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One aspect of life in the service that I have limited experience in is that of the military child. Even so, though I have no kids of my own and am the first of my family to serve, experiencing secondhand the trials and tribulations of raising a family in the service has left a lasting impression. This came about not only through my various interactions with dependents*, but also in dealing with service members who themselves were Army Brats and understanding the myriad of issues that compelled them to sign up and what drives them to keep going. This week's episode of Enlisted takes a look into this theme with the assured humor, tact and sincerity that I have come to love about this show.
SSG Hill and the platoon get assigned to do some house-helping for a deployed soldier's family - in this case a dorky husband named Rodney Spratt and his disaffected son Tim. After these past few weeks at Fort McGee, Pete seems resigned to his fate as a Rear-D Ranger and decides to "embrace the suck" and put forth his full effort into the menial work that that the 18th Infantry Division provides. However, Rodney's annoying personality and demanding odd jobs are a test to Pete's resolve in a way that not even a positive mental attitude can overcome. Meanwhile, SSG Perez lobbies for a slot in ALC**, but instead gets roped into CSM Cody's helpless scheming as he faces a daunting challenge that can break even the hardest of warriors: dealing with his budding teenage daughter.
One of the details that immediately caught my attention was having the spouse be a husband instead of the usual Army Wife. One of our esteemed commenters noted in a previous review that he was initially concerned that the show would "normalize" the Army. While I think I understand what he meant in regards to the dangers of glorifying violence and advocating blind patriotism, I still wasn't quite sure how to take that because...well, I feel pretty "normal" despite my profession. And while this life has its own set of hazards and stress unlike anything else, in the end we are people reacting as anyone else would as they overcome the obstacles that life puts before us. In the same vein, modern families take on all kinds of shapes and dynamics, so it was nice to see that the not uncommon stay-at-home dad is shown here, albeit in this particular form as the male military spouse. I think that having the show "normalize" a family dynamic like that sends a good message, regardless of what you might think of the military as a whole. Moreover, instead of making it a big deal about gender roles/reversals and potentially milking that concept to make tasteless jokes , the show simply makes use of that matter-of-fact element to tell a universal story about a parent trying to connect with their child.
By the same token, the issue of gender becomes a significant factor for SSG Perez and her misadventures with CSM Cody, but again it is handled with subtlety to emphasize a larger point about family and caring for each other. The normally wise old hard-charging Sergeant Major becomes a jumble of nerves and confusion when trying to figure out his daughter (and god bless Keith David for consistently being able to portray taciturn statesman and goofball all at once; it makes for a well-rounded character and all around fun viewing). We learn that since he is divorced, there is no longer a female voice of reason in the household to help him sort things out. He desperately entraps Jill into helping him spy on his daughter and her date hoping she will help make sense of all this "lady business," but failing to realize that he is marginalizing such an exemplary NCO.
Gut Check Time: Both situations reach a breaking point; Pete completely loses his temper and berates Rodney in front of his son (his explosion brings to mind that unpleasant video of the road-raging Marine posted last week, especially now knowing that Pete is dealing with trauma, but the rage fit is itself explained in a running gag which helps keep it from going into darker territory), and Jill has her fill of CSM Cody's treatment, though it's clear that she is as heartbroken as she is furious. Randy exhibits genuine disdain for his older brother's behavior (with surprisingly harsh language...for such an upbeat lighthearted show like this anyway), and in a comically touching meeting of minds Pete realizes his error and sets out to make things right. Sergeant Major also realizes his mistake and has a heart to heart with SSG Perez. I really enjoyed the insight into Jill's past that is revealed here. Far too often, when a woman in the workplace is ferociously dedicated and steadfast in her aim for success, she gets waved off as just being a bitch. And while SSG Perez may come off as a tough as nails "man eater," we learn that it's her unfortunate past of having no positive support and guidance that really pushes her. It reminded me very much of my first NCO: a young fast tracking 4 foot 9 Vietnamese bookworm, yet a no-nonsense stalwart firebrand that cracked the whip and no doubt contributed to my continued successes to this day. It's a great moment that reemphasizes how important it is to have a female character that is such a positive role model on TV.
In the end credits, SSG Hill devises a different way to help the Spratts by having the platoon act in a homemade YouTube film, something Randy learns Tim has a fondness for. Seeing the use of film as a healing tool reminded me of something very special that I'd like to share with you all. Last year I learned about a program known as the Patton Veterans Project and its special initiative called the I Was There Film workshops. The Patton project was developed by Benjamin Patton, the grandson of the famous General George S. Patton, as a non-profit organization providing support to military families coping with PTSD by using tools of modern media. I Was There Films consists of filmmaking workshops that combine the therapeutic value of storytelling with the power of digital media, enabling participants to connect with others and make sense of their service-related experiences through the creation of short films. This generation of service members who have fought this decades-long war are unique in having grown up with social media ingrained in our existence. Films and filmmaking affects us especially in that we have grown up with both movies at our fingertips and being used to broadcasting our own lives with clips, tweets, Vines and Instagrams (...and dick pics), and it was really cool to see a part of that reflected in the show. Below you can see a news clip about the project, as well as an example of one of the films made by a veteran who went through the program. As well, you can visit the main website at http://www.iwastherefilms.org/ to get more information, as well as to see many more of the film contributions.
Even with its solid routine and reliable format, Enlisted has not failed to surprise me yet. Gottdamn, am I glad this show exists. It is my hope that some of you have caught on to appreciate it too. As always, please post all your questions and comments. I know there's some military family members, spouses and loved ones watching too who also read BAD, so I'd love to see your take on this episode and the show in general. Peace.
*I know this is a common use term, especially as it applies to paying taxes, but the term "dependent" always felt weird to me, as if your family is just a commodity/liability. To be perfectly honest, I'm not too keen on certain expenditures we make to accommodate military families (overseas housing for example), but I guess I'm of the unpopular old mindset of "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, they'd have issued you one." That said, my wife actually makes more than me, so when I retire I'm definitely gonna be the one depending on my brown-sugar mama.
**Advanced Leader Course: In the past, while a degree was required to become a commissioned officer, there was no formal education requirement for enlisted members. As time went on, the Army realized that experience and on-the-job training weren't enough to prepare and equip senior leaders for the ever-increasing demands and complexity of war. Throughout the years, formal programs were established, culminating in the present NCO Education System which makes certain courses such as Warrior Leaders Course and Senior Leaders Course prerequisites for different tiers for promotion.
TLDR: It's "Sergeant School." ALC was one of the best experiences I've ever had. Like Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj. Yeah, I liked that movie. I will fight you.