June 27, 2022

Identity Paper

Citizen Vs. Marine

Aaron McInelly

Utah Valley University


George Washington said in his response to congress on June 26, 1775 that;When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.(Washington, 1775) This referencing the necessity of war, to have peace war must be fought and won. In order to win war they need citizens strong enough and willing to become service members to defend this country by any means necessary. So the battle ends, but the war lives on not only in my head but in the head of everyone who saw the fields of battle first hand. 

When I was a young boy I always dreamed of being a “soldier”, and I put that in quotes because I am a Marine and we do not refer to ourselves as soldiers, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” I think almost everyone imagines themselves at some point or another being a “soldier“, protecting the land you grew up on is important. At least that is what I was taught, you stand for the flag because it shows strength in unity, courage in diversity and hope for all mankind to live free to create their own prosperity. As long as we are willing to defend that liberty no man shall have the right to deprive others of their right to enjoy their peace and prosperity. This was something that was instilled upon me, born inside of me through endurance.

Physical and mental pain the kind that makes your blood boil, someone standing over you shouting that pain is weakness leaving your body, didn’t really help either. Because, as far as I could tell pain was defeating my body. The process to become a Marine was an intense 13 week experience, some of the toughest training the American military offers. My choice of MOS, or my job inside the Marine Corps was an Infantry Mortarman, to provide indirect fire support for troop movement on the battlefield. I almost felt the change after every deployment I went on, I served in Iraq in 2008 and that was a different experience. I remember not sleeping very often and spending a lot of time standing around guarding things, waiting for something to happen.

Then there was Afghanistan, this experience has never left my mind and I continue daily, fighting inside myself to determine what is real. The programming to become a Marine is something that lives inside of all those who earned the title, it is a part of me. Trying to separate the Marine from the Citizen is a daily process. This is probably my primary identity still today. Even though I separated 8 years ago, I feel as if it were yesterday. When I came back from Afghanistan I felt that things were different, my thoughts didn’t seem to add up to the reality that was around me. When I went to the Veterans Affairs office I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, “PTSD has become the most common military service–related mental health diagnosis of OIF/OEF veterans”. (Smith & True 2014) I happened to be one of the service members who fought in both foreign operations and one of the ones who happened to be affected negatively by the experience of war. Trying to find the person I once was has been hard, I have had the help of medications but those only mask the symptoms and never address the problem. 

In the article I used, they took “26 life story interviews of recent American veterans, this paper analyzes the identity struggle faced by soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and reentering the civilian world.”(Smith & True 2014) The study talked about the integration process from military back to civilian “post war”, comparing the identities of soldiers back to Citizens. This is important because of the growing crisis of suicide amongst Veterans currently here in the United States and could be used to help educate the population in order to help reduce the current number of 22 Veterans who commit suicide daily according to the VA.(Some numbers indicate it is 36+ right now considering the recent events.) There is also a growing number of homeless Veterans as well, having been homeless myself I have felt the struggle of trying to get back on top after you fall to the bottom. The problems that exist inside my head only made the problem in reality worse for me personally. 

The other Identity that I embody is the Citizen, the person who wakes up every day and tries to contribute to the betterment of society. As a Citizen my daily routine seems almost mundane to the average person, I spend a lot of time studying and even more time learning to change my thoughts, by studying my thoughts and how other people before me dealt with their internal struggle, or at least the way that I perceive my thoughts. I go to school and I raise my kids the best I can as a single father, I try to teach them, try to help them to be better people just like any other good parent tries to do. The citizen side of me goes running and enjoys spending time with friends and family, I enjoy going to movies and eating out sometimes. I feel the best way to make society better is to make myself a better person, how can we help others if we are unable to help ourselves?

For me the sacrifice was joining, to serve for the better good of society, so people could live free to enjoy their liberties and create their own prosperity. Freedom has a cost and someone has to pay the toll, the burden is mine to bare and one I willingly accept just as others. The way that I navigate this clash of Citizen vs Marine is through daily practice and different techniques that I have learned. Techniques like meditation and mindfulness awareness using Cognitive Processing Therapy in order to help me relearn the way I think. CPT teaches you how to evaluate and change the upsetting thoughts you have had since your trauma.” (Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD, 2009) The way that I deal with the group membership is being part of the 5% of the population that make up the Veteran population. I stay in contact with a lot of other Veterans through technology like phones,  and group therapy. It’s a bond I can not explain, and I try to avoid social media. For the Citizen side of me I do not feel as if I belong,  almost like i’m lost at sea without a compass. Right now it seems that the clash will last forever and the way I have learned to deal with it that works the best is to meditate and be mindful of my surroundings, constantly reminding myself that I am not at war anymore. 

I know that with practice I can move past this indifference that exist inside of me, that if I try to be something that I want to be rather than something that people tell me I should be. I can get through it with hard work and practice, also just doing it and not getting lost inside of my own thoughts. I practice breathing often and part of what I have learned is to recognize a thought as it comes into my mind, then letting it go. Focusing back on my breath. “Combat veterans”, understandings of their identity as both soldiers and, later, as veterans affect mental health and well-being because ‘‘the circumstances in which events and strains occur shape their meaning by rendering them more or less harmful’’.(Smith & True, 2014) I think that if we change the way we feel about something that we think, we can change the way we think about something that has happened or we feel. For me becoming a Marine was one of the greatest things I have ever accomplished, to allow my past to control me is to neglect my present and prevent any type of future. I am a Veteran now trying to integrate back into the Citizen reality, one that will continue to try daily to improve myself in order to gain understanding. Helping others to understand what I have seen to gain meaning, but never forgetting.  



Smith, R. T., & True, G. (2014). Warring Identities. Society and Mental Health, 4(2), 147-161. doi:10.1177/2156869313512212

George Washington to New York Legislature, June 26, 1775 – American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2018, from http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/contarmy/newyork.html

PTSD: National Center for PTSD. (2009, October 30). Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/cognitive_processing_therapy.asp