The Marines I have served with were still young when they left home. Eighteen, some even seventeen come into boot camp and learning for the first time how to shave; how to shine their boots; how to iron properly; how to properly address and greet someone in a respectful manner. In essence, the DI (drill instructor) was the father we never had. He puts us to bed at exactly 2100hrs every night and gets us up, like children getting prepared for school every morning. For many of the young recruits, this was their only solid father figure. And boot camp, was the furthest and longest they've ever been away from home. We learned so many things in boot camp. We learned how to walk again, this time in step with the person to your front and to step off with your left foot at all times, and the importance of the three S's every morning; Shit, Shower and Shave.
We learn about life in a different manner compared to the everyday man. I speak of men because this is the only perspective I can see it. Don't think of it like I'm excluding women. I can only speak of what I know.
I know a Marine, a very good one, that when we were leaving the Marine Corps, he had serious doubts on what to do. He didn't know if he wanted to stay in or leave and return to the civilian world. He was young when he joined, only eighteen. Jose Vazquez from East Los Angeles, CA, or from "East Los" he would say in his layed back MexiCali accent. On our flight to Kuwait during our first deployment, he sat right next to me. He was anxious and looking out the window. California's bright sunshine was coming through the porthole. He turned to me and if he had a tail, you would see it wagging at this point.
|Vazquez roof top overlooking Ramadii, Iraq|
Flash forward to 2005. We were now two time combat veterans now. Hardened like a sword that was tempered with a hammer, but now we were scared and uncertain. He did not know if he would go to college. What would it be like to be away from the barracks? The unknown lay in front of Vazquez. Not only did he tell me that he feared it, it was showing in his every expression.
Today, I asked about those doubts he had. It was rough for him in the beginning but he managed to find his way through. Perseverance, Marines don't quit. They find they're way, one way or another.
How did you feel as your EAS (End of Active Service) date came closer?
I have to say the Marine Corp was the best decision I could have made for myself. My choice to volunteer my life during September 11, 2001 was an amazing and incredible time. I met a great group of elite people who took it upon themselves to make a commitment to sacrifice every ounce of sweat, tear and blood to take on matters that were beyond our control. Upon returning from my 2nd tour from Iraq my morale was ecstatic about my separation from the service. What was so mentally draining for me was thinking about what to do once I was out. Safe to say school was the plan and idea, but really had no clue about what to pursue as a lifelong career. Honestly, separating from the Marine Corp was terrifying for me because I wanted to be a “lifer” a term we utilize for those who make it a career. Personal problems and family made me come to my decision to go through my separation and transition to a civilian.
What was going through your mind when you were out and living your life as a civilian?
Living life as a civilian was a huge transition for the first couple of years and continues to be. The thought of having to go back to school was scary even though there was nothing to fear. Apparently, my thoughts were so powerful controlling my emotions and feelings that my thought process was completely disillusioned about what I wanted in life. This was a challenge for me and I took it upon myself to find help and make that effort to find what would give me a happy medium for my life. Therapy has helped me and continues to help me bridge the gaps that make me feel as if I cannot fit in society. Also, staying busy and making the right choices continues to be part of my success being a civilian. Making goals and keeping them in perspective keep my mind focused and on track.
What problems do you face and expect to face in the future?
I personally believe that you have to go through trial and error and find out for yourself what works for you and what makes you function effectively and efficiently. When you feel like there is no answer, know that others have been there and have overcome their challenges. Semper Fidelis!
Vazquez and I still remain close. We have made it a plan to be only a phone call away when we had problems coping with flashbacks, stress, nightmares and just regular life. We were brothers at arms and remain to be eternally. War had made us family and that is as good as blood. Semper Fi indeed Vazquez.