For 45 years I have been haunted by the fact that if I had been born less than four hours earlier my lottery number would have been 359 and, most certainly, my life would have been very different.
Standing on the steps of a college dorm on that evening in December, 1969 I recall only two moments – the moment I heard my number called and the moment a number was called for a high school classmate – a number that also determined the path ahead for him.
For me, it meant being drafted with a great deal of certitude. Quite accidentally, but fortunately, I was able to get into an Army National Guard Unit in August 1970 in my small rural community in eastern Oregon. Although a medical exam had determined that I had elevated blood pressure that could possibly change my I-A status, I elected the National Guard. After basic training and AIT I returned to my eastern Oregon home and the local National Guard Unit. I often think of of a fellow trainee I met in basic with the same lottery number as me. His "RA" or Regular Army status undoubtedly took him to Vietnam.
I had completed three years of college before enlisting and needed to finish up. When it was time to go to graduate school I located a program at a school in central California (there was no graduate program at the college I was attending or at any nearby). However, despite my very best efforts, and those of others, I could not find a nearby National Guard Unit to transfer to. Guard units were full and next to impossible to transfer to in California and across the country. Attending weekend drills over a thousand miles away would have been prohibitive.
So, I completed an alternative one-year program at the Oregon college that did not prove to suffice as a springboard to my career of choice. For all six of the six years I was in the National Guard I attempted to transfer out to no avail.
Falling back on secondary skills and interests, I bumped along from career field to career field and very late in my working years managed to retire from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. I say "retire" but it was really a lay-off through no fault of my own due to the state’s economy in 2009. I was the first employee laid off in the 40 year history of the agency (a number of others were also eventually laid off).
As for my fellow high school classmate with the high lottery number-the star quarterback and big man on campus-as a result of his less than admirable study skills, he matriculated to four different universites in four/five years to earn his undergraduate degree. Thanks in large part to his high lottery number, and the mobility and freedom it offered, he also eventually earned advanced degrees at two schools in different parts of the country. He now has a very, very comfortable retirement.
Despite the details and results of my story, however, I do not regret the military discipline and experience. While I have been able to secure a VA mortgage, I remain disconcerted that there are essentially no other benefits to those of us who involuntarily interrupted our lives temporarily or permanently for the sake of service to our country.