The military has at times been criticized for being resistant to social change. In the last few years, though, its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, policy, which prohibited LGBT Americans from serving openly, was repealed; the military allowed women to serve in all roles, including frontline combat positions; and, most recently, the Department of Defense lifted a ban on openly transgender service members.
Sergeant First Class Patricia Robert has served in the Army for 15 years and has witnessed the impacts of some of the military’s most progressive changes. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Robert about how her identity aligns with the Army, why she feels the Army is a microcosm of society, and why she’s uncomfortable when people say “Thank you for your service.” The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Adrienne Green: What made you decide to enlist in the Army?
Patricia Robert: It was definitely an impulse decision. Very similar to the kids of today, I was struggling in college. I was in my mid-20’s, and the jobs that I was able to get with a high-school diploma weren't enough to get me launched as an adult. So I looked into the military in late 2000 as a way to have a guaranteed job and a paycheck, even if it was fairly small. I thought maybe I could save up and actually become an adult without incurring massive debt. I found out fairly quickly that I really enjoyed the structure. I picked the right job accidentally, and I really enjoy my work.