I had the typical American childhood; my parents were divorced, mom struggled to keep our bills paid and I had no hope of paying for college. At 18 years of age, I was lost in a sea of uncertainty, to put it mildly. I do not know how it happened, but for some reason, a light bulb went off in my head; I could join the Army. They could feed me, house me, and educate me. It was the answer I needed.
I had no hesitation about joining the Army. I did not talk to endless friends about it. I did not seek any guidance on the issue. I just did it. So, just days after graduation I was off on a bus to Anniston, Alabama, for my introduction experience, basic training and advanced individual training.
I have always been a rather shy person. And, it was a little unnerving to be off on my grand adventure. But that is what adventures are, by the very definition of an adventure you will at some point in time, experience some discomfort and wish you were somewhere else. For those who do not go on adventures, their trips are called vacations.
Basic training and Advanced Individual Training are not as physically demanding as you would think. You’re expected to run two miles, do pushups, and you’re going to break a sweat every day. You’re going to run an obstacle course, shoot rifles and do things you never have done before and you’re going to that every day and in the process build your body.
But more importantly, I built my mind. Which seems an odd thing to say, but, joining the Army was the best thing I could have ever done. It empowered me with a sense of accomplishment and determination that I did not know existed. When I left Advanced Individual Training, I was a very different person than the day I went in.
In 1991, while in training for invading Iraq, I attended the U.S. Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning Georgia representing my Special Forces unit (I was on my way to my Green Beret). During my training, I experienced a bad jump and ended up breaking a bone. The injury sidelined me for a short period, but I was able to eventually finish school and my airborne wings are some of my most valued mementos. Being part of an elite team is an experience all its own, and every airborne jump left me with a incredible sense of accomplishment. However, it was the injury I did not see that would haunt me for years to come.
One study has found that about 25% of airborne soldiers suffer a concussion during a jump. I think this may have happened to me at some point during one of my military jumps. When, I left the army shortly after the end of the Iraq war, I was a different person. I was depressed, angry and suffering from a loss of focus in life. My future wife encouraged me to get counseling, however, I was too proud to see what was happening.
It took years of my life to fully understand what had happened and I consider those years of my life as having been lost. I feel I accomplished very little, and have nothing to show for my thirties, or what I call my lost decade. Now, in my forties, I feel that I have healed, and see things differently now.
It took a long time to heal and be healed. I have learned that “things” are not the most important “thing” in life, and I have learned that it is okay to cry and to fail in life. These were lessons that you do not learn in school, on the job, or in some book. They are learned from talking to friends, and talking to people who have experienced them themselves. It is okay to talk to someone about your experiences and what you’re going through. Asking for help is really a manly thing to do. Not asking for help is a recipe for destruction, I can attest to that firsthand.
Once, you learn this, and it takes a while, then you can set a proper course for your life and find what it is you’re looking for.