To protect the author’s identity, RVDV has withheld the name and biographical information of this Veteran. He served in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman.
I served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2007. That last day was one of the hardest of my entire life.
Just a few hours prior, I sat in the confines of a fluorescent lit conference room with three field grade officers, all built like brick shithouses, chizzled, professional, determined, yet compassionate, staring back at me. They were about to read their verdict that I would be demoted to corporal and discharged from the Marine Corps. Honorably, but career over nonetheless. “Do you have anything you want to say, Sergeant?”
With my lawyer and a hellbent prosecutor to my left, my face quickly became contorted and a waterfall of tears were on their way. I couldn’t speak. It was too much.
“Do you need a moment, Sergeant?”
No words, now hyperventilating.
Lawyer: My client needs a moment.
I got up, stepped outside and hovered around the door. I took a breath, went to the bathroom, and came back in.
I knew I had to speak. I had a moment for God’s sake. Crying, then sobbing, I spoke: “I am just sad that I won’t ever get to put my feet into another pair of combat boots.”
I don’t remember what I said after that, but they did listen, and we all learned how much the Marine Corps meant to me.
Eight months prior I was serving my second deployment on an Air Base in Iraq assigned to front-gate security with a squad of Marines. I was a sergeant and “assistant squad leader”. We were on the last leg of our deployment and one evening during guard duty, we found ourselves consuming hard alcohol. While we would typically only drink off duty, this time we decided to celebrate while on post. We had a party. In the days that followed, our command learned of the incident, and began confiscating electronic equipment and taking statements in order to learn more about what happened.
The senior sergeant and myself were prime suspects during the investigation because we were in charge that night. All of my belongings, including computers, digital cameras, and personal journals were taken by the company commander. This captain also happened to be a government prosecutor in his civilian life, so he did not relent in his pursuit of ensuring that “justice” was served.
Of course, he did find video evidence of the night in question. He also found photos of me and other Marines having fun with the Ugandan security force on base. We would drink alcohol with some of them and simply bond. They were some of the most special people I’ve ever met. Filled with the kind of heart and spirit that could only be found in Africa I’m sure. Because of this, myself and others felt comfortable being ourselves and having the kind of crazy fun that only Marines in a combat zone do: we took pictures of ourselves hanging out, and even a few with our trousers pulled down, in our underwear – all in good humor. You know, normal stuff.
When all of this happened, I was deeply worried and mentally distressed. We were only a few days away from leaving Iraq, and instead of being excited about returning home, I felt doomed. On top of that, the captain began spreading rumors about me related to my journal entries. I journaled a lot about my inner thoughts – anything and everything that came up. Life goals and hopes, and obstacles that stood in the way of living my values. He decided to tell Marines he was close to that I had “squirrels running around in my head”. He also spread ideas about us likely having had homosexual relationships with the Ugandan security force because of the underwear pictures.
This made me sink even deeper into feeling isolated, angry, and depressed. “This person is out to get me”, I thought.
After returning to the states, I began the long process of a summary court martial, and somehow escaped the proceeding with an honorable discharge. The panel of “judges” claimed that they had no other recourse but to let me go since there was such substantial evidence of negligence while on duty. The senior sergeant was not so fortunate and was demoted to private, and given a bad conduct discharge.
In retrospect, the punishment seemed a bit too harsh for the violation.
The Marine Corps meant everything to me. I joined to become part of a family. I gave my soul to the organization. Every bit of heart I had. I risked my life for it. And in the moment that they read the verdict, I was heartbroken. It was hard to accept that I would have to leave my family in this way.
Being a Marine was an important part of my identity, and still is. In the years since returning home, I felt ashamed for the way that I left. Rejected. Kicked out. Unwanted and unappreciated, despite all I had given to them.
I am learning, however, that I can and should still be proud of my military service. I did a lot of good things and served with honor. One night of “unauthorized” festivities should not taint my self-perception of a career committed to service.
“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines”.
– Major General Chesty Puller, USMC – while on a Battalion inspection.