A few of my friends have asked me why I stay in the reserves, now that I have a book deal. I’m under contract for 3 novels with tight delivery dates. It’s pretty standard in the business to be late on delivery of a manuscript, and publishers are known to be indulgent/flexible on moving deadlines around to accommodate the creative process (of course, the better your sales, the more patient/flexible you can count on a publisher to be). This is a good thing. You can’t rush the creative process. A good book takes time to write. You have to walk away from it, let it percolate. Getting a half-baked novel to market just to meet a deadline is a recipe for a lousy book that won’t sell well.
But anyone who knows me knows that I take deadlines very, very seriously. I have nothing but respect for writers who request extensions in an effort to do their best work, but my mental state couldn’t handle it. I meet or beat my deadlines (and not just for writing) or I go mad. It’s how I’m wired and I’m done fighting it.
So being a reservist presents some serious challenges. The regular time commitment is no big deal: 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks a year. That’s about 9% of the year spent working an amazing job with incredible benefits that really helps people. It’s a no brainer.
Mobilization is another matter.
The last time I got called up, I was at Balticon, a fun convention and important networking event for me. It was the first time in months I’d gotten to see my agent and my best friend, and to blow off some steam after a rough patch in my life. I had booked a hotel room and paid the con fee. I’d been at the con for all of 4 hours and was having lunch at a nearby restaurant when I got the call. I had 48 hours to get to New Orleans to respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I was gone for 2 months.
I was really glad to get that call. There’s nothing that burns me more than watching some kind of major crisis where I know I can help, and then having to stand by and do nothing (or what feels like nothing, even though I know it’s helpful, like donating money to the Red Cross). The oil spill was dominating media at the time, and I was chomping at the bit to get out there and *do* something about it. Even as we speak, part of me is annoyed that I haven’t been mobilized to deal with the crises in Libya and Japan.
But yeah, I had to pick up and go RIGHT NOW. That was tough. And it begs the hard question: Now that I have books under contract and on a deadline, what am I going to do if I get mobilized again? What am I going to do if the long hours of writing I have on the nights and weekends are suddenly consumed by 18 hour watches, equipment checks, patrols and briefings to my command?
But that’s an easy one for me. The answer is this: I will answer the call without hesitation and I will figure out a way to make it work. I will go without sleep, I will spend my lunch hours, watch-standdowns and mandatory crew rest periods writing frantically. And yes, if I absolutely must, I will ask my publisher for an extension.
Because writing supports *my* dream, but my service in the military supports *everyone’s* dreams. I cannot shrink from that.
Not to wax maudlin here. I’m no glassy-eyed America-First drone. I am eyes wide open about the problems with this country: Our heavy-handed ideological imperialism, our monocultural bigotry, emphasizing punishment over rehabilitation. I am saddened by our tendency to laud individualism, maverick values and free expression, only to give the lie to this and vigorously attempt to hammer down every nail that sticks up. We’re big fans of destroying people’s lives “for their own good,” and it’s tough to reconcile that sometimes. But for all its flaws, this is an amazing country. It is truly a unique and powerful experiment, free and fair in ways that no other place on earth is. America has given me everything good in my life: safety and freedom, wealth and prosperity. It has true social mobility in ways that nowhere else on the planet does, opportunities for personal reinvention and cultural shifts that are unprecedented and breathtaking. It has produced my favorite warriors, artists and political thinkers. It is the home of my friends and family. Do I believe in the dulce et decorum est pro patria mori stuff? Absolutely. In my bones. I love this country and the people in it (and I mean ALL the people) with every fiber of my being. I will not hesitate to lay down my life for it if that’s what it comes to.
And that’s why meeting my reserve obligations is not negotiable. Because integrity means you do what you said you would, and I said that I loved you, and that I would protect you, and I meant it. There are reservists out there who let themselves “go into the red” on their readiness metrics, allowing their medical/dental status to expire in the hopes that they won’t be eligible when the flag goes up and they’re needed. I’m not that guy and I never will be.
I’ve been serving this country one way or another for roughly a decade and have garnered a few decorations in that time, but there’s no doubt in my mind which one I’m most proud of. The Armed Forces Reserve Medal is one of lowest on the order of heraldic precedence, but it means the most to me. The medal displays a flaming torch in front of a crossed powder horn and a bugle. The bugle represents the call to duty; the powder horn stands for defense, and the torch is symbolic of liberty. But the most important part of this medal for me is the small bronze letter M affixed to the center of the cloth ribbon.
Because it says that I kept my promise. It says that when you called me, when you sounded the horn, I was ready and I answered.
It is the best way I know to tell you how much I love you, and to remind you that when you need me, I’ll be there.