at my aunt, and 20 minutes later, she'd smack my butt to show that it was all just a joke. But around people who aren't family members, "speaking my mind" seemed to get me into trouble.
Over time, I realized that vulnerability is usually what causes my short-fused temper to go off. The constant reminder from my teacher that my shorts were too short embarrassed me. I felt like she picked on me in front of my whole class. But unlike at home, I couldn't pick on her back (it would only get me suspended—trust me, I tried). And biting my tongue was something I tried to do, but never could. Things escalated, and after a phone call home and lots of arguments with my mom, I knew I needed an attitude adjustment.
When I decided to join the military, I thought everyone around me would be supportive. But instead, I found myself facing a brick wall. One of my teachers told me I was taking the easy way out, throwing my life away by not looking into all of my options. He just couldn't understand that joining the military was my way of getting both what I needed (college paid for) and wanted (the discipline to succeed). If I didn't join the military to learn some self-control, then I really would have limited options. How could I get a job if I had anger issues?
When I got my physical for the National Guard, my temper was really put to the test: I had to take it in front of eight other females, all at least six years older then me. I hadn't even been given the chance to learn these girls' names, and they were going to see me walk around in a hospital gown—and pee in a cup! Just like all the other girls, I tried to laugh away my discomfort. After all, my choices were to go on a crazy rampage, or to joke my way through it. It was my first day joining, and I was already learning self-control.
Now, even after only a few months in the service, I see that joining the Army National Guard has raised the stakes for me. Breaking the law—any law—can cost me my bonus. And talking back during training only leads to push-ups. I like the fact that I'm expected to be responsible, helpful and strong. Being in the Guard has given me a chance to be a disciplined, well-rounded young woman who can laugh her way through vulnerable.
It's anything but the "easy way out."
Morgan Shae Miller, 17, will be a senior at Sky Islands High School. She is a participant in the VOICES Community Stories Past and Present Inc. program. For more information, visit www.voicesinc.org.