On the Regarding War blog, soldiers, veterans, and journalists will share their stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones. It will feature personal stories and opinions from those who have first-hand knowledge of past and current conflicts. Those at home directly affected by a family member serving in the military will also contribute. The blog is meant to be a place where ideas are exchanged and experiences are related in an effort to gain a better understanding of the realities and effects of war. Share your thoughts, raise a question, and join the conversation by leaving comments on the posts.
Unlike that of many Marines returning home, my story is not about the hardships and the troubles of becoming a civilian after almost seven years on active duty. Nor is it about the struggles of being a female in the military. It's not really about hardships or troubles at all. No, my story is about an ordinary Marine career and an unexceptional return home.
The transition from active-duty Marine to civilian student felt like the beginning of an indefinitely long vacation, and 11 months after my end of active service, it still feels like a vacation. College sometimes has its own unpleasantness but unlike the active-duty military, there are options and escapes, and a problem's end is always near.
When I finally decided to get out, I still wished I could stay in the Marine Corps, but I was too frustrated, too angry at the way things worked — or didn't — and tired of not having any control over the large and small details of my life. I got out not because life as a Marines was so horrendous but because I simply needed a break. I didn't like how easy it was to find myself trapped in a boring job with no possibility of change until the end of my scheduled tour.
I have read how some female veterans do not consider themselves veterans, but I have always thought of myself as one. Before my embassy work, I served in Iraq, though I did only one tour, rarely left the base, and I never got shot at or experienced an IED. During my last three years, I was a Marine Security Guard and while working at embassies and living overseas was fantastic, the Marine part of it was not. There were so many restrictions on my life — restrictions that no one else in the embassies had to put up with, including other enlisted members of the U.S. military. I grew tired of not being able to have visitors when I wanted, tired of my boss being able to drop by my home and disturb my off-hours whenever he pleased, tired of curfews, tired of being told what to eat and when to exercise and when to clean. The possibility of returning to a regular-duty station and being subjected to more of the same in the barracks was not an option anymore.
Despite the civilian-world horror stories that some Marines use to encourage us to re-enlist ("You'll never fit in at those liberal, anti-military colleges! Nobody will understand you! You'll never receive any of your VA benefits! You'll never find a job!") I have not had any major problems upon my return home. When I left the Marine Corps and rejoined the civilian world, there was no adjustment period, and I have never felt like an outsider. Returning to college was easy, and I did not have any problems getting G.I. Bill money. My school is located in one of the most liberal parts of the country, but it is full of veteran students and teachers; it has never been anything but welcoming. I have used the local VA hospital for care and did not have any issues there either.
While my story may lack the heroism or the tragedy that a part of many Marine tales, I tell it as a reminder that not all veterans return home damaged or have troubling rejoining the civilian world. It is important, of course, to focus on the problems service members and veterans face, but I think many people get a skewed version of what military life is like. It's disappointing when people assume that male Marines must have made my life miserable because I'm a female. Nearly every young woman who emails me about her desire to be a Marine wants to know if she'll get sexually harassed on a daily basis and what her chances are of being raped by other Marines. That's a sad and unfortunate picture of the Marine Corps, and it's not the Marine Corps I knew.
Despite my relatively uneventful career in the Marines and the frustration, boredom and anger that often came along with it, six months after I got out I decided that my break from the military had been long enough. I joined a local reserve unit and began attending the monthly drills in June. This allows me to continue being a part of the Marine Corps while also making it possible for me to live on my own, work another job and attend school. Serving as the unit's supply chief is completely different from my college major, Geographic Information Systems, but I've always enjoyed working in the military supply field and I would enjoy the chance to test out my supply skills in a combat zone again.
Marine reservist, blogger, college student