I found out last week that I would be medically retired from the Marine Corps. This isn’t entirely surprising, I’ve been injured for a while now and the surgery I underwent to fix me just didn’t work. In a place where there are no spares, there is no room for a part that can’t perform the way it is supposed to.
It is comforting to know that I’ll be retired though. This comes with all sorts of perks and gives me a little breathing room that I did not plan on having, but this is still a very uncertain time. The last eight years of my life have been pretty stable.
That may come as a surprise, with deployments ever-looming, field exercises, going in early, staying late, duty, and the always enjoyable 2 am phone calls. But military life is really a stable thing. I always knew when and how much I would get paid, and I usually knew where I was going and why. If I didn’t understand something it didn’t really matter anyway because I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Not having a choice is actually comforting in a way. My family had health care, and if necessary a house would be provided for us on base. So there were really very few big unknowns in my life. Even when I was moved from California to North Carolina they sent movers to the house, they packed and inventoried the entire house, moved it to NC, unloaded the truck and unpacked the boxes. I didn’t have to lift a finger. Anyway, that period of stability is about to end.
I joined the Marine Corps in 2009 while I was studying history at Colorado State University. I was about 3.5 years into my degree and was in the middle of the teaching portion where I was in a real classroom with real students. I was miserable, and I knew that this wasn’t for me yet. I really enjoy teaching and telling stories, but I didn’t have the mindset or the patience at 21/22 years old. I had always wanted to be a Marine since a very early age, around 8 probably. My parents pushed hard for me, their oldest son, to go to college and get a degree. I followed through on their wishes and only applied to Colorado State. All my buddies from high school went to where everyone in St. Louis goes to college, Mizzou, and I just didn’t want to go to “high school 2.0.” In August of 2005 I moved out to CSU and began that chapter. I was a good student, and maintained a good GPA, but just felt like I was treading water. I was studying history and reading about the activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feared I was missing my chance. I remember picturing myself as an old man and the regret I would have in not joining the Marine Corps, so I decided to quit school and enlist. Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just finish school and become an officer. I really don’t know why, I was just ready to move on and I was pretty lazy at that point, enlisting was easier and I could join sooner. In April I swore my oath, in August of 2009 I was on a plane to San Diego for boot camp.
In October of 2011 I was fortunate enough to deploy to Afghanistan with my unit at the time, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance. It was a good experience, I got to do and see lots of things and it was very informative, I was finally taking part in history. I figure that somebody will be talking about our Afghanistan experience in some way for hundreds of years, and since I took part in that, I’ll live for eternity in some small way. To me, that is pretty neat. When I came back I knew I wanted to reenlist so I did that. Following that I was moved to the East Coast as part of my “incentive” and we came this way in 2013. In the Marine Corps there are lots of unknowns, but you can usually decide what you want to do with some degree of certainty, all you have to know is who to talk to and how to talk to them.
Fast forward a few years and I’m on my out, and with it the certainty of a “do as your told” lifestyle goes with it. I always joke that we are institutionalized like prisoners but that is the easiest way to relate this to civilians. We do things a certain way here, and whether you are in Okinawa or California, the Marine Corps is pretty standard form place to place. The longer you are here, the more strange the “outside world” looks and the more you notice how different we are. This I’ll cover more deeply in a lighthearted post later on. The civilian world is an odd place to us, and the more time we’ve spent “on the inside” the harder this transition becomes. Full disclosure, most of us look down on civilians but say we don’t. It’s hard not to because we get routinely brainwashed that we are special and everyone else is lazy and stupid. We think everybody should join the Marine Corps but fail to realize that if everybody did it would be a disaster.
I think what I’m most afraid of is losing this identity and leaving my little bubble. Lots of guys get out and are just lost, and can’t find a purpose. People ask me what I do, and I get to tell them I’m a Marine. I’ve had several friends and acquaintances that have left the Corps and have killed themselves or very seriously attempted to. It is hard to leave what was literally every aspect of your life and go find something else, another identity. I won’t be “Staff Sergeant Gunn” anymore; I’ll just be a dude. I am determined to not become that verbose, annoying twat who never shuts the fuck up about the Marines, like the high school quarterback who can’t leave behind his glory days. But this really was the best and most meaningful time of my life and now I have to find something else to give me meaning. I testify here and now that I won’t wear an Afghan Vet hat until I’m at least 50 years old; I might get a license plate though.
I have a general idea where I’ll land, but not really. When people ask me what I’m going to do when I get out I usually say I don’t know. Then I get the cross look, like I should know exactly what I’ll be doing. That would be nice, but that isn’t really the way things work. I suppose it would be easier if I knew when my last day would be but I have no idea still. I think it will be January, but I have about 90 days before whatever day that I can get out on what is called terminal. I hope I’ll land somewhere in financial planning, that would be great, but I have to do some things like finish that degree before I can more seriously pursue that. A lot of things are up in there air, and I really just don’t know. I’m keeping an open mind and just want to find something I can be proud of and help some people in the process.
I’m comforted with the knowledge that I am capable of working hard, truly believe that no job is beneath me, and don’t need much money to be happy. That alone gives me some great flexibility. So I welcome this upcoming period of uncertainty and am genuinely excited to see where I’ll be in five years. I’ll miss the Marine Corps (mostly just the Marines) with all my heart but nobody can do this for eternity and I’ve got to get out of the way.