The other day I wrote here that an unintended consequence of females being allowed to serve in infantry units was that their inability to keep up physically with their male counterparts could hamper their prospects for promotion. One of the commenters (I always read comments on my writings because someone inevitably points out something I’ve missed) noted that there could be a much more basic physical reason for women to avoid serving in the infantry. And as anyone who has ever served in the infantry well knows, he made a very valid point.
And that point is simply this: For anyone who wants to maintain a youthful visage, the infantry is probably your absolute worst career choice. The cumulative effect of all those years in the woods, the mountains, the desert, and always in the sun, leaves the average infantry senior NCO with a face that looks twenty years older than its true age. The accounts among infantry veterans abound of NCO’s in their thirties who look like they are in their fifties or even sixties. My own anecdote:
An old buddy from the 101st came to visit in Pensacola in the late 70?s. I’d gotten out after six years to get my degree on the GI Bill. He’d stayed in the intervening ten years and was now an E-8 first sergeant. When we met him at the airport, I was stunned by how lined and weather-beaten his face was at the age of 35, a year younger than me. He looked to be in his fifties. At the house, while he was unpacking in the guest bedroom, my wife’s first words when we were alone was, “He’s younger than you are? You’ve got to be kidding. He looks more like your father.”
Another commenter recounted the story of a hard-living, hard-driving, SFC platoon sergeant in his combat engineer company, whose subordinates were so convinced the old geezer had to be at least in his sixties that they got up a pool to pay whoever could guess closest to his age. The “geezer” won. He was thirty-seven.
Mind you now, this doesn’t happen to everyone but it does so frequently enough that such stories are quite common in the combat arms units, particularly in the infantry. When I joined the Army in 1959, I was trained by a series of NCO’s who had served in the Korean War and a few who were WWII veterans. Most of them looked like they could have been WWI veterans. The infantry is a hard, hard life that extracts a high payment from those who choose it. Perhaps recruiters should be required to issue an aging-related health warning of sorts to young female prospects:
We are required to advise you, prior to your signing this contract of enlistment, that a career in the infantry can result in your resembling this before age forty.
That should really shorten the lines…