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.
The military has turned me into a walking conundrum. I feel like a hard-grizzled warrior, yet I’m sensitive and am on the break of tears most of the time. I have friends of multiple ethnic backgrounds, yet I’m extremely prejudiced against middle eastern men, and compassionate and sympathetic towards the women of the region. I own multiple firearms and I’m a concealed carrier, yet I feel that we should outlaw open carry. But it’s not the opinions I have that I wish to discuss; it’s the fact that these opinions matter to me.
Many of my friends stayed in the tri-state area; their overseas experience limited to vacations in secluded areas of the impoverished countries they have visited. As a former Marine, and now contractor, I’ve worked in several countries including Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Mexico. My time here has shown me amazing things, and some terrible and truly disgusting things. My experiences have formed so many opinions that now I’m jaded, and I cannot take certain people’s opinions seriously based on the fact that I know their only knowledge comes from the front of a cell phone.
Some days I’m jealous: I envy the fact that some human beings in the United States have CNN or Fox News as their only attachment to the world. I’m jealous that hashtags and what’s trending on Facebook is what makes people feel informed. To feel this ignorant must be glorious. My personal feeling is that these people are searching for information to justify their own lack of experience based off a biased brand that is marketed through our televisions and portable devices.
Most days I wonder, staring in the black abyss of the eastern European farmland I now call home, how did it come to this? How did I become this jaded, angry and yet caring war-hungry, barely twenty-four-year-old man on the brink of living almost 18 months in hazardous countries? I wake up knowing my hard truths of the world and in a snobby and almost pompous matter I smile as I go on my patrols or walk up to my tower. I laugh, knowing this is the life I chose, and in some crazy messed up way I love it.
I couldn’t see myself going to work as an accountant, a dentist, or even a police officer. I grin each time I hear the arguments of my peers back in the states, I often think “If they only knew!,” but either way I laugh, knowing how sheltered those weak human beings are.
Originally, I was going to conclude this piece with either a smug comment or a life lesson, but none came to me. Then I saw the silhouette of a man just out of the reach of effective range of my rifle in my AOR (area of responsibility). I notice him staring and staring but doing nothing, just watching. Two minutes later he leaves in the dark of night. I wonder if he is the Balkans version of myself and many of my peers? A warrior scouting and looking at me. Does he too question his choices and wonder “what if?”