Eleven years ago this past Friday, I left for Marine Corps boot camp.
I was almost 21, joining after a failed attempt at college and a few jobs waiting tables. At the time, I needed the Marines. I wasn’t a misfit. I wasn’t bad. I lacked direction – just like most other 20-year olds.
I met a Marine reservist in a community college class I was taking. I had really never met a Marine before, and it intrigued me that this guy carried himself differently than most. Plus, he had options. Practically broke, living in a tiny apartment with two other roommates and desperate for the next phase of my life to begin, I decided to hear what this guy’s friend – a recruiter – had to say.
Some people may think my decision to join was rash. I was the kid who hung up on recruiters when they called my house during my high school years. I fit no mold that you would put a Marine into; I was lanky, not very aggressive, and a bit of a goof ball. I was 20, but I looked every bit of 15. But when I walked in to the recruiter’s office they didn’t have to do much convincing to get me to join.
I’m not sure exactly what sold me so quickly. It could’ve been all the cool posters on the wall, the sharp uniforms, and the lava monster commercial they showed me (I hope that’s the right link – YouTube is blocked here). Realistically, it was God banging me over the head, saying “THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO BE.” I signed the dotted line pretty quickly.
I’ve been serving for a third of my life now. The Marine Corps has done a lot to shape and mold me into who I am today. The opportunities I’ve had and the things I’ve seen most people don’t see in a life time.
The far-from-complete list:
I’ve have interviewed countless 4-star generals, two secretaries of state (Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice), two secretaries of defense (Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates), traveled to Africa and saw what we’re doing to help tribes in Ethiopia, stood on an oil terminal in the Persian Gulf where most of Iraq’s revenue flowed (at the time, the terminals there generated $18,000 a second), climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, flown in a helicopter over the Alaskan wilderness, landed on and launched off an aircraft carrier, patrolled in Afghanistan, responded to Hurricane Katrina, jumped out of an airplane, hung out with music and movie celebrities, flown on Air Force Two (twice), received three Emmy nominations, and met the woman who is now and forever my wife.
I’ve met people and developed friendships that will last a lifetime. The people who serve and those civilians who work with the military are some of the most caring, genuine people I know.
I could’ve not signed the contract. “Do you want fries with that?”
It’s not all a rose garden though.
The hardest part is the separation from my family. I’ve missed Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, and in a few days, an anniversary. In 11 years, I’ve moved 9 times. I am missing out on watching my kids grow up. I haven’t had a hug in 2 and a half months.
I’m thankful for the opportunities, the experiences, and all the wonderful people I’ve met, but I’m starting to think it’s time to go. I used to live for the experiences I listed above. I used to beg to be sent on trips to go cover stories. I didn’t want to stay still. I wanted to LIVE.
That definition has changed for me.
Living now is waking up on a Sunday morning and making breakfast for my family. Living is a hot cup of coffee and good conversation with my wife – face-to-face, not on FaceTime. Living is tickling Grace until she and I laugh so hard it hurts. Living is seeing the smile my son makes. Living is saying goodnight to someone and then waking up next to them to say good morning. Living is “I love you.”
God is calling me in a different direction, I believe. Unlike the clarity He gave me when I joined the Marine Corps 11 years ago, this time, I’m not sure where. There’s so many gaping holes in a future post-Marine Corps, and that’s scary. I know that’s why many people stick it out until retirement. Some are afraid they won’t make it anywhere else. I feel the same way. Why would I give up all I’ve earned to start at the bottom somewhere else in a civilian job without the security and benefits the Marine Corps affords?
Who’s to say that the qualifications I’ve developed over the years would even translate fully into a civilian career? Sure, I write, I produce, I create, but I have no degree. I’ve focused too much on the cool experiences the Marine Corps offered that I didn’t listen when they offered college. Am I foolish for even thinking starting anew is a wise decision? I wrestle with that daily now. Isn’t putting food on the table and shoes on their feet more important than seeing my kids every day? Six-month and year-long deployments only come up every few years, anyway.
I serve in an organization that protects the right to the American Dream, yet I feel it’s just out of my grasp.
I am a different person than the kid standing in the recruiter’s office 11 years ago. Priorities and desires change. The Marine Corps has given me a lot, and I feel I’ve given a lot in return.
I’m just wondering if it’s time for us to shake hands and go our separate ways.