Identity Paper – Citizen Vs. Marine – 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) 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 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 ourselves as soldiers, just as Marines.
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.
Hardly a Fairy Tale
This was something that was instilled upon me, born inside of me through pain. 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. My job was to provide indirect fire support for troop movement on the battlefield.
Slices of Life
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 just 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 me, 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.
The Veterans Nightmare
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. “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 operations and one of the ones who happened to be affected negatively by the experience of war. I started to see my friends around me get this diagnosis and some of my friends have taken their lives. Thankfully I am not one of those people who have ever had those thoughts, nor would I ever hurt myself. I have children. I hate being asked by the VA if I am going to harm myself. Not I am not and I have already been asked 15 times within 5 minutes. It is a little annoying.
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 addressed the problem.
It’ll Never Be What it Was
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 and back to citizens. This is important because of the growing crisis of suicide amongst Veterans currently in the United States. This information could be used to help educate the population and help reduce the current number of 22 Veterans who commit suicide every day (according to the VA).
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 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. 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?
The Sacrifice That Keeps Giving
For me the sacrifice was joining, to serve for the better good of society. So people good 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 bear and one I willingly accept. 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 mindful 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 are veterans, I stay in contact with a lot of other Veterans through social media and group therapy, it’s a bond I can not explain. For the Citizen side of me I do not feel as if I belong, almost like im 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 minds and 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. 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.
1. Smith, R. T., & True, G. (2014). Warring Identities. Society and Mental Health, 4(2), 147-161. doi:10.1177/2156869313512212
2. 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
3. PTSD: National Center for PTSD. (2009, October 30). Retrieved September 29, 2018