No matter how hard we try, we cannot stay the best forever. We all grow old and our reflexes slow. The blade dulls and grows cobwebs from lack of use. I was a fearsome infantry squad leader. However, my last combat deployment was nearly 10 years ago. I’m at the age now that the Veterans of the invasion of Panama were when I joined. Crazy to see myself in the mirror now after all these years.
All military careers come to an end and I eventually had to hang up my cleats. I retired and became a commentator on the sidelines. Now, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience that I no longer use every day. So, I asked myself what’s next? Veterans of all branches eject from their service into unfamiliar lives. I was no exception. Many of us felt vulnerable with no Kevlar and squad to back us up. We were just alone and unafraid in the world.
I tried to become one of those Vets I admired as kid. We all know the kind, with ribbons on their hat. We waved flags in local parades and collected donations for shelters. It was an honor to keep serving my community. Although, it left me longing for the feel of excitement. So, I began to travel. I found myself snowmobiling on glaciers in Iceland. Then SCUBA diving shipwrecks in Honduras. My travels saw me drink Vodka in Russia, and dance salsa in Havana. I met Veterans in nearly every place I traveled to. Drank with Aussie Diggers I met in Sydney, and British Squaddies I met in Vegas. We told old stories and made new memories. Then 24 countries into my travels, COVID hit. I felt my sense of identity begin to cloud as my ability to wander the world was reduced.
My friends and family were my rock while I recentered. The world was slowing down, and we all developed a new norm. Meanwhile, I began to look more into the military communities. I found that so many other Veterans were struggling with mental and physical health issues. Consequently, I became familiar with a lot of amazing groups working to help.
I was fortunate enough to do five static line jumps with Round Canopy Parachute Team. My back hurt for several months, but I got my wings pinned on. I was also able to work with other veteran service organizations like Warfighter SCUBA, Bourbiz and Burn Pits 360. These groups are part of the backbone of the Veteran community.
I know I will always be a Marine at heart. I’ll try to keep my blade as sharp. At least as best I can, but the body isn’t what it used to be and ammo is expensive. So the next mission is to continue to serve in a new capacity. Mostly, it will involve keeping the memory alive of those we’ve lost. As well as, making life better for those still around.