Battle Buddies in a Post-Military Life
Posted on March 25 2018
When I first made the decision to join the Marine Corps, I had some weight to drop and some physical strength to gain. I began to hit the gym and ran almost daily, watched my diet but frankly I wasn’t making a lot of progress in my pull-ups, a big pre-requisite for joining the Marine Corps. I was doing a lot of lat-pulldowns and back exercises at the local globo-gym but wasn’t getting anywhere. After chatting about my problem with a random lifter, he said, “well maybe if you want to get better at pull-ups, you should just do some damn pull-ups.” I took his advice and put in a pull-up bar under my door frame leading to my restroom and my bedroom. I cranked out as many as possible every time I walked under it. In no time I was doing 20 reps and was ready to run my final Physical Fitness Test (PFT).
Upon acceptance into Officer Candidate School (OCS), I quit my job and got engaged to my now wife, committing myself to her and her young twin boys. Shortly thereafter I headed off to OCS knowing that I couldn’t fail if I was to go from supporting one (myself), to supporting 4 human beings. 10 weeks later I looked around at what seemed like an empty Squad Bay and was told that officially, nearly 70% of those who started washed out or quit. I myself was put on a watch/warning list but in the end, I was one of the few still standing. I had no choice.
After going through The Basic School, I entered the Marine Infantry Officer Course which was considered among the most physically demanding courses in the military. Around 25% were washed out during the Indoc portion on day one. Several more were cut as the course continued. I remained standing for the significant reason that I didn’t want to face my fellow Marine brothers if I failed.
Upon attendance at the Ground Intelligence Officer course, I was consistently told that I would not be particularly successful conducting intelligence in the fleet. My brothers and peers stayed late every night with me to help me go over reports and rehearse briefs, over…and over…and over again until I had it right. I came out “most improved” and several years later was requested, by name, to join the Marine Special Operations community.
Before leaving the military, I was selected to do one of two things, be an instructor at the same course in which I was told I wouldn’t be successful, or join the elite Joint Special Operations Command doing exactly what I was told I wouldn’t be successful at. I was referred to both by brothers who had helped me through two separate deployments.
I had a pretty good run in the military. But why am I telling you all of this? To point out that I would not be anywhere today if it weren’t for those to my left and my right. Yet now that I'm out, I see too many veterans today trying to go it alone. I mean you’ve been through a lot right? Well civilian life? Psh. Gonna be chill.
It seems like once we get out, we believe that what we’ve done puts us head and shoulders above others. Furthermore, we think that what we did during our service, we somehow did all on our own. It’s not entirely our fault as we’re fed this garbage by everyone around us. Our social media feeds are covered in valor stories and Reagan quotes about having fulfilled our purpose in life, apparently single-handedly. We are told by many veteran based nonprofits that we are incredible human beings that can have ANY JOB WE WANT and if we aren’t hired, they’re the idiots and need the education. And then one day you wake up and realize, everyone is full of crap…you’re just another civilian…and you’re alone.
Having been out for a few years now, I see two extremes in the veteran community. The one extreme is that they left the service and never moved on. The military will be the best thing that ever happened to them in their lives and they surround themselves only with fellow veterans to remind them of that time. They wear the hats and t-shirts, and make it well known to all those around them who they were and what they’ve done. I’ve even seen Sgt Majors, who’d been out of the military for as long as they’d been in, introduce themselves as “SgtMaj so-and-so.” The other extreme is a complete shedding of the military life. Perhaps they left the service bitter, not wanting to associate with any other veterans and simply wish to move on with their lives. And yet upon leaving their buddies behind, they realize that the world has changed and left them behind; that they’re not understood, nor do they themselves fully understand the landscape around them. But they look at the other extreme and still see it as ridiculous; that those members should either re-up or move on. And so they remain isolated and alone.
This generation of servicemen and women have been at war for the longest period of time in American History. Those who served in it, particularly those that were in the combat arms, are stained in it. It is, like it or not, forever a part of you. But it doesn’t have to define you either.
So a simple message to those who are still living in the past. Your mission in life is not over. There’s more to be done and the impact you make is up to you. And like it or not, it’s in a world where the vast majority of the people will never understand what you’ve been through. Accept that, assimilate, and move towards your next mission.
For those looking towards the future but lost in a world that doesn’t understand you, continue to make connections to help you assimilate, but don’t forget the brothers that have done so much to get you through so many of the best, and worst times of your life. You need them now as much as you needed them then. They swore to have your back and most still do. They may not help you land the next big civilian job, but they’ll be there when you’re exhausted both mentally and physically. Use them to recharge. Use them to remember how capable you are, but stop believing in the hype that you’re a self-made man, and you’ll do it again in a new world. If you don’t want to hear it from me, hear it from Arnold Schwarzenneger here.
We’ve all heard the 22 veteran suicides per day statistic. Whether true or not, we can all agree that one is too many. I don’t know why they do it. But I’d bet a big reason for that is because they feel lost and alone in a world that they don’t understand, surrounded by people that don’t understand them. We are by nature tribal. We need a pack. Find your pack that serves you mentally and physically.
This is in large part why we created a community of men and women that meet on the weekends for a group workout, and maybe even a post-workout beer afterwards, serving primarily the veteran community. If you’re a veteran, keep serving your community in your new world. But don’t forget to reconnect with brothers that understand and support you.
Founder / Sheepdog Strong
Edit (Dec 2020): Since publication of this post, Sheepdog Strong has been working with the Daniel Ferguson Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, that seeks to accomplish much of what is described here. The foundation was created in remembrance of Daniel Ferguson who lost the battle with himself. The foundation brings veterans together in a new brotherhood, building strength of mind and body, and creating a new camaraderie under the iron. To learn more, donate or join a local crew, click here.