Uncle Sam does not want me

I had completed my daily three-mile run and was back home doing 50 sit-ups in front of the TV. "Find out how you can be an Army of one," the voice in the commercial commanded, as soldiers rappelled from helicopters.

"That looks like fun," I thought. "I'm no Demi Moore, but I think I could survive military training."

The armed forces spend millions of dollars on recruiting - enough to buy a couple dozen toilet seats at Pentagon prices - only to reject many who try to sign up.

They wouldn't be wasting their money on me. I don't use drugs, I'm not overweight, I have a college degree - I can even find Afghanistan and Iraq on a map.

Yes, I'd have a lot to offer, unless they asked me that one key question that keeps many of us from serving in the military. No, not that question. I'm referring to the question "How old are you?"

You see, I'm 51 - and the cut-off age for joining the military is 34.

We're in a war against terror - but the recruiting posters still say, "Uncle Sam Wants You - Unless You're a Geezer."

I'm allowed to join a police department - they no longer have upper age limits - and risk my life against an armed robber. But I'm not allowed to do the same against an armed soldier.

The Peace Corps would let me sign up, the way Jimmy Carter's mother, Miss Lillian, did at age 67. I could be sent to some primitive region where they don't have e-mail and have never heard of Ozzy Osbourne. But I couldn't sign up for the Army and get sent to a supply depot in Oklahoma.

Would baby boomers like me really want to serve? You bet - either out of a sense of altruism or a midlife crisis. After sitting in a cubicle for a couple of decades, we could find an obstacle course a nice change of pace. After years of enduring back-stabbing office politics, bayonet drills might seem kind of mild. And anyone who's listened to his kids whine, "Are we there yet?" on a 500-mile car trip could take anything a drill sergeant dishes out.

If I had joined at 18, they wouldn't have kicked me out yet. By now I might be a colonel or a general, or at least a very senior private first class. And my annual physical fitness test would have "relaxed" standards, just as my pants now have "relaxed fit."

So maybe I wouldn't be the guy dangling from a moving helicopter. Maybe I'd be the guy who filled out Form 3478-B to requisition helicopter-dangling rope. Or maybe they'd let me use my journalism skills to write some of those cool commercials.

I don't mean I should be guaranteed a cushy assignment in an air-conditioned office. You don't have to be a Navy SEAL or Army Green Beret to serve in a hardship post or combat zone.

What's the military afraid of? Do they think I'll drive one of their tanks real slowly, with the turn signal blinking?

Maybe they should compromise and come up with a new version of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. As long as a soldier didn't openly listen to an oldies station, the Army wouldn't ask his musical preference.

What would happen if they lifted the age ban? Think of the possibilities. A doting parent who was worried about his or her child's welfare could enlist with them.

Picture this: It's 4:30 in the morning. The barracks door bursts open, a drill sergeant bangs a stick on a trash can lid and yells in a recruit's face, "Get up! This is the Army! I'm not your mother!" From the far end of the barracks a mature voice wafts, "But I am. Time to get up, dear. Didn't you hear reveille?"

Mike Revzin is an Atlanta journalist.

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