[December 3, 2019] My first winter in West Germany was a difficult time for me after growing up in the warm Deep South of the United States. Not only was winter cold and snow new to me, but in late 1974, Germany was experiencing terror attacks by the Baader-Meinhof Gang. I was stationed at a nuclear weapons’ storage site, and the conditions were far from ideal. My supervisor, a tough Staff Sergeant Dickerson, told us to “Just suck it up and move on.”
For my non-American readers, the expression suck it up and move on means to accept something bad, deal with it successfully, and get on with your life. This idiom is widely used in the U.S. military, most often expressed as advice to those new in the service. Some say it helps to understand the culture of the military.
Sergeant Dickerson had been an Army Private in the Vietnam War and was the kind of soldier you wanted at your side. When trouble came lurking, Dickerson was there with a motivational word or two, a blunt-instrument solution, and a philosophy that said go to the next problem. “Always look ahead,” he would say, “Stop dwelling on the past.” I always liked the way he put things in such simple terms.
The years I was at my first duty station in West Germany were full of learning about the German culture (plus speaking the language), how to prepare myself for combat (this would come in handy later), and a new philosophy on life. I gained an appreciation for combat soldiers like Dickerson and his friends, all who had served in Vietnam.
Learning to live a well-meaning life was a twist on what I’d grown up learning in church on Sundays. Oh yes, I had been taught to treat others like I wanted to be treated. I also knew various stories from the Bible. What I didn’t know was that to survive and be successful meant to focus on your plan for the future and be prepared to sacrifice today for gain tomorrow.
This look to the future means building character. And, yes, one can consciously build their character. It takes some hard work and focus. It will require help from others, like your battle-buddy and friends. No amount of avoiding the issue will work. No coddling, whining, or crying will work. There are truly no free beers when you’re building up yourself. This is no easy task.
If only I had a nickel for every time someone in the Army told me to ‘suck it up.’ I learned that what happens today may become part of me, but it will not define me unless I allow it. Today, those entering the U.S. military have a different outlook. They believe, in many cases, that they are owed something by society. They are also less prone to let things go now or look into the future.
My advice to those new to the military, “suck it up and move on.”