About a two and a half centuries from now, when I was a much younger man, some friends and I signed on for a hitch of off-world military service in the new United Systems Expeditionary Forces. There had been absolutely no hostile contact with other spacefaring species at that point, but there was always the threat of pirates and cartel militias to the newer, more remote colonies.
The USEF seemed like a great way to travel and gain experience, and maybe even get our post-secondary education paid for when our tour was up. Well, like the old song says, two outta three ain't bad.
After all the paperwork and drawing our initial gear, we actually needed to take commercial flights out of the gravity well as well as from LaGrange Station to Port Colbourne, where we got to go through Induction and Weapons Training. The censors got most of the pictures from that time, but I found a couple from one of the demos I managed to squirrel away.
The colonies were protected by Ranger Units, so-named because our extensive patrols saw us 'ranging' all over the place, and also because once we were out in the wilds, we were a handy means for the xenobiology types to collect data on the indigenous wildlife. We were assigned to Squad D, 22nd Regiment, IV Ranger Division, and quickly developed the nickname 'Derangers' from the colonists we interacted with.
One of the locals, an artist named Dragon Man, offered to do a sketch of us, but after we paid for it, I said, "Hey, that doesn't look like any of us; actually, it looks kinda like you."
D-Man grinned, showing off his elongated canines, and said, "I made 'im good lookin'! No extra charge."
A standard tour of duty with the USEF runs 36 Earth months, with the first three taken up by Induction and Weapons, then another two for Transit and Orientation. Orientation was the most interesting, where you learned what you needed to about your new area of operations; gravity differential, length of day, seasonal variances, all that sort of thing. Then a week with the cultural attache, who brought us up to speed on the different communities we would be working with. It was (or will be, I guess) surprising how quickly the colonies formed their own identities, coming as they did from a host of cultures and nations.
Our 36 months were fairly quiet, and we only ever discharged our weapons one time, driving off some poachers looking to smuggle out some Hyderan Near-Apes for their stem cells. We got to work with a Hyderan LRRP (long range reconnaissance patrol) team, who were real pros, but their field toiletry habits took a lot of getting used to.
Partly because of that, near the end of our tour, we got to serve as honor guard at a reception for the new Colonial Administrator. I'd never believed that stuff about 'men in uniform', but it turned out to have some truth behind it after all.
We never did get our tuition paid for; turns out that was only if you either did at least two tours, ended up in a designated combat zone, or got your commission, which none of us were interested in. Still, I don't regret my time with the USEF; I still keep in contact with most of the Derangers, and some of them are my closest friends to this day. I have a lot of great memories of the places we saw, people and things we met.
Besides, later on, a bunch of us went and formed a gimmick band together...