Thursday, 7 January 2010

Military Service (Part 1 of probably many)

I’ve been asked to talk about my military service and of course I couldn’t refuse…

Greece is one of the last remaining countries where it’s mandatory to join the army if you’re a boy over the age of 18 (lucky for us). Don’t get me started on why this is happening because there are so many reasons, political and financial. It’s also funny because Greece (not a very wealthy nation anyway) is being charged by the EU every year for discriminating between the sexes, since only the boys serve (on top of the rest of the money being spent).

Since I was young, I could hear stories regarding someone’s horrible experience during their service. Almost everybody has some weird story to tell, most of which were horrifying and sickening. It’s like the fishermen and the size of the fish they manage to catch. The scarier the story, the more times it’s being told.

The simple ones were about breakups, very bad weather, the lack of running water, food poisoning and the bad ones were about people being shot in shooting practice, traffic accidents with military vehicles or how homosexuals were being tortured by their supervisors / colleagues. Especially the latter category was like an all time classic. I could hear them everywhere. I’ve heard so many stories about gay people in the army that used to make my skin crawl.

I remember spending some sleepless nights worrying about it while growing up. I was horrified about the whole thing. I had heard that during the medical exams they do the first day you join, there is a specific test to check whether you’re gay or not (I was a bit gullible when very young). The funny bit is that these stories were hugely repeated and I heard them from various different people. I was told for example that the doctor checks the size of your anus (big anus = you’re gay in case you were wondering). Or since they make you strip naked in from of other men, they could check whether you’d be aroused by it or not. The bottom line of these stories was that, in case you’re gay, you’d be definitely found out and being taught a very good lesson about your ‘flaw’…

Anyway (I’m being carried away again)…
When I was 15 or 16 I was called to register with the rest of my generation. I had to present myself to the local military registration office to declare that I’m more than happy (yeah, right) to serve my country and that I’m healthy as far as I knew to do so. Back then (almost 15 years ago), you were able to say whether you wanted to serve in the air force, navy, ground force or the special forces. It was considered between the boys at school to be extra cool to say you wanted to serve in the special forces but I was not fooled (of course). I wanted to get it done as painless and quickly as possible. I knew that the air forces probably were the easiest option, but I couldn’t face to serve six months more than I had to, so I registered for the normal troops.

I don’t know if it is for the best or not, but you’re allowed to finish your studies before doing your service, so I first finished my first degree and then joined the army. I was 24 then. Sometimes, I think that it would be better for everyone if they forced you to join the army before university (like they do in Cyprus). When you finish your studies, you’re already a grown man, used to live by your own rules and ready to start your career. It’s not easy going back to the army, having your liberties restrained and being told to do things that you know do not make any sense or have any significance. I had people with me, much older than I was, with PhDs and PostDocs being treated like scum by uneducated offices half their age for no apparent reason…

So, beginning January 2005 I received the document declaring that I had to present myself early February in the training grounds of a specific military base in South Greece. I wasn’t allowed to have with me a list of things like a camera, mobile phone, medicines (unless prescribed), left winged books / newspapers, electronic equipment etc. I was just informed that I would be released with my first days off after I would be officially sworn as a proper soldier three weeks later.

I remember perfectly well my last day as a citizen. I was very worried and took some friends out to celebrate my last day of freedom (I just didn’t want to stay home, just waiting for time to pass). I had already bought everything that I thought I would need like padlocks for the lockers, bags and boots (you had to lock them together to find them the next day), underwear, crosswords, books, small music player, an old mobile phone (so that it wouldn’t be stolen) etc. I knew it was forbidden to have mobile phones with you, but I also knew that everybody would have them (some rules are meant to be broken).

So, the next day my parents drove me to my military base. We left my hometown before sunrise to be on time and I remember that it was snowing halfway there. I was worried about the barracks not having central heating or hot running water. I was worried about being discovered as being gay and if I’d survive the experience. I was worried about the type of people I would meet. I was worried about the length of my hair.

I was practically worried about everything.
I remember thinking that I had 364 more days until the end of what I thought would be an endless nightmare…


  1. ......good stuff... more please :-)

  2. wwoooah. hectic. I remember in SA it was still mandatory and i was shitting myself, i was so scared because i had also heard so many horrible stories, then, just before i finished school there were changes made and it was no longer mandatory. I sighed a breath of relief.

  3. Exciting story. I can't wait to read the next parts.