Boot camp. Truth be told it should be called, “Re-Boot Camp.” It is where recruits undergo a series of deliberate mental breakdowns, in order to “re-program” them into a state of thinking like a U.S. Soldier. It is where our young men and women are pushed beyond muscle failure, in order to condition their bodies to grow accustom to abuse and hardship. As our history of battle victory shows, it works. I resisted the drill instructors with every fiber of my being, and I lost. They broke me. My mind slowly became government property along with my body. I existed only to take orders. I literally grew up overnight. Their system works. They have indeed created some awesome soldiers, and numerous heroes. But they have also produced some drug dependant citizens, contributed to the homeless population, and damaged families. They have also discarded troops they no longer had the need for, leaving them feeling abandoned, and lost in their own home towns. Those are our service members who are not recognized very often. Even though we were taught to never leave anyone behind, they didn’t mean the ones who got out early. We sure left those behind. I never dreamed that I could be one of them.
After boot camp, I entered the rigorous training regimens set forth to teach me how to fight, defend, and kill. Upon course completion I was sent to numerous places in the world, some highly combative, somewhere combating boredom became the primary mission. I wasn’t alone. We all were living in the moment, with the lingering thought that it could be our last. Those in the combat zones would participate in the killing of insurgents, defend our country’s freedoms, and fight for our citizens at home who really didn’t know what we were going through. We forged relationships out of thin air, a guy you just met became your best friend, your squad leader your big brother, your commander your father. None of us knew were being primed for a hit or miss career opportunity. Some of us went on to be great soldiers, and retire into a nice office, and enter programs that teach them how to transition back into civilian life. They hit the mark. But many us average guys and gals, who went into battle at young ages, were exposed to unthinkable events and troubling circumstances, were then shrugged off with a “thank you for your service” certificate. We were the misses. We were the glitches in the system. We realized that we did not want to be soldiers for 20years. We were allowed out after our term was up, and told if you feel like you need help we will have you see a doctor or Chaplin before you leave. I said goodbye, I was so excited to just get home I didn’t think twice about leaving.
It only took a week for the military to cut me loose. Yet it took me years to re-learn how to function as an everyday American. At first, the public embraced me for my service. Support the troops banners were everywhere. Slowly I started to see that the same people and companies who posted these banners were turning me down for jobs. I was often told I lacked the work experience that they were looking for. Combat experience apparently did not count as real work experience. Managing the lives of my fire team for a couple years didn’t count as management skills. The more I tried to apply for jobs that would pay close to what the military was giving me, the more I got turned down. That was just part of new problems and issues popping up every day. When I finally got a job, which was barely enough to get by, I started to feel alone. There was no more comradeship, and I increasingly became aware that warfare was all I knew how to talk about. My co-workers would always have a blank stare, like they didn’t understand what I was talking about. That made me shy away from getting to know anyone. I became combative at home, like the attitude I grew to know in the service. Always ready for battle. That was not well received by the general public. After a few years of feeling out of place, I decided to go back into the military. However, new tattoo policies were put into place while I was gone, and even though they were the same ones I had from being in the military, I was not allowed to re-enlist unless the tattoo ban was lifted. They officially turned their back on me. At that time I grew angry, reclusive, and could not understand how they could not take me back… The strengths they have given me have become all of my weaknesses out here.
I eventually joined a police department, which rendered some well needed structure in my life. However, the use of firearms and such revealed my past training and led to me getting in trouble. I needed to shoot to stop now, not shoot to kill. There were no enemies, just other citizens who broke the rules. I now had to protect the bad people too. Being in a position of authority felt good, yet to be a police officer you must also be a stand up citizen, and do right by the public…almost the exact opposite of what the military instilled in me. Get the bad guys and be awarded for it. I learned to bottle up my unresolved issues from the military inside and literally got sick. My doctor diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to illnesses caused by my inability to properly deal with the stresses I buried within myself. No one told me you could have PTSD and not show symptoms of it for years. I finally settled down, and started a family. That’s when I realized rank and orders held no weight in relationships. I was taught to be tough, physically and mentally, to make command decisions, to press forward now and ask questions later. Love first my Country, and to die fighting for it above all else. That mindset produced great stress on my marriage, and an absence of compassion to raise a family. It had me putting discipline before due care. If it had not been for a wife who could see through my indiscretions, I would have lost it all. I realize that I am an exception to all the “misses,” although it took me nearly ten years to learn how to live again, love again, and cope with every day stress.
Still, there are so many troops who are in the daily struggle of life trying to adjust back to being a civilian. The attitudes that won those medals and awards are the very same ones that landed a lot of them in jail or worse. A soldier’s mindset does not fit into society as a whole. Some of them are not able to operate alone, they need someone to issue orders to have a direction to go and seek the help that is needed to transition. Or create a program that can provide this type of service before letting them go. You simply can’t ask a soldier if he needs assistance. He has been trained to say no, and figure it out himself. You have to make it a part of his duty to receive training, so he can employ that knowledge in preparing for civilian life.