In the picture, you will see what I consider to be the best platoon in the history of the Marine Corps. That would be 2nd Platoon Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines. The justification by which I say this is the best platoon ever is that simply that I say so. Sure there might have been platoons more disciplined, tactically proficient, and decorated. However, for a fun time and a fearful reputation in the Wasit Provence of Iraq, I’ll take these guys.
However, this is not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about what most all of those Marines and hundreds of thousands others are now. Namely, Veterans. For those who have been paying attention and those who have not, for the first time since the 70’s, there is a huge class of recent War Veterans. This point was driven home to me when I was wearing some Marine Corps swag at a local Walgreens recently, which led to a conversation with a young Marine recently returned from Iraq. In our conversation, I mentioned I was in Iraq in 2003, to which he replied something along the lines of, ” Cool, I was in 6th grade then.” That’s right. While I was in Iraq, a young 6th grader would eventually be fighting the same war. Fascinating.
22 a Day
Fast forward to 2014 and by some studies Veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 a day. That’s right, 22 a day. Keep in mind at that rate, my entire platoon would be gone in 2 days. After a week, my entire Company would be gone. Keeping that going, and by the end of the month, my entire battalion would be dead. That may strike you as somewhat compelling, but when I start putting the names of the Marines I served with to the 22 it becomes devastating. Because for every Veteran who commits suicide, I know they were in someone’s fire team, someones squad, and someone’s platoon. If you have ever served, you know exactly what this means.
Now I also need to clarify that this post is not meant to be clinical in anyway. Those struggling with such feelings should seek the professional help that is available by many groups. Seek out the support of your fellow vets and take charge of the situation. General Mattis eloquently stated, shame on you if you have to look him up, he has made the point that Veterans are not victims and should not be treated as such. They were warriors then and are warriors now. The key that I want to express in this post, is that Warriors have purpose.
It has been more eloquently expressed in various professional articles, but my testimony is that there is something lingering about the war experience. My experience would hardly be full of enough action to fill a Hollywood blockbuster, but even the benign experience I had as a reservist Marine Corps Infrantryman sticks with me to this day. Life is simple to a great deal of extent and your purpose is clear. At no other point in my life did I feel more relevant and purposeful. Finally, I start getting to my purpose of the post.
Having been recruited in the 90’s, much of the military recruitment revolved around how military service would translate to better job skills. Join the military, learn a trade, and translate that to life. Except for the Marine that is who said join us and we will teach you how to kill a fire dragon with a sword. Ooh rah. But here is the problem with much of that job skill type sell to service members, It rings hollow to most combat vets. Sorry, but when you have felt the experience of War, its hard to just consider how you can get a great job that will possibly, remotely, and vaguely resemble what you felt during this experience of war. Unless you have purpose. What so often gets over looked in attempting to teach how your fighter jet mechanic skills translate into a civilian job or your grunt experience will help you join local law enforcement, is the conversation about purpose.
You see, without purpose, this humdrum, pay your bills, keep a good credit score life rings hollow to most veterans. Sorry life, but it just can’t compete. And that is saying something. If you knew the misery that most vets might endure in a combat zone, it says a great deal that Vets would somehow prefer that. But this is precisely where Vets must take charge. The world doesn’t get it and won’t. So time for you to take charge and find out what ignites you, what stirs passion in you, and what brings you joy. This question, is ever more important than you realize and far more significant than the technical job skills. Its not that you can’t find a job using the skills you learned, but spend some time considering your purpose and feel the weight that this lifts off your veteran shoulders.
Its not even that you have to get a job directly that fulfills your purpose. But rather, your job can be means to which you support your purpose, enable your purpose, and set you free to pursue your purpose. As a reservist, I was working for a solid non-profit before Iraq and work for that same company to this day. Being in a non-profit driven to achieve a social good has served as a blessing in this light. The non-profit is purpose driven and the nature of the work develops a certain esprit de corps that doesn’t quite match what the Marine Corps has, but it certainly allows me to pursue purpose in a congruent manner. Many vets find this type of comraderie in the Police or Fire services where they must still look out for the fellow man, while some must strike out on their own.
I take an example of the ambitious and obviously much smarter than me from a fellow platoon mate, Nick Baucom. I remember Nick Baucom as a young Lance Corporal in 2003. I distinctly remember him talking about some internet business regarding printer ink at the time, but the details of which remain vague. But the fact that it stands out to me to this day comes as no surprise as Nick Baucom is now CEO and founder of Two Marines Moving. This is a moving company based in the D.C. area that hires Veterans and provides exceptional service. Nick and Two Marines Moving has been recognized by the White House for being a Champion of Change and has been recognized in various other lights which highlight this simple fact. Veteran Nick Baucom found a purpose as an entrepreneur and is drawing others in this purpose. For what I can tell with his accolades is that Veterans who join his company even in the simplest task are not just earning a paycheck but contributing to a purpose. And that my fellow vets is priceless. Check him out at www.twomarinesmoving.com
So my appeal to Vets or soon to be Vets is the following. Take some time and consider your purpose. Consider what excites you and consider what motivates you. It might very well be that you must take some time to explore this. I myself, finding it odd to make the adjustment from War to back to the same job I had before, took off with a stint to teach in English in China. However, in the end, I find purpose in my Faith, purpose in my family, and purpose in my career with one of the leading non-profits in the nation. It is this purpose fellow vets that you miss, not the crappers made of 55 gallon drums and diesel, not the burnpits, not the 4 hours of sleep a day, and certainly not the Iraqi heat, or mosquitoes, yes Iraq has mosquitoes, lots of them, every night, all night. Its the purpose vets. This purpose abounds abundantly in the civilian world, you just have to find it. Tap into it, and pursue it. A job is great and a necessity, but finding that passion and purpose will sustain you like no other. If you have found it, then great. But if you haven’t, don’t be depressed, be excited, because the best lays ahead. The rest of world may not get it, but I do, and so does hundreds of thousands of your other vets. After all, we have have been doing this for over a decade now. Those memories that compel us were not meant to haunt us, but to propel us forward, for again, the best lies ahead.
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