According to the guest panelists Friday at Westminster College, while military life is often challenging, it can also be incredibly fulfilling.
That was a common theme of the answers from six panelists, each of whom was at a different stage in his military career — from retired Lt. Col. Steve Hardin, who served during and after the Vietnam War, to Cadet Eric Warren, a student and ROTC participant at Lincoln University.
The panel took questions from Westminster students about the military as part of the college's Veterans Day celebration.
"I have no real regrets (about joining the military), except that I missed a lot of family time," Staff Sgt. Averial Williams said.
Williams spent 15 years with the military and is currently studying computer science at Lincoln University. His father and grandfather served, so following in their footsteps felt natural.
"Two days after I graduated high school, I was on a bus to basic training," Williams said.
While his dad was supportive, he knew his mother was opposed — so he ended up not telling her where he was going until they were saying goodbye at the bus terminal.
"She saw my Army bag and asked, 'Wait, what's going on?'" Williams said.
He said it's a story he can laugh about now, but at the time, his mother was furious.
During his military career, Williams was stationed in Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations. He said his service taught him everything from a good work ethic to leadership skills. College is easy compared to being responsible for other peoples' lives, he said.
It also taught him to be grateful for the lifestyle he has in America.
"When I was in Afghanistan, a young boy (visiting the base) stepped on a rock or something and was bleeding," Williams said. "We bandaged him up and found him an old pair of boots to wear."
However, the next time he saw the boy, he was barefoot again. When Williams asked him where the boots were, the boy said he'd sold them to feed his family.
Williams has passed that story on to his own children, to remind them of how much they have.
Westminster's chief financial officer, retired Capt. Ken Maher, joined the service when he was older than 30 and married with children.
"My inspiration was one morning in 2001 when I was working out at a gym and watching the planes hit the Twin Towers," Maher said.
He wanted to give back to the country that took such good care of him. While he had to get a special waiver from the military to enlist at that age, he pushed through basic training and served as an infantryman.
While his service wasn't without hardships, Maher learned valuable lessons.
"It helped me remember that life is short," he said. "I went to so many memorial services."
Warren is part of the next generation of armed service members. He joined the ROTC after realizing his dream to play soccer had grown stale, and he didn't really have a backup plan.
"It kept me out of trouble and helped me find friends — people I wouldn't usually hang out with," Warren said. "It helped me start over, in a sense, and mature."
He expressed pride in the leadership skills he's already learned.
According to Capt. Benjamin Hardy, who leads the ROTC program at Lincoln, cultivating cadets is what makes his job so satisfying.
"What each cadet brings is a unique perspective on leadership," Hardy said.