En español | While many 59-year-olds are starting to think about easing into retirement, Staff Sgt. Monte Gould decided to enlist in the military for the third time. What he didn't realize was that he would be asked to go through boot camp again.
"Nobody ever goes through basic training and thinks to themselves, Oh, I want to repeat that,” Gould said. “I figured my Marine Corps boot camp that I went through in 1978 was sufficient."
Gould had already served 18 years in the military. He first joined the Marine Corps in 1978; he stayed for three years. Then, in response to Operation Desert Storm, he enlisted with the Army National Guard in 1992, as an infantryman and sniper, for 10 years. In 2002 he became an Army Reserve civil affairs specialist.
Despite already having an expansive career in the military, Gould felt he had more to give, which contributed to his motivation for reenlisting in the Army in 2020.
"I also wanted to serve my nation in this time of conflict, because I felt like my contribution to my nation was not sufficient for me at this point,” he explained. “I felt as if I needed to do more, and I felt compelled to be more for my nation."
But first, he asked his wife, Lisa, and sons for their support.
"I busted out laughing — it was funny,” Lisa said. “But not in a mean type of way. But you know what? If you could do it, anybody could do it. You don't have to give up. When you get older, you keep going"
Gould's youngest son, Army Spc. Jarrod Gould, 35, also expressed support for his father. This would be essential, as the two were assigned to the same unit, the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, out of Las Vegas.
"The ability to serve [with] my son — which very few people get an opportunity to do — that was a biggie,” he said.
Training for basic training
Although he maintains an active, healthy life, Gould said he needed to lose weight and increase his cardiovascular fitness to compete with people much younger than he at boot camp.
His training included completing rucksack marches over distances as long as 22 miles while carrying 45 pounds of rocks. He also lifted weights and did pull-ups, sit-ups and abdominal exercises.
Other challenges arose in the form of administrative hurdles. Gould said he was asked to submit reams of paperwork, get a background check, speak with several recruiters and undergo multiple physical exams.
"They're pretty strict on a guy that's 59 years old,” he said. “It's no joke; they're going to check everything, and they're going to check it twice, and they're going to ensure that you can physically do this before you're allowed in."
The secret to surviving boot camp 40 years later
Among recruits as young as 17 in basic combat training, Gould was four decades older than some of his peers.
"Picture yourself, a 59-year-old man ... being thrust into a situation by which you have to be with 17- to 19-year-olds, day in and day out, for three months,” he said. “You have to adapt to their culture. ... But then you've also got to tolerate these 17- to 19-year-olds in the way they think, which is what's different."
Thanks to his rank as a staff sergeant, Gould was housed away from the rest of the trainees at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Yet the age difference between him and the rest of the troops presented perhaps his most difficult challenge — more than the physical demands.
"I gained a lot of respect of a lot of people that were very hesitant when they saw me because, frankly, there were a few people that were struck by my age and my physical appearance, because I didn't look like I was 59 years old,” he said.
Gould said that going through boot camp a second time was much easier than it was in 1978. Not only did he find the physical expectations to be less demanding, but mentally, he already knew what to expect and where he was going in life.
"You can see over the mountain,” he observed. “I hate to put it that way, but you can see on the other side, where you're going, where this path leads, and you know it can only last so long. So you're always considering that.”
Gould called upon his vast life experiences — from scuba diving to hiking to multiple close encounters with death in all parts of the world.
"There's nothing there that was going to bother me,” he said. “There was nothing there that frustrated me to the point where I thought, Oh, my God, I can't do this."
Gould is now the oldest individual to complete the current version of basic training (the oldest ever was 68), finishing in the top 10 percent of his training cycle.
His “candor, leadership expertise and technical proficiency are unmatched,” one of Gould's training officers said.
Gould plans on serving for about two more years, in order to fulfill the military's pension requirement. Afterward, he hopes to do more backpacking, fishing and scuba diving.
"One of my personal mantras is ‘Always be better,’ “ he said. “Be a better person and do something better with your life each and every day. Whether it's volunteering in your community, joining the military, becoming part of an organization that helps in humanitarian aid and support, or volunteering at the local hospital, find something that gives you meaning in life."