Skip navigation

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Before I start this rambling, I want to make something clear.  I’m not, in any way, trying to play “woe is me” by using other people’s tragedies.  I’m explaining my real thought processes and real reactions, and my inability to explain my deep sadness and often guilt surrounding them.  The tragedies these people faced are real, serious, and in no way should you take my words to mean that I somehow experienced their hardships vicariously.  I am not claiming to “know” their trauma.  I am not seeking sympathy for something I did not experience.

 

To understand where I am today, I must provide some background regarding my time in the Navy.

I joined the Navy in 2007, rip roaring and ready to go.  My family has a history of serving.  I wanted to serve.  Also, I wanted to get the hell out of dodge.  The military was a stepping stone to me – a way to find out where I wanted to go.

I found myself quickly through boot camp, quickly through technical training, and out to the fleet.  By that i mean I shipped off to Hawai’i to serve aboard the USS Neversail – sitting in front of a computer, on land, for the next 3.5 years.  Not once was I deployed overseas to Sandyland, nor was I ever sent to a ship.

With the exception of AirCrew training that resulted in a dislocated arm while underwater, I was never even really placed in any real danger.  I often joke that my “greatest achievement” in the US Navy was “Never stepping foot on a commissioned vessel”.

I spent my evenings blowing my paycheck on singing, piano, and acting lessons.  I engaged with the local community and was a member of a non-profit organization.  For all intents and purposes, I was basically a civilian who happened to wear a uniform.  At least that’s how many people, including myself, saw me.

Except… I was not a civilian.  I was surrounded by people who did deploy.  There was at least one member of my command who did not come back from deployment.  My best friend was a Marine, and he did multiple tours in Sandyland.  The fact that we were at war in 2 countries, and always preparing for more war in all theaters was never lost on me.

During that time I struggled, some days, to rationalize being part of a war fighting machine, when I knew I never, ever wanted to point a weapon at another human being.   Today I struggle with my apparent choice to refrain, as if I should have taken it upon myself to willingly put myself in danger, and that my lack of involvement was somehow shameful.  The absurdity of that dichotomy is not lost on me, it pains me.

Some of my friends came back from war with injuries, seen and unseen.  Bodily injuries that made rolling out of bed in the morning more than a chore.  Emotional and mental injuries that made having simple conversations a landmine of potential trigger words.

The only words I had to offer when they shared their experiences was… none.  Silence.  I could only listen.  I had not experienced the many horrors of war, how could I possibly have words that could help then in any way adjust back into society.  I still struggle with finding the words, but I’ve also learned that no words can be just as helpful.  Providing a safe sounding board to let out the pain, but bring them a smile here and there, is about all I can manage.  Anything more would be an attempt from me to be something I am not.

In my transition out of the service back to the “real world” as we call it, I spent more time listening.  I spent more time reading about the politics surrounding the wars.  And I also spent more time… suddenly feeling a strong resentment for the people around me in every day life.

 

It started when I separated and started attending university.   Being a 25 year old vet in a 18-22 year old’s world was… a very strange experience.  Imagine, if you can, being transported from now, to 6 years ago, and being faced with yourself.  What would you tell yourself?  Probably something that starts with “Here’s the list of things in your life that are complete bullshit and you should stop caring about”.

That was everyone around me.  Everyone was me.  It took me a while to find anything in common my cohort that didn’t want to make me start lecturing them.  hated how insufferable was, and that was just my internal dialogue.

Didn’t these kids know how close to war we are at every moment of every day?  Don’t they know the suffering people are going through?  If I have to listen to one more person complain about having to pull an all-nighter on an assignment given 2 weeks ago, I might just…

Why the hell am I thinking this way?  It’s not like I ever fought in a war.  It’s not as if I ever step foot on a ship.  It’s not like I had any injuries or traumatic experiences that would warrant such apparent disdain for vanity and vapidness.

 

As a person very close to me put it quite aptly one day:

“I’m sure your time in Hawai’i must have been So Difficult“.

For many reasons I won’t get into, that statement is shallow and a very big mis-characterization of my experience.  I know this, my service-mates know this, I think he knows it.  However, not having been there, it’s not at all an unreasonable opinion to have developed.  I don’t hold it against him, but he hit a nerve that struck deep then and now.

 

During my last 2 years in the Navy, I knew I was not going to re-enlist.  I used that time to prepare myself to get out.  I also spent quite a few nights awake, losing sleep, over the thought of all the people I failed in the process of getting that punchline of “never stepping foot on a commissioned vessel”.   The thought that had I just volunteered harder, maybe one fewer person may have been maimed or died.

This came along with all the thoughts of having to rationalize serving for a war fighting machine.  Why did I join?  Am I a good person?  Are my actions moral?  What is morality?  All the existential crisis questions you’d expect out of a 20-something who has finally learned the meaning of mortality, but has yet to come to appreciate it.

This questioning would build over the years.  My first veterans day was a difficult one – something I did not expect.  For the first time in my life, as I stood in front of the Veteran’s memorial on campus, during the ceremony, I wept in public.  Safely in the back of crowd, where no one could see, I was overcome with the thought of all the men and women who would never stand where I stood because they never came home.  I was overcome by the thought of all the people I knew who were forever changed for the worse by the physical and mental toll the service took on us.

Then the anger came.  For what exactly did they make that sacrifice for?  The torrent of political rhetoric swirled in my head. The anger was palpable standing in the rain that day, looking out over the small crowd of vets who seemed similarly lost in thought.   For what?  A free hamburger at Fridays?  A small coffee at Starbucks?  Some lip service at a football game?  For what?

 

Thankfully I had, and have, a person in my life who always leads me back to love.  She helped me temper that anger, something I rarely if ever show, by showing me how caring humans can truly be.  Not just because she always listened no matter how silly i felt the topic was, but because her entire world is built around helping people.

I married her this year.  I was very excited to share this event with everyone in my life.  It was the happiest day of my life (so far :] ).  When the day finally came, however, it was not without moments of sadness.

My best friend from childhood was unable to attend my wedding due to his injuries acquired during his service in the Marines.   He apologized for it.  Of course I was sad he was unable to attend, but I was much more deeply saddened that one of my oldest friends thought he needed to apologize for it.  We’ll always pick up right where we left off, no matter the time or distance between visits.

But that phrase… rings loudly in my head when I think about him apologizing.

 

My time serving in Hawai’i must have been so difficult.

 

All of this may sound like minutia, things we all go through.  But it became a recurring theme for me to check out during conversations as thoughts of all the awful things surrounding my friends and colleagues rushed in to displace whatever happy moment I was having.  I spent many nights at the bar with my best man, watching him talk to the denizens, while I sat there quietly pondering these questions.

Why am I the lucky one who gets to walk away from the military with barely a scratch?  Why did I get to ride a motorcycle without crashing and losing my leg?  How can I possibly relate to any of the friends of mine who have PTSD?

I met a Marine at that bar who serves for Boston Police now.  He told me his greatest regret was never getting to show his valor in combat, despite having been trained for it.  I asked him, over and over, how he could regret that, knowing everything he does about the horrors of war and violence.  I know now, 2 years since the last time I had that conversation with him.

It’s amazing that I can utter the sentence, knowing full well how absurd it is.

I feel ashamed that I could even suggest what I’m experiencing is a form of survivors guilt.

After all, my time serving in Hawai’i must have been so difficult.

 

To my brothers and sisters, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

To the ones who aren’t here, I’m thinking of you on this quiet Christmas Eve morning.

This month I’ve been out of the navy for 2 years now.  It’s been an interesting transition.  I’m currently working part-time while attending Northeastern University full-time to get a BSMS in Computer Science.

The thing I notice about articles written for vets about their transition is… none of them are for me.  My time in the military, and my time transitioning, is probably MUCH different than most… but I know there are some people out there like me.  That said, I tried to write this opinion piece for everyone.

My Transition

Lets be clear about something, first and foremost. Everyone’s experience in the military is different. Sailors will tell different stories than soldiers will tell different stories than airmen will tell different stories than marines will tell different stories than coasties (<3 you puddle pirates).

And, as an extension of this, everyone’s transition will be different. Those with combat experience will see things differently than those who spent 6+ months out at sea, and those people will see things differently than the airmen/sailors/soldiers/marines who never step foot off of solid ground or in the sandbox.  Retirees will be dealing with different problems than 1-2 enlistment separators.

I, myself, spent 6 years in the navy without ever stepping foot on a commissioned vessel or aircraft.  I sailed a desk, and I made a difference doing it.  I don’t hide this fact, and I’m not ashamed of it (like some vets have tried to make me feel for never being in the “real military”).  However, I also picked up a few things about civilian life along them way, which has helped my transition immensely.

Even today, I struggle with things.  I fall victim to looking at my student-peers and judging them for their poor decisions… but then I remember I was stupid once.  Sometimes I browse /r/veterans looking for others going through similar struggles, or browsing duffelblog because it’s fucking hilarious.

Most of the articles I see posted about transitioning to civilian life aren’t for me.  They usually deal with things like: life-and-death vs. monotonous day jobs, 18-19-20 year olds who want to ask if you’ve ever killed anyone (and all the other questions that come from ignorance), boot camp stories, dealing with countless people telling you about brothers/sisters/cousins who were in, or how they wanted to join but decided not to… etc.  It all tends to come off as a parody, even if it’s not.

But, I can’t help but notice consistent “Us Vs. Them” attitude from vets – especially from veterans using their GI Bill.

This is a problem I think I can help with.  Here is something I’ve used to help me in the past 2 years.

I AM A CIVILIAN

Yes.  You are.  You are a Veteran… but, you are also a civilian.  You are not a service member, you are not a war fighter, YOU ARE A CIVILIAN.  When you talk about civilians in an “us vs. them” manner, try to remember that you are now part of both the “us” AND the “them”.

Most of us will never be rid of this way of speaking/writing.  I know vets who have been out for decades, and when we chat, it’s the same.  There is nothing wrong with it, but being aware of it is important because everyone else is.

MY PEERS ARE CIVILIANS.

What does it mean to “be a civilian”?  Generally speaking, it means you have to make your own way.  Most of your peers have had to make their own way.  For school-aged peers, maybe mommy and daddy have helped out along the way, and they had financial support, or whatever you think of today’s “millennial generation”, but try to understand that most of your peers have made their own way.

Civilians don’t have have a built-in support group of 1.5 million brothers and sisters, a UCMJ-like document telling them “right vs. wrong”, standardized instructions for how to wipe their ass, a highly structured routine, or the knowledge that “I’ll get my next paycheck in 2 weeks, no worries”.  These people have struggled, albeit in different ways than you have.   You can learn from them.

CIVILIANS CAN QUIT THINGS

Civilians do not have the built-in requirement of “learning to fucking deal with it” the same way service-members do.  We couldn’t quit our jobs, change our posts, choose what to wear, and sometimes we couldn’t even decide when/where we were allowed to take a shit.  Why would you expect someone who has never been put through that to understand (let alone respect) why their misconceptions place artificial barriers between you and them?  Why?  You’ve had that chief, or that sergeant, who “just doesn’t get it” before.  This isn’t any different.

The difference is, you are no longer required to “just fucking deal” with anything, everything is a choice.

Although, knowing how to hunker down and “dealing with it” is a serious asset.  It really does come in handy… often.

I WAS A CIVILIAN BEFORE BEING A SERVICE-MEMBER

Do you remember going to boot camp, at 17-18-19 years old (for most us, there are exceptions), and having all those grandiose misconceptions about the military?  You know, the same ones that cause you to grimace when fellow students, coworkers, family, friends show how little they understand what your 4+ years in the service meant?  Probably not.  Most of us have a difficult time considering that we were also like that at some point in time.   You probably even said things to some veterans that were cringe-worthy.  I know I did.

And then someone, somewhere along the line, un-fucked you (like they did me).  Maybe it was boot camp.  Maybe it was your tech/MOS school.  Maybe it was your first/second/third command… or maybe it never happened (we all know “that guy”, and if you don’t, it’s probably you).  I often consider it the point at which you can appreciate someone telling you to “un-fuck yourself, shipmate”, but it can mean different things to different people.

Pass it on.  Try to un-fuck people who you think are fucked up.  Which leads to…

I AM A CIVILIAN WITH LEADERSHIP TRAINING

Much of the difficulties I see for transitioning vets, like in this article, are a result of moving from a place where everyone “understands you”, to a place where no one “understands you”.

You have leadership training.  Up until now, that training and expertise has been focused toward people like you & I, with some basic level of understanding/operations.  We are now facing a situation in which we are the un-trained person.  Our skills are applicable, but only after learning to understand peers.   This is a very basic leadership trait – learn about your people/peers, understand their shortcomings, and understand your own shortcomings in reference to their personalities.

If you’re sick of the snake people telling you how and what you are, because Hollywood already taught them, then it’s your job to help change that perception.  Being condescending and spiteful ensures you’re just going to piss of whomever is pissing you off, and nothing will ever change.

I AM ALSO A VETERAN

You don’t have to shun your background.  I see plenty of comments along the lines of “i don’t tell anyone i served until i have to”, or “don’t be that person who makes everything about their time in prison the service.”  You have experiences from which you can garner understanding and respect, and training which you can fall back on for strength in the hard times.  You have millions of brothers and sisters who depend on you to help make the perception of veterans a good one.

Is that fair?  No.  But it wasn’t fair when you were in, being told your actions on leave/liberty reflect upon your branch of service.  You’re on permanent leave, and your actions still matter.

That said, you also have millions of brothers and sisters who can be there for you when times get hard.  But try to remember… I am also a civilian.

1 short piano.

Quick soundcheck!  Better video next time.

I kinda made this strange decision a long while ago, that I wouldn’t be able to learn proper rhythm and learn to stay in-time on the piano without learning the drums.  Also it sounds fun, and I like making music, so I figure, hey, another tool in the toolbox.

So I started asking a few friends what a good electronic drum kit costs (because apartments are not conducive to regular drum kits) and looked up what it would cost to take lessons.  Price-point is right where I expected on both accounts, so I think i’ll be moving forward here in the next month or two.

School’s a bitch, but it’s no different than work in my opinion.  The fact of the matter is, you have work to do and you need to get it done.  School is actually HARDER because there is an unstructured schedule of when you can do work.  So you tend to put things off or work at really strange hours (which ultimately makes the entire semester feel like one really long grind).

But, we all have to remember to schedule in time for the things we really want to do.  So today, I took my first step.  Now to take the next one…

This is what I’m doing with my love in Vermont today.

utopes

It’s strange, I chose to attend this University, and I chose to study a specific program.  I did not however get to choose which classes I got to take (sort of… I convinced them to let me take another required course instead of a gen-ed requirement, in order to get some of the lower-level CS stuff out of the way).

So there is a mixture of choice, and non-choice.  While the topics I’m studying are certainly not my choice… the overall field is.  For some people, this would probably prove to be frustrating.  Likewise, there is a 1 credit seminar they are making me take (well, I could petition out of it… the process would be painstaking, though), and that class looks to be nothing more than me reviewing presentation and living techniques that the military condensed into me over the past 6 years.  The likelihood of actually learning anything other than how to teach people what I already know is very slim.

So other than that… I find myself happy to get up and go to class.  Ok, happy is a bit strong, but it certainly isn’t PAINFUL to go to classes, and I often enjoy the conjecture the professors have to share.  The topics are interesting, even though they’re not necessarily something novel to me.

This is a huge change from how I worked in the navy however.  It was drudgery, day-in and day-out.  I remember one specific time in my career when I was actually HAPPY to go to work, and that was when I was a developer in hawaii, working 6am-2pm, in charge of managing a system I built, and now allowed to work on my own pet projects.  I had other responsibilities, like training people and essentially “selling” our “product” to admirals and stuff (i did tons of briefings for visiting VIPs), but it was just the cost of being given a little autonomy in my work.

Now… even the drudgery seems negligible compared to what i’m getting out of it.  I don’t know where the drive to work is coming from, because I always considered myself a slacker.  Now I find myself working at a pace I’ve never done before.  Maybe it’s out of requirement, maybe it’s out of necessity, or maybe the military did manage to instill some level of work ethic in me.  Who knows.

But somehow, even with all the work I’m doing… this work is enjoyable… my mind is blown!