The ability to control every aspect of my life disappeared when I enlisted seven years ago and in the regular Marine Corps, someone else running my life was usually bearable. But when I was a Marine Security Guard, it became unbearable. Despite its reputation as the highly-respected “best duty in the Marine Corps” it did not live up to the hype and after three years, with my motivation destroyed, I knew there was no way I could go back to the Fleet. I would lose my mind.
I need a break.
I wished I could have stayed 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 or small details of my life.
So, I made plans to go back to school for the 2009 fall semester. I submitted paperwork requesting to be released from my contract 21 days early but the request was denied. Then I decided I would rather get a job but the only jobs I was qualified for were security jobs or office work. Not wanting to get trapped in a career I did not want, I figured I would just wait and go to school in the spring.
I spent six weeks of terminal leave and three months after it taking advantage of the fact that I had no responsibilities and no major bills, in other words, doing almost nothing productive. I took an online class, visited friends and family, and surfed the far reaches of the Internet. The day before spring semester classes started, I moved from my parents’ couch to my own place: finally living on my own for the first time in seven years.
After a month of classes I realized that it still felt like I was on vacation.
I decided what major I wanted and could change it later if necessary, I made my own school schedule, decided when to eat and what to eat, I could and did get a cat, I could come and go from the house as I pleased, I could leave the state or the country whenever I wanted, I could exercise at whatever time I felt like it and do whatever form of exercise I wanted to do, if I was sick I didn’t have to prove it – I just stayed home and got better, nobody was banging on the door at 0500 on Saturday telling me to mop the hall, nobody was waking me up for a surprise meeting two hours after I fell asleep, if I was cold I could wear a sweatshirt instead of freezing to death in the Uniform of the Day, and each Thursday I didn’t have to clean my toilet unless it was dirty.
Even with school I did not have any major issues. I can’t tell you that school is spectacular but it is much more pleasant on a day-to-day basis than the military.
The only problem I had with the VA and G.I. Bill was that the living expenses money arrived a month late. But that was because the school’s certification paperwork wasn’t submitted until a week before the semester started and even that was probably my fault because I waited too long to register for classes. I have not had any problems with teachers or classmates either. Sure, many of the students are young and immature but not any more than Marine privates or lance corporals of the same age. There is no anti-military hostility on campus, in fact, one my professors is a Vietnam vet, there are ROTC and National Guard troops attending class in uniform, and there is another Marine veteran in one of my classes.
When I left the Marine Corps and rejoined the civilian world, there was no adjustment period. There were no civilian life reentry problems. I have never felt like an outsider and even returning to school after a seven-year-gap was easy.
All I felt was relief.
It still feels like a vacation.