The contract that I signed when I joined the Army reflected that I would serve no more than the four years that I signed up for. I put in a little overtime during that stretch (in those days you had to treat the military contract like a + 1 wedding invite; the + 1 in my case reflects the extra year of overseas duty after I got stop-lossed).
Long-distance relationships are hard under any circumstances. Add in stress of danger, work, separation of home life, and more (you know, the other stuff that comes from being deployed, not just on a work trip), and it's a scenario that's downright painful. Yet there are plenty of spouses who live this reality every single day.
Back when my husband worked in TRADOC (that's training + doctrine), he told me a story I've never forgotten. It was about a call they got at basic training: a wife called because her husband wasn't getting his mail quickly enough. His drill sergeants had a field day. The man got in a world of trouble, and his mail never came any faster – it simply took as long as it took.
The military life is not an easy one, adding parenthood to the mix complicates it even more. As parents we have a huge responsibility to raise our children to be the leaders of this world and in my opinion, it is our responsibility to expose them to the world, to teach them to think outside the box and to appreciate the little things in life
In today’s world raising children is not an easy feat. There are a lot of external factors that affect parenting styles. Adding the adversities brought on by a military lifestyle complicates everything even more. Our military children are forced to deal with a lot of life challenges at a very young age and it is our job as parents to help them overcome these life stressors and teach them how to be resilient.
My better half thinks my aversion to taking hikes is a little odd. I try not to say much, but for the most part being amongst the splendid silence of nature does nothing for me and even less for my soul—assuming I have one. This isn’t just a function of my relationship with my significant other. Many others have recommended hiking or backpacking to me as a prescription for an obvious illness that I have, and yet which no one can name.
Like any responsible fashion-conscious New Yorker, I follow every luxury retailer on Instagram. It is a hardship to keep up with all of the trends, a social media minefield of knowing things like what is the current it-bag and making sure not to carry it, myself. The goal after all, is to be trendy without being like everyone else.
“Oh, you were in the Army? I could never do that. I can’t even do a pullup. And, I like to wear makeup.” I might be paraphrasing just a bit, but it’s pretty similar to the response I hear after a new female pal learns that I’m an Army veteran. No questions or curiosity regarding what life in the military is like, just that immediate barrier thrown up between us.
When I was a grunt in the military, I remember our reaction to the now still ubiquitous “Thank you for your service” (TYFYS). It speaks to the element of Sparta that I was a part of that few people around me were not against the war and in the particular unit I was in, to include myself, many were for it. I won’t bother with the anthropological explanation for this phenomena, but I do want to paint the background to our reactions.
After much deliberation I decided to leave active duty military service and return to my mother’s home in New York. It was March 2002 and I was an E-5 sergeant and had been one for all of six months. Back in the unit I should still have been considered a buck sergeant but I do not remember ever being called one following the attacks.
As I sit in a guard tower in a Balkan country, I wonder what my life would be like if I had attended college instead of joining the military. I think of the man I am today, back to the boy I was around seven years ago; who my friends were compared to who they are now; what’s important to me today compared to years past. I often imagine life if I never served.
For the purposes of this story we’ll call him Zach. Zach and I shared the same Battalion but the similarities ended there. I am black and Zach was white. I am from New York City while Zach grew up in the backwoods of the Midwest region of the United States. Our body shapes, the way we talked, what we ate, everything that could possibly be different about two individuals was on display whenever we interacted.
How do I break away from the warrior spirit the Marines instilled in me? As I venture in the civilian world I remember the best and worst times of my life. Serving at the age of 17 was an extreme honor, and regardless of how you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that was the pinnacle of my military service — being a part of the mission, a part of the team, and knowing that I was saving lives.
Bridging the gap. A term veterans hear often, and yet we still continue to struggle to understand what it means to serve and what it means to be a civilian. I got out of the Marines in 2014, and after indulging in a lifestyle less than honorable — including working at strip clubs, cutting class and hanging out with less than upstanding citizens — I finally decided that enough was enough, and moved back to Queens, New York. Once I was sober I realized that civilian life was not what it was cracked up to be.