The first time we took enemy contact was on our first patrol. We had just arrived in country, and we had not yet gained enough experience to conduct a foot patrol that didn’t leave us exhausted. Despite having trained for the past three months, the sweltering heat, and the weight of carrying a full combat load weighed on us. We carried around 60 pounds of gear, and some even more with radios and machine guns. We had already walked around 12 miles, we were driving hard, and the patrol was turning out to be too long. We were over-extended and running out of water.
Connection after service among Marines can be tricky at times. Our relationships were fostered in an environment where feelings and emotions were mostly suppressed, or at least not acknowledged or talked about much. When we come together, it can feel like we are picking up right where we left off. And where did we leave off? We left off at the end of a combat deployment in an extremely dangerous place. Where sixteen out of a 1000 or so Marines in our battalion tragically lost their lives. And I do mean tragically. For instance, on the Marine Corps Birthday, 2004, as me and my squad leader feasted on steak and lobster, one of our mutual friends, Gino, shook both our hands, wished us a happy birthday, and was shot in the heart the following day. On Veterans Day. Upon hearing the news, the only thing any of us could do was hang a picture of him in our tent. We didn’t talk about it. It was the only way that we knew how to honor him. Truthfully, when I heard the words, “Gino died”, I felt nothing. Those words remained in my head and never made their way to my heart.
I served 7 years in the Marine Corps Reserves, deploying twice to Iraq in some of the most dangerous areas, including the Triangle of Death. This is the same place that the modern day terror group, ISIS, was hiding out and trying to harm my friends and I. My experiences in country, and the training received to become a Marine, helped shape my understanding of what it meant to be a warrior. In this context being a warrior meant being ready to destroy anything that stood in the way of mission accomplishment. Upon returning home, this perspective, coupled with a severe existential anxiety, and an abnormal response to stressful stimuli, led to an unhappy life. I quickly turned my back on relationships that were meaningful to me. My temper was short and everything that I knew about being successful wasn’t working anymore. To this day, there is a part of me, which has struggled with projecting blame onto the world. How could they have sent me to war when it is so terrifyingly ugly?