Army "Buddies"

Thursday, August 20, 2009
A few months ago my wife and I had some friends over for a barbecue at my house. They were (still are) a nice couple with a young son in school, whose father I had begun working with in the late summer. He was a great guy, our kids got along fine, and our wives did as well. It was a good fit all around. We had spent almost one night each weekend at each other's homes for supper and coffee for the last few months and I was beginning to see that these were folks who I could expect to know as friends for a long time.

I believe it is like that in the Army. Despite grand distances and great lengths of time between visits you will usually refer to people you've met along the way and your Army "buddies", and along with their families you think of them as friends. This guy was now my buddy, and our families were now friends.

My buddy had the honor of receiving an award in Washington D.C. at a formal reception attended by many high ranking Army officers. There were many impressive names you would know being in the army in attendance. People I refer to as "Army rock stars" when they're not around, and "Sir" or "General" when they are. He and his wife were seated next to a rock star and his wife at the gala, and the ladies were chit-chatting.

My friend was talking about all of the wonderful friends she'd made along the way traveling with her Army husband. When she said the word "friends" the general's wife began to correct her. She explained that there was a difference between "friends" and "acquaintances" and that one ought to be more distinct about who she referred to as a friend. "Friends" were lifelong companions like the ones you met in school and continue to see all the time, and what my friend encountered in her travels with her husband in the Army were "acquaintances." Apparently, she had been able to convince my friend of her point of view, for a short while anyway. Meanwhile I had been sitting across from her nervous that I might be an "acquaintance" of the only couple I had been able to make "friends" with in the area. My wife assures me that she was able to reassure our friend that we would be the type of "friends" she could look forward to having for quite a while. To this day we are really close to that couple.

I bring all this up to say that I'm very sad for that general's wife who has no friends but is proud of her large pool of acquaintances. I believe this has something to do with her involvement in her husband's career, where it is likely that she and he both are compelled to socialize with folks for professional reasons, and not necessarily to spend time with people they like and enjoy. A large part of their professional lives has bled into their personal social life. I imagine as a general there is a large part of the job that takes place outside of the office. Not necessarily on the golf course like you see in movies (although it could be possible) but at functions, ceremonies, etc.

I evaluated my own social relationships with folks I worked with using this new categorizing system of "friends" and "acquaintances." I realized that I have very few "acquaintances" (a term I've never liked using to begin with) and many many dear friends who are either my Army "buddies" or their families and I look forward to meeting with them whenever I can. I'm glad to say that I have these people in my life, even if it means I'll never get to be a general.