As a 17 year old high school junior I had little direction as to what to do with my life. I knew I was smart, but I didn’t see myself in college just yet. I had a love of the outdoors, firearms, and adventure, so the military seemed like a perfect fit.
The summer of 1999, before my senior year, I decided that I would become one of “The Few, The Proud,” so, with my parent’s consent, I joined the Marines as an Infantryman. Since I was a minor, and had not yet graduated, I was entered into the Delayed Entry Program, and would not leave for basic training until after graduation the following year.
After two trips to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Command), both in Knoxville, Tennessee, I took a long and anxious bus ride from to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, on a trip that would forever change my life.
After 13 grueling weeks of physical, and mental stress, I came out of the South Carolina swamp born again. I was a man. I was a killer. I was a Marine.
There is a card, given to me by my Senior Drill Instructor , that I still carry with me today, everywhere I go. It outlines the “Core Values” of the Marines: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These three virtues are all but beaten into every young recruit that arrives at Marine Corps basic training in hopes of earning the coveted title of Marine.
Fast forward to early 2004 and I was out of the Marines, and finally trying my hand at college, but having a hard time paying for it without my parent’s help. I have always been insistent on being self-sufficient, even as a small child, so I wanted to find alternative means. The only way I found that would allow me to not work a 9-5 job, while going to college without debt was some reserve form of military service.
Since I wouldn’t have to go through basic training again, I decided my hometown Army National Guard unit would be my best fit. I also knew they were set for a deployment of some kind shortly after my time-frame for enlisting and that it would likely be to Iraq. Me, being a sucker for adventure and danger, thought this sounded like perfect timing.
I joined the Guard in March of 2004 as a member of my unit’s support platoon and traveled to MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) school at Fort Lee, Virginia that summer to become a 92F (Petroleum Supply Specialist), which was in high demand at the time. I graduated class president, and returned home to join my unit for the famous “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” training routine.
During a time of war, and high tempo deployment schedules, a reserve component service-member rarely gets the luxury of being a “weekend warrior.” By December of 2004 I was at Fort Gordon, Georgia with my headquarters company beginning a six month train up for deployment to Iraq. After three months at Fort Stewart, Georgia, one month at Fort Irwin, California, and a couple of weeks back home on leave, we were in Kuwait, waiting to start our war.
While in Iraq, my previous training as a Marine infantryman was called upon my my battalion commander to become part of his PSD (Personal Security Detail), which took me from gate guard on our tiny FOB (Forward Operating Base) out on patrol on some of the most dangerous streets in the world.
Our small Armor unit patrolled an area known as the “Triangle of Death,” which is the area between Mahmudiyah, Yusufiyah, and Latifiyah, Iraq. PSD was responsible for the Colonel’s well-being. We did everything from convoy escort, to mounted and dismounted combat patrols, and room clearing, but mostly served as a roving command-and-control operation for battalion operations the Colonel was involved in.
After over 11 months of being shot at, blown up and exhausted with bouts of boredom, then small, but violent bursts of chaos and terror, I was home. My experiences in Iraq were some of the most rewarding and eye opening times of my life. I experienced pure joy and pure horror. I saw people I knew dead, and people I loved almost die and I formed memories, wonderful as well as terrible, that will never leave my mind, even if I wanted them to.
Military experience is unmatched. There is nothing that even compares in terms of life experiences. There are fun times, and not-so-fun times, but the good outweighs the bad, there is no doubt about it. Sure it’s risky and dangerous at times, but if you live to tell about it, oh what a story you’ll have.