Our son, Ethan, has  been in the army a little over five months now. Where I last left off was that after spending some time with us for the holidays, he  headed back to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey to study Korean for the next 64 weeks.

We hadn’t heard from him much until a week or so ago when he said he was making a quick trip home to pick up an adjunct to his studies: his Play Station.  And on the way back, he was going to stop at Best Buy and purchase a TV to use with it.

Play Stations and TVs in the army? Sort of blows the image of my son, the soldier, roughing it in a tent, eating a cold MRE with nothing more than a deck of cards for entertainment. That was an accurate picture of life for him during Basic Training when he was training to be an infantryman. But now, he’s in a totally different sort of military environment; albeit, one that’s a lot looser but still military nevertheless.

He says being at the DLI is like being in college; if he had gone to college and actually had to study. There were a couple of semesters at San Francisco State where I’m sure he didn’t buy any textbooks yet managed to pass his classes with decent grades. That scenario won’t fly at the DLI; he is in a class with six other students so sitting at the back of the class with a hangover and hoping that the professor doesn’t call on you isn’t an option. They have almost weekly tests and if I understand it correctly, if the student doesn’t score 85% or above, he is required to attend mandatory study hall.

Ethan says he is so happy that he went to college before coming to the DLI because going to any college – except perhaps the most rigorous school – would be a huge letdown after the level of commitment and focus that is required at the DLI. He describes the experience of Basic Combat Training as being under a lot of duress, what with being yelled at all the time and trying to stick to the rules; but that duress in BCT has been replaced by stress at the DLI because if a soldier fails to perform, the army has no problem finding him or her a specialty more suited to their abilities.

This has given Ethan a healthy fear of the consequences if he slacks off on his studying. It would be a long and painful fall from cryptographic linguist to the army equivalent of gas station attendant. Not that I know that this is exactly what would happen, but apparently a significant percentage of students don’t make the grade.

What does all this have to do with Ethan getting his Play Station? He says that having access to video games – a pastime that he loves – will test his ability to stay disciplined and not slack off on his studies. I know he can do it; if there is one thing the army is teaching him, it’s discipline.