It has been quite some time since the fictional character, Rocky Balboa, has achieved the stature of a cultural icon. Sylvester Stallone’s hugely successful film franchise has his beloved “Italian Stallion” exchanging blows with one adversary after the other. Yet Stallone has repeatedly insisted over the decades since the debut of the original Rocky that the series is not ultimately about boxing at all.
Rather, it is about life.
As he reveals in his recently published, Don’t Thank Me, Thank Your Recruiter, Army veteran Ken Conklin is one person who knows the value of using metaphors to better discern the pearls that life has to offer. But there are two differences between Conklin and Stallone in this regard.
First, it is by way of the imagery of the military, not boxing,that Conklin delineates for his readers the contours of life.
Second, it is from his experience in the military that Conklin draws.
That is, in contrast to Rocky, Conklin, and the story that he recapitulates, are real.
Yet Conklin’s book is dramatically unlike any other centered on the military in supplying readers with an insider’s account of life among “Support Soldiers”—not “Combat Soldiers.” It would be a grave mistake, however, to think that it is any less ridden with action and adventure for this.
And it would be an equally grave mistake to think that Support Soldiers generally, and Conklin in particular, aren’t the most determined of fighters.
Written in an earthy, matter of fact style, Conklin pulls no punches as he shares with readers his nearly ten year journey in the United States Army. This is a journey that originates in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and ends (well, sort of ends) in 2011 when the author leaves the military. It is a journey that, despite its humble beginnings in Smallville, USA, Conklin’s beloved Saint Johnsville, New York, winds up transcending continents: Iraq, South Korea, and Afghanistan are just some of the far off places on Conklin’s itinerary, lands that he describes with all of the blood, sweat, and tears of which only an American soldier is capable of shedding.
Yet in the last resort, Conklin’s is not a journey about places and times. It is a personal odyssey, an adolescent’s trek toward manhood.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.