It still remains difficult
to reconcile the words of my company Commander over twelve years ago. We all go through life hearing incredible speeches and seeing sights that we swear we would never forget. Yet somehow, through all of these events, the minute things remain with us. During the war, as we made our way through Iraq, I didn’t care to take out my disposable camera for photos because I thought I could never forget those moments.
Now, over a decade later,
I struggle to piece them together. It’s one of the reasons I decided to write this book. In another decade, much like the country I once fought for and still love, I might wind up forgetting I ever served. Should an other than honorable discharge outweigh one’s service to country?
Let’s go back:
It’s 2004 and we stood there on the parade deck of one of the finest battalions in the USMC. Our new C.O. Captain McJagger lecturing us war vets on the etiquette of a US Marine.
Ya know, people will remember you by your screw ups and not your triumphs… it only takes one ‘oh sh*t’ to ruin 50 ‘at a boys’. Captain McJagger
Perhaps it was the confidence in which he spoke that stuck with me. Maybe he had lived it himself, though his lofty tone indicated he had read it from some book in Officer Training School. I compare his speech to that of our salty First Sergeant. After witnessing the havoc three squads of his Marines could inflict on a horseshoe ambush of jihadists and Ba’ath party rebel fighters, he decided to pull us aside and with the utmost regard esteem us as Combat Veterans for life.
I did not know then,
as I stood shoulder to shoulder with my brothers, that I would return home shortly and begin experimenting with drugs to cope with my separation and outright lack of self-importance. I had survived the war; that was the easy part. I still don’t know why I decided to go through this “other than honorable” period of my life high and detached from reality, but I do know that I had never gone down this road prior to my enlistment. Regardless, months after returning from Iraq, they called my name and a Corporal directed me to the hot seat.
As I sat there, waiting for my sentence, I watched as fellow Marines walked across the parade deck. I could see their disappointment, their shock. Surely not me. Not him-he’s not one of the ones that popped the piss test.An Other Than
I’d later get up close and personal with a room mate about my drug use, and the guilt and betrayal of never coming to him hit me hard. Never again, would I be included. Fighting for my country was no longer an option. I was going home worse off than I had left, with a combat action ribbon in one hand and an other than honorable discharge in the other.
Full disillusionment set in when I returned home and attempted to attend a college. Two semesters in, the financial aid office summoned me for an important meeting. A middle aged Arabic woman sat me down and advised me that I must have filled out my paperwork wrong because I checked the box that indicated I served in the military. I calmly tried to explain that I had served but quickly became anxious. She nervously giggled and advised me that I had never served in the military—based on the response from the government. You see, in 2003 I was a war hero esteemed by my hometown media and local politicians. Yet in 2004, the government made claims to this college that I had never even served.
Nothing could be more clear, one oh sh*t had definitely erased all of them “at a boys”.
Food for Thought:
- – Is America a nation that believes in 2nd chances?
- – Where and when does PTSD begin? What happens when its beginning comes prior to the end of a service-members enlistment?
- – Should combat veterans have to carry their bad paper until their final days on earth? Who benefits from this?
Please like, comment, share and let’s reach out to all of the other Marines/Soldiers/Sailors that fought in combat yet received an other than honorable discharge. They fought for our country, how can you help them?
*To protect the privacy of certain individuals the names and identifying details have been changed.