Veterans Day is always an odd day to me. It stirs up an odd mix of emotions. My military career was completely unexceptional, for which I’m grateful. I never left the continental US. I spent two years in Colorado enjoying the skiing in the winter and the white water rafting in the summer. I spent two years training other junior officers.

I’m proud of my service. I am the man I am today because of the lessons I learned while I served. At the same time, I freely admit I never joined the Army with a burning sense of God, country and family. I enrolled in Army ROTC as a way to pay for college. I signed a contract that said, the Army would pay for my education if I committed to 4 years of active duty service and some years ‘on call.’ I honored that commitment and served to the best of my ability. But I was always clear with my chain of command and promotions officers, “when my four years of service are up, I’m gone. Please plan accordingly.” It was never my intent to be a life-long service member.

During my time at Syracuse, I went through the motions. I learned the drill and ceremony. Memorized the chain of command. I absorbed what I needed to advance. Erin would probably tell you I took it seriously enough. While my academic GPA was well below a 3.0, my ROTC GPA was just short of 4.0. Still, I didn’t get it.

When it was time to choose our branch preferences I was very strategic. Quartermaster, supply and logistics, sounded perfect. It was combat service support, not combat. The training post was in Ft. Lee, VA just two hours away from Durham where Erin was headed for graduate school at Duke. I got lucky enough to be assigned to that branch.

Still, I never grasped the responsibility of being an officer. My instructors tried to teach me. They tried to make it clear. I either didn’t get it, or just didn’t listen. It wasn’t until I reported to my first unit in Ft. Carson, CO and met my batallion commander that I had the lesson driven home. To the day I die, I’ll never forget that first meeting.

I reported for duty marching into the Lieutenant Colonel’s Office stopping at attention in front of his desk, offering my crispest salute and calling out, “Lieuteant Krellwitz reporting for duty, sir.”

He returned my salute without looking up at me. He was reading my records. For those of you that served, take note here. While he returned my salute, he did not offer me a more relaxed ‘parade rest’ or ‘at ease.’ He left me standing at attention for the very one-sided conversation that ensued.

“Lieutenant Krellwitz, you’re a Quartermaster puke. I run a Transportation battalion. You’re a supply guy. I already have a supply officer. What the hell am I going to do with you?”

I made the mistake of trying to correct him, “Quartermaster officer, sir…”

“Quartermaster PUKE!”

“Quartermaster Puke. Yes, sir.”

“You still haven’t answered my question. What am I going to do with you?”

“That’s really not my decision is it, Sir?” Trust me. I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass. But I had no earthly clue what the options were. I’m not sure he was convinced of my sincerity.

He continued with, “Well, lucky for you, I’ve already made that decision. I’m assigning you to be the platoon leader for my Track and Wheel Vehicle Repair Platoon. Do you have any idea what that means?”

“As a Quartermaster puke? Not a clue, Sir.” In for a penny, in for a pound right?

He just about came out of his chair when he yelled, “well allow me to educate you. It means that you’re now responsible for the health, welfare, morale, safety, and training of 70 of my soldiers AND their families! You are responsible for more than 70 M16 A1 Rifles, a handful of grenade launchers, 2 50 caliber rifles and a fleet of my vehicles to include a track towing vehicle. What do you think about that, Lieutenant?”

I answered with the most honest answer available, “Sounds like I’m a busy fucking man, Sir.”

“That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said since you walked in here, Lieutenant. Get the fuck out of my office and get to work.”

I offered the requisite salute. He half-heartedly returned it. It felt like the military equivalent of being flipped the bird. I marched out in as dignified a manner as one can when they’ve had their proverbial ass handed to them and as soon as his office door closed…I sprinted to my car!

The thing that struck me in that whole exchange, and has stayed with me to this day 20+ years later, was the “and their families.” THAT’S when I started to get it. That’s the moment my education and my military bearing began to develop in earnest. There are SO many more lives impacted than I ever understood. It was time to get serious.

So every time Veteran’s Day rolls around, that’s where my mind wanders…back to that exchange and to the families. Service members make the choice to serve. They sign the contracts. Certainly circumstances with every individual decision, but ultimately those of us that sign the contracts to serve make that choice. Many family members do not. They’re kind of brought along for the ride. So I’ll close with this. Thanks, to all that served. And thanks to the families that serve in their own way along with everyone of us. Erin, thanks you too for taking the ride with me. And Thank You, Sir, for setting a clueless young lieutenant on the path to responsibility and really becoming an adult.