Why Veterans Should Consider The Restaurant Industry

IG: raulfelix275

Now that you’re released from the overbearing clutches of Uncles Sam’s war machine, you’re completely free to conquer the world with nothing to hold you back. Well, there is one thing: money. It’s not like you were a baller in the service. Unfortunately, jumping out of airplanes and killing people isn’t highly sought after skill set in the job market. While there are a host of different job options, very few give a veteran the flexibility and ability to improve themselves as the restaurant industry does.

It Will Renormalize Your Human Interaction

Even though your Dysfunctional Veteran shirt states otherwise, you’re going to have to learn to interact with other people in a socially acceptable manner. That filthy mouth you’ve acquired while serving in the military has got to be tamed. Being forced to interact with customers who are spending their hard earned money in order to have a pleasant dining experience will help you curb those speaking patterns. It will also get you honed at another essential social skill set: pretending to like people.

Your work shift is steadily approaching. You’re mentally preparing yourself. Taking in the tranquility and ambiance of your apartment filled with emo rock. You take a toke, knock out a few push ups, then switch the music over to some gangster rap to get motivated. You head into the shower to freshen up and make yourself presentable. You never know what you’re going to be running into when you walk through those doors.

While most customers are great and enjoyable to be around, it’s the 5% of them that will grind you down. The inquisitorial customers who bombard you with reasonable and unreasonable questions about the food items. “Sorry, ma’am, I’m not sure if the eggs are locally sourced or if the vinegar contains sulphites”. The drinker who reaches his limits and begins showing disrespect to the establishment. “Sir, be nice or leave.” The nit-picky snob who makes it known she is a Yelper and who thinks having the TV on while it happens to be playing Rambo ruins the atmosphere. “Sorry ma’am, the boss insists on having it on.”

These little interactions will help you learn how to navigate gray areas between the customer always being right and the customer being a space cadet.

You Get Exposed To A New Culture While Making Money

If you’re a few years out of the service, you can go back to your old company or platoon and see one or two familiar faces, tops. Like the military, the restaurant industry is a big shuffle of humanity, where only a few grizzled lifers stick around for long. It’s a job field that caters to people who are in the building stages of their lives or fixing up their fucked one. You’ll encounter a swath of students, immigrants, corporate America refugee’s, lost-twenties-somethings, artists, and unique characters from all walks of life.

Not everyone will be your best friend and shouldn’t be, but you’ll find the one or two people who you can connect with. On one of my bartending jobs, I became good friends with a young cook. After I did my beginning of shift prep work and made sure the bar was stocked, I would head over to the kitchen to see if he could get away for a few minutes. We’d then go into his car and smoked a bowl as we talked to each other about our lives. I tried to convince him to join the Army, he couldn’t because he didn’t have papers. Whenever there was a lull in the work, we’d sneak out to smoke another bowl.

While it’s not the most prestigious career path, it’s not exactly a dead-end career. I’ve met staff members of all ranks who raised entire families and paid for their kids educations on their restaurant work wages. Each having their own style and flair as they flowed seamlessly through the floor taking orders, delivering drinks and food, and picking up dishware with utmost efficiency. Some were masters of the up-sell and had the ability to steer the customer to finer food items in order to increase their tip bottom line.

Since staff members are joining and leaving all the time, you’re not the new guy for too long. In fact, you’ll be able to prove your worth to the team in a quick manner if you’re on top of your game and are willing to be a sponge for knowledge and tips of the trade. You’re only as good as the last customer you served. Each new table an opportunity to correct any deficiencies you had the previous time, even if it was only you who noticed. Slowly, building your competence to move around and get tasks done at the restaurant with military precision and skill.

You Can Rebalance Your Chi

You’re at the cutting station in the kitchen. You’re preparing a huge batch of limes for the bar’s upcoming shift. Slice the lime in half lengthwise, make a horizontal cut through the belly, and then slice each of the halves into four wedges.

Repeat a few dozen times.

Get lost in your thoughts. Think about what’s going on in your life right now. What problems you have to tackle. What is under your control and what is out of it. Are you moving ahead in life at a steady pace? Is that chick you’re currently texting going to blossom into something real?

The beer coolers are half empty. A good variety of beer is held in each. You analyze the contents and make an mental estimation of how many boxes you’ll need. You walk to the fridge and pick up a couple of 24 packs and carry them to the cooler. Utilizing the bar key, with a swift and violent motion, you pierce through top of the cardboard and drag it to open the flaps. With three bottles in each hand, you pull out the beers and neatly place them on top of each other in the cooler.

Repeat a couple dozen times.

Get lost in your thoughts. Think about your past. The events that lead you to the place you are in today. The places you traveled and experiences you’ve had. The people you encountered along the way. The women: the ones you forgot about, the ones you almost loved, and the ones who left a mark on your heart.

The glassware has piled up in the bar sink. You’ve developed your own system for keeping the glassware in a steady rotation. You stand over the sink in an athletic position. You grasp a glass in each hand, emptying out the dregs of it into the waste bin. Fiercely scrubbing its insides with the brushes, then dunking them into the sanitized water to rinse out the soap suds. Each distinct piece organized so it can be transported to its designated place. Neatness and order radiates out of a properly prepped bar.

Focus on what’s ahead. Confidence settles within because you’ve done all that is needed to have a successful night, where hordes of thirsty clientele will pine for you attention in order to quench their need for booze. You’re in control. You’re ready. You’re able to handle whatever comes through those doors. You’ve got this.

You Get Thrown Into The Fray Of Controlled Chaos

You walk into work. It’s a complete shit show. It’s Friday night and the popular local band is having their end of the school year bash. It’s a pandemonium of customers wrestling with one another to catch the attention of a bartender. The bar staff is losing.

The beer bottles are running low, two of the kegs have just popped. You hear one of the bartenders curse. Make that three kegs. The glassware has piled up so high on the sink that they’ve begun to use the bar counter-top as overflow. There are only a few scoops of ice left in the ice machine. The three other bartenders are losing their patience with the customers and one another as they each fight for access to the lone cash register and key in the tabs.

You analyze the situation and make a plan of action. You run down to the basement, squeezing through the crowd. You change out the kegs, replenishing the stream of booze to the taps. You pick up two 24 packs and a bag of ice carry it up the stairs. In a firm, but respectful tone yelling out “Excuse me! Beer coming through! Excuse me! Beer coming through!” as a rift appears before you and you carry your burden to destination. You quickly unload the beers and run down for more, prioritizing the beers which are lowest, until you’ve restocked it all.

A customer taps you on the shoulder trying to get your attention. He is not your focus right now. “Get one of the other bartenders, I’m barbacking!” You put your head down, avoiding eye contact with any other patron as you work through the stack of glassware. With sheer focus you grind it out, giving the bar the much needed ammo it needs in order to put it back on equal footing. You were the missing piece that was needed in order to give it a fighting chance. Now it’s time to get to the real work, you yell out “Who needs a drink!” and serve the first person who raises their hand.

The night is over. The last remnants of customers have left the establishment. The staff is cleaning up, counting the money, conducting a casual after action review of the night, and indulging in a victory drink.

“Whoa, that was a crazy night,” says one of the bartenders, “You saved our ass. Great job tonight, man.”

“Of course, I’m here for you,” you respond with a smirk.

~Raul Felix

Read: 4 Things That Are Awesome About Riding A Motorcycle
Read: Oh Well, We’re Off To War Again
Read: 12 Things Only Veterans Of The Global War On Terrorism Will Understand

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32 Things I Learned By 32

IG: raulfelix275

For the last two years I have been happily embracing the life of a 30-something. The world is a much less intimidating place. People in general take me and my ambitions more seriously. As a man, I’ve come into my own emotionally and in maturity. It would be foolish to imply that I’m fully enlightened, but I’m glad to say I’m no longer a clueless 20-something. As your friendly neighborhood wordsmith, I think it appropriate to share with you some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years.

1. The past is the past, yet it isn’t. The past lives inside of us and molds us into who we are. I think about the Iraq War and my brothers-in-arms everyday. I think about the women in my past nearly as often. I think about my friends from high school and the stupid shenanigans we used to pull. I think about the way my family used to get together for the holidays and the values instilled in me. Not all of these memories are wonderful, some bring deep despair into my heart. They’re always there, ghosts who help me take better steps than the ones in past.

2. Travel has a point of diminishing returns. One of the biggest must-do experiences that’s been sold to our generation is the need to travel. It will help you learn and grow, but there is an eventual plateau to that growth. The core of who I am was always the same whether I was back on the block in Huntington Beach, California, serving in the Army, contracting in Israel, or finding peace in Upstate New York. If you are a cowardly, apathetic loser with no social skills in your hometown, what makes you believe that your’e going to be more outgoing in a strange environment where no one knows or cares about you?

3. Petty rivalries are a part of life. There are always going to be people in your social circle who don’t like one another, and you’re in the middle of it. There are always going to be people who don’t like you. It’s ingrained in our instincts to constantly be at war with some group of people or idea.

4. Bitching and moaning about who has more privilege isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. Shut your mouth and put in the work required to make it irrelevant. If you are at rock-bottom, you can still have clear-sight picture of the moon. There is more respect those who conquered and triumphed over adversity more than those who acquired their status through windfall wealth.

5. Hey, what scandal in the media were you pissed off about two weeks ago? Oh, you don’t remember do you?

6. Anger is both a powerful fuel and destructive force. I have an anger that is harbored deep within my soul. Correctly harnessed, it’s a fuel that gets me through my work day, pushes me harder in my work out, and helps create quality written work. When my anger is allowed to go rampant through excessive consumption of booze, it destroys much of the good I have done.

7. Some women will leave you broken and tattered. Others will help you heal. Hopefully, one will make you whole.

8. A true artist has no typical look. Growing up, I never had any ambitions to be a writer or any form of artist whatsoever. I didn’t feel it fit my personality. I was a clean cut, athletic, stuttering video game geek. Artists to me were those scrawny, trendy kids with crazy hair styles and with an insatiable need to express their tortured souls in a moleskin labeled “My Poetry.” As I experienced artistic work from people from all walks of life, I realized being a true artist is a state of mind, not a fashion statement.

9. Vice is a form of hiding from your true self. I’ve used drinking many times to keep my mind off the fact that I haven’t written shit in a while. It’s easier to pick up the bottle and forget about what you should do, than it is to do that task. If you don’t break that cycle at some point, it’ll break you.

10. It takes about a year to fully set yourself up and feel comfortable in a new city. Building a social life, acquiring a job, learning your way around town, and knowing the cool unique things takes pure raw temporal investment. Especially building new friendships. Face time is needed and is very important. Its hard to build a solid connection with someone you don’t have physical interactions with.

IG: raulfelix275

11. When you get into any new relationship, give the person a clean slate on your emotions. That means not projecting any past hurt any former lover may have inflicted on you. Don’t allow yourself to let the person project those past hurts on you either.

12. You are a product of your environment. I spent the formative years of my life in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Like anything else, I didn’t quite appreciate it until I left that place. I got to grow up in an environment full of the most type-A, competitive, intelligent, tough, and rough men in our country. It taught me level of masculinity, manhood, and perseverance that is probably unmatched anywhere else. It set the foundation of the man I am.

13. You are not defined by your environment. I still have the freedom to mold and sculpt myself into the kind of person I seek to be. I don’t have to be a certain way because that’s way people from the environment I grew up in tend to be. I am the master of my own character.

14. You don’t have to go to college right after high school, but really, what’s stopping you from taking that one class at community college. Knock some random general ed out. It doesn’t cost much and may benefit you more than you expect.

15. The worst thing they can say is “No.” That’s the mindset you must take whenever approaching anything in life: jobs, women, reaching out to possible mentors, applying to colleges, starting a business, and giving art the good junior-varsity try.

16. Embrace your minor vices. I love to start my day with two 16oz sugar free Rockstars®. Yet, every so often I get someone trying to lecture me how bad they are. Mother fucker, I work out and keep myself in pretty good health. Talk to me about your essential herbal teas when you have some muscle.

17. Go back and read books that you read when you were younger. You’ll be surprised by how much your world view has changed. One of my favorite writers, who I originally read when I was nineteen, is Tucker Max. While I still enjoyed reading his stories, I wasn’t as impressed now since I’ve had equally crazy over the top experiences.

18. Building good study habits is a discipline like anything else. You have to constantly be keep tabs on yourself and learn that in order to be successful tomorrow, you must sacrifice today.

19. Priorities in people’s lives change. Even those who you were at one time closest to may no longer align with what you value. Friends gets married, have kids, change a career, quit drinking, or may simply no longer believe the things that brought you together in the first place.

20. Information is a drug. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is how it’s administered. So much data is shoved down our throats that will never be useful. I’ve fallen into this addiction also. Constantly refreshing the feed for my “like” fix and those so precious comments. The social validation keeps one yearning for more and more, it just takes more likes and comments to get that high once again.

21. You must treasure your free time where you can indulge in your ambitions and lazy habits. Some weekends I’ll go on a sweet motorcycle trip to a new city. Other’s, I will layabout in my apartment watching 80’s and 90’s sit-coms and laugh uncontrollably. There is no shame in taking care of your needs, no matter how wild or typical.

IG: raulfelix275

22. Confidence is a muscle. The best way to build your confidence is to succeed at one task. Use that success as a spring board that will power through the inertia of doubt and make you stronger for the next challenge.

23. A good relationship is not built on only a few huge acts of generosity. Rather, it’s built on many small acts of kindness and caring compounded over time. The little sweet things you and your lover do for each other is what will keep your relationship healthy.

24. The significant other of your friend may not like you. Maybe you represent a part of his past that she wishes he’d leave behind. Maybe she doesn’t like that you go out and get drunk together. Maybe she doesn’t care for your general attitude toward life. It’s a frustrating position for me to be in because I can’t do much about it.

25. Some people are poison. A toxic person can destroy the most beautiful and promising of souls. Being able to keep those venomous personalities out of your life can literally save it.

26. Religious people don’t have a monopoly on love or morality. You don’t need to believe in a higher being in order to be a good person or one of character. I once had a Ranger buddy tell me that I couldn’t know love because I didn’t know Jesus. The self-righteousness of that statement infuriated me. I love my mother, my family, and my friends. I’ve been deeply in love with a few women. That belief in an of all knowing sky-daddy being the only way has caused more harm to humanity than any heathen activity.

27. The best way to get over a woman you loved deeply is to completely cut off communication with her. No trying to be friends. No checking up and seeing how the she is doing. That’s masochistic emotional torture. It prolongs the process of healing your heart and may keep you from pursuing other worthwhile relationships.

28. Nobody gives a fuck about what you could’ve done. You could’ve joined the military, you could’ve gone to an Ivy league, you could’ve been a doctor, you could’ve invested in bit-coin in the early years. But, you didn’t. What matters is what you did do and what you’re currently doing.

29. Writing as a craft is never ending. There will always be that next sentence, next paragraph, next article, and next book. As I’ve grown and changed over these few years, so have my challenges. The stuff that would burst out of me like wildfire a few years ago doesn’t even light a spark today. I’ve said a lot of what I’ve had to say on some subjects. It’s up to me as an artist to find that subject matter that reignites the flame in order to pour onto the page the words that are kindling in my head.

30. “You know what I liked about you helping me today, Raul?”
“What is that?”
“When I asked you to dig a hole two feet deep, you dug a hole two feet deep.”
Following simple directions is a core competency that is more valuable and less common than you think.

31. Ever notice that the news media makes you feel like the world is falling apart, but then you go outside and see the world is not falling apart. It’s like they have some sort of incentive to keep you glued to their programming.

32. The biggest myth of our lives and times is that we believe our lives and times to be especially unique. War, love, politics, civil unrest, creation, destruction, struggling, thriving, social norms, and social deviancies have always been a part of us. The reasons, locations, values, and methods may have changed, but at our core, we’re the same as humans from thousands of years ago. The greatest gift that our ancestors have left for us is the accumulation of the lesson they have learned. By reading, studying, and looking into the past we can apply those lessons into making our present and future greater.

Now, have a drink with me. A toast! To making it to thirty-three!

~Raul Felix

Read: Two Bros Smoke Weed And Compare Notes About Women
Read: 29 Things I Learned By 29
Read: 4 Things That Happen When You Start To Mature As A Man

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His Mind Is A Whirlwind Of Thoughts

IG: raulfelix275

He mounts his motorcycle,
Blood heavy with alcohol and weed.
He has no care for the stupidity of his actions.
His mind has gone to a dark place.
He wonders about the point of it all.
Whether it will be better to just let go.

He races down the freeway,
Zooming in between cars,
Keeping his iron steed steady.

His mind is a whirlwind of thoughts.
His usual sweet, friendly, and joyful demeanor,
Drowned in whiskey.
Anger, hatred, frustration, jealousy, rage,
Pain, loss, heartbreak, sadness,
Now reign supreme over all his emotions.
The darkness he buries deep inside,
Is now maliciously intent on destroying him.

The wind blows the tears from his face.
At the top of his lungs he curses those who have wronged him,
The events which have left permanent scars on his heart and soul,
He raises his left hand up and flips the world the bird.
He is free.

He pulls up to his home,
Kicks down the kick stand, dismounts, and lovingly caresses her.
There are no ghastly consequences tonight for his recklessness.
“Thanks for getting me home alive, babe,” he says to his beauty.
His temperament is cooled by her.
He lies down on his bed and passes out.

~Raul Felix

Read: In A Park On The Shores Of Lake Michigan
Read: Shards Of Broken Glass Scattered On The Kitchen Floor
Read: Another Night Wasted Getting Wasted

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Another Night Wasted Getting Wasted

I wake up still wearing my jeans,
I didn’t piss myself this time at least.
Room’s thrashed, emptied beer cans scattered throughout.
It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Another night wasted getting wasted.

I have nowhere to be; I have no one to be with.
Eighteen, nineteen, twenty empty cans are stuffed into a garbage bag.
There is a comfort in escaping my frustrations with myself,
My frustrations with loneliness and reality,
Seeking refuge in vice.

Sweet serpent drink, whose poison kisses my lips.
Your cool embrace a reliable comfort in my life.
Women come and go, boozing remains.
Jobs come and go, boozing remains.
Cities come and go, boozing remains

Even when I muster the strength to resist your temptation,
Boredom, annoyances, celebration, life eventually strikes,
Causing me to seek your poison kisses once more,
Their gentle touch enhancing reality,
Distorting its undesirable aspects,
Allowing one to lose themselves in the abyss of the mind,
Wasting another night getting wasted.

~Raul Felix

Read: Maybe I Shouldn’t Have Taught A Psycho Bitch How To Shoot
Read: A Day In The Life Of A Debauched Traveler
Read: She Wouldn’t Make Me So Angry If She Didn’t Own My Heart

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The Love Of My Life From Age 25

A week ago, at the grizzled age of 30,
I reconnected with you, my love from the age of 25.
I wish you knew me as the man I am today,
Instead of the vulgar, drunken fool who was easily pissed
The one who chased away love at the age of 26.

I blame myself each and everyday,
For letting my ego chase away such an understanding lover,
One who understood my temperament and quirks,
Like no other.

I write this to you,
The former love of my life,
The one I met at 25.
Tears flowing down my cheek,
I apologize that my ego was so weak.

Two days with you was a tease of the life I could’ve had,
One I keep dreaming and longing for really bad,
But reality has kicked my ass,
And let me know the time of our romance has passed.

The realist in me says let go of all hope,
The romantic in me is willing to look like a dope,
But neither of those matter anymore,
Because I have lost the love my life,
The one I met at 25.

~Raul Felix

Read: Watching You Get Dressed Again
Read: She Had The Body Of A Greek Goddess
Read: The Lights of Los Angeles Loom

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A Few Maxims On Writing

Keep the ugly,
Find the beauty in the ordinary,
Find the ordinary in the extraordinary.

Write what you know,
Write what you don’t,
Make up the rest.

Take what an academic says with a grain a salt,
What a troll says with a smirk,
What a fan says graciously,
What a lover says as flattery,
What a best friend says with a shot of whiskey.

You’re not special,
Give it time.
No one is waiting for your genius,
Your genius is waiting on you to do the work.

Show up everyday,
Write something great,
Write something good,
Write something mediocre,
Write a ton of terrible pieces.

Struggle,
Hate yourself,
Feel like a failure.
Learn from those greater than you.
Struggle some more.

Lose all hope.

Show up everyday,
Write a ton of terrible pieces.
Write something mediocre,
Write something good,
Write something great.

Feel great.

Check your spelling and grammar.
Be scared to share your work.
Do it any way.

Know the rules,
Fuck the rules.

~Raul Felix

Read: Keep Moving Young Man
Read: How To Find The Greatness Within You
Read: The Witch In My Dream

Read more of my work at Thought Catalog
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Four Years Of Hell: College V. The Army

Co-created with Lance Pauker & Ella Ceron

Which path should you choose: going to college or joining the military? Young people who’ve asked themselves this question have received a plethora of different answers. Both options are viable in helping you set yourself up for success in adulthood. Just like anything else in life, it’s what you make of it, and no two experiences are exactly the same. To help you understand the lifestyle differences between the two paths, two college graduates and one veteran will share with you a year-by-year breakdown of their experiences through those very special four years.

Freshman Year:

Lance Pauker: 

There was a lot of pressure to meet people, but at first you didn’t really know how. So you just stuck to the same three questions, consisting of things like, “Where are you from?,” “What’s your major?,” and, “Are you secretly the son of an oil tycoon?”

Overall, I think I was a little too overwhelmed to really process what was going on—there’s so much coming at you at once. You’ve got the sudden freedom, you’ve got these new people in your life that you’re suddenly good friends with, and you’ve got professors constantly asking you if you did the reading. If there’s anything you figure out quickly, it’s that nobody really does the reading.

Ella Ceron:
I went to college 3,000 miles away from my hometown and was only really able to do so on a full-ride academic scholarship. It was terrifying being in a new city—though I’m from a large city, moving to New York was still a huge change. It was weird living with so many other people my age in one building all of a sudden, and I had five roommates in a very small three-bedroom/one-communal-area dorm. There was a lot of pressure on keeping my grades up, especially when what I thought I wanted my major to be proved much more difficult to maintain, and I had to take a good, hard look at whether I wanted to pursue that dream without my scholarship or change my course. I went home for the summer after that year and very desperately didn’t want to go back. I was homesick, miserable, hadn’t found a group of friends I felt very intrinsically close to, and felt all-around awkward.

Raul Felix:
Your first year in the Army is basically where you get your teeth kicked in. Everything you were, did, and knew no longer seems relevant. You’re going to do shit the way the Army wants you to do it. From your drill sergeants in Basic Training all the way to your team leaders and squad leaders in your first unit, you’re expected to be a sponge for knowledge and to shut your fucking mouth.

Life was simple in a way: You trained hard and worked long hours during the week and got drunk as fuck in the barracks with your buddies on the weekends watching movies, playing video games, and bitching about your miserable existence and how you should have gone to college. Even if you started off as a cavalier, gleaming-eyed young man full of glee and hope, the aura of massive amounts of testosterone, cynicism, and sexual frustration was prevalent. Back then MySpace was the main social network and you’d see your friends posting pictures of themselves at college parties surrounded by hot chicks, while all you had was Internet porn and a bottle of Jack to keep you company. Since most of us were under 21 and none of us were locals, meeting chicks was very rare indeed. Luckily, a few months in, I met a great girl through MySpace that went to a local university and we developed a long-term fuck-buddy relationship that gave me something to look forward to other than drinking myself into oblivion. My cousin and I were in the same battalion but different companies. He had already been the in Army for a little over two years at that point. We spent Christmas and New Year’s together drinking heavily in the barracks watching movies as we waited to deploy.

Sophomore Year:

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 9.31.22 AM

Spc Tiffany Fudge, US ARMY

Lance Pauker:
An article I once read on this pretty great website called Thought Catalog (def check it out if you get the chance) referred to sophomore year as “The Year Of The Wise Fools.” I think this summation is spot-on. You’re slowly gaining a sense of who you are and how you fit within the general landscape, but you’re still, relatively, an idiot. On a personal level, the majority of cool college stories I have occurred during sophomore year.

I feel like sophomore year represents the time in which you begin to move toward that thing you really want to pursue—you’ve finally figured out which people to acknowledge and which people to slowly start ignoring, so you’re finally ready to learn on your terms. Think of it as making your way through a crowded and cramped bar and then finally reaching the cool outside area. You light up a cig, talk about how you really shouldn’t be lighting up a cig, and finally get a chance to think.

Ella Ceron:
I had a summer job in Los Angeles during the summer break and was lucky enough to transfer to a New York outpost of the same company, so I was juggling four and five courses a semester with 30-to-40-hour work weeks. Though my classes were being paid for by the school, I had to take out loans for my housing and had to fund my own food, clothes, and anything else I wanted. It was a lot, but I was able to interact with people who were already living and working in the “real world” and I realized that there was so much beyond the papers and assignments that I had been so stressed about during the previous year. I still didn’t have as many friends as college is always portrayed in the movies, but I let myself completely fill up my schedule so that I was either working or studying seven days a week. In retrospect, that was the stupidest idea ever, but it helped me cope with the loneliness.

Raul Felix:
To my bitter disappointment, that deployment I spent doing a support role for the line guys. We pushed out supplies from the main base to all of the platoons scattered throughout the country. When we did leave the base, it was doing detainee escorts where we would take captured Hajis from one prison to another throughout the country on Chinooks and Blackhawk helicopters. I saw the vastness of Iraq by the air—from our remote outpost in Al Qa’im to the major cities of Baghdad, Mosul, and Tikrit. I also fucked up a lot that deployment and made nearly every single stupid mistake a cherry private could make to the frustration and wrath of my leadership. That deployment I was hit by how real this war was—my cousin’s team leader and squad leader both got killed in action.

We deployed in three-months-there and six-months-back cycles. We came back stateside and I began to take all the lessons learned from that deployment into the next training cycle, determined to be less of a fuck-up. The lifestyle of training hard, drinking hard, and fucking hard took firm hold again. Before one knew it, it was time to go to Afghanistan. Arriving at the beginning of the blistering Afghan winter, me and a dozen other Batt Boys were tasked to man a secret prison that contained high-value targets that were freshly captured off of objectives by the line guys. It pissed me off because I didn’t join the Army to stay on the base; I joined to go on fucking missions. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas there, and I spent New Year’s Eve 2007 on an airplane ride back to the US. Luckily we didn’t lose anyone on that deployment.

Junior Year

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KT King

Lance Pauker:
I went abroad the first semester of my junior year. Like everyone else who went abroad, I had such an incredible time that I spent the following semester acting superior to everyone who didn’t share the same new life experience as me.

Returning to college after spending a semester traveling all over Europe felt like going from an Elton John concert to an Austin Mahone concert. No disrespect to my man Austin; he just fits the reference.

Ella Ceron:
When everyone else went abroad, I moved out of the dorms and into my first apartment—a really crappy walkup that was about a 20-minute walk away from the campus. I still filled my schedule with work and school and tried to romanticize how utterly threadbare my life was. My roommate bought our couch with a bottle of Belvedere, I slept on a yoga mat before I managed to get a bed, and I wrote my papers on a busted laptop with an old radiator whistling nearby. This all sounds like something out of the New York warehouse episodes of Glee, and I deeply wish I wasn’t as proud of the bohemian bullshit I let myself dive into. I still worked 40 hours a week, and I really liked my job, but that began to happen at the expense of shirking off a lot of my papers and assignments, only to make up excuses to get extensions and not fail out of my classes. It was a wakeup call that being an adult is a lot more about work than it is about the aesthetic, and sometimes you have to decide which is more important to you in the moment and which is more important to you in the long run.

Raul Felix:
By that time, I was comfortable in the Army. I wasn’t a big fuck-up anymore, so my leaders usually stayed off my ass. I knew exactly what I needed to do, what my job was, and what I could and couldn’t get away with. I turned 21 that year, went to my first bar in Seattle, and subsequently got kicked out of my first bar.

We were set to deploy again that summer, and a few days before deployment I found my grandmother had died. My cousin and I went to her funeral and missed out on the deployment. We stayed on Rear Detachment, which meant we pretty much had half-days all the time and spent much of that time drinking heavily and attempting to find some tail, mostly unsuccessfully. One morning, news came that one of the men in our company had been killed in action. A few weeks later, another one had been killed.

Senior Year

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Spc Justin Young, US ARMY

Lance Pauker:
Senior year was the crossroads between living in an apartment that should probably be condemned and being “adult” enough to drink something other than watered-down Keystone Light. I found that I probably made the most friends in college senior year—just like senior year of high school, nobody really cares about the social distinctions they spent the past three years maintaining. People are finishing up sports, slightly embarrassed to have been a part of their Greek organization, and overall too consumed with the postgrad unknown to care about how sick Freddy’s party was. You also realize how much of an unrealistic bubble the American college experience is. While I definitely got a ton out of my four years, you certainly realize how alarming the disconnect is. If college prepares you for the working world, then playing baseball prepares you for running a marathon. They’re both sports, but that’s pretty much it.

Ella Ceron:
By senior year, I was totally immersed in my job, and a big chunk of me didn’t think I really NEEDED my degree anymore—but then I realized that the job trajectory I was on wasn’t the right fit after all. I was working 60 hours a week, could afford a lot of really nice things, made friends with my coworkers, and was acting the part of the adult—but I just wasn’t happy. I had to force myself to put any effort into my classes, because I’d saved a lot of the easy, fun classes for senior year, knowing full well I’d have senioritis. The caveat in that, however, was that I was constantly reminding myself that if I could do okay by coasting along, imagine how much better I could do by working hard. Ultimately, I realized that the degree I eventually chose meant more to me than the job I’d had all through college and that I not only wanted to actually pursue using my degree, but that I’d be disappointed if I didn’t.

Working through college was a very important part of my experience, because it gave me a crash course in the wild world of money and having an apartment and adulthood and adult friends, but I was worn really thin throughout those four years and wouldn’t necessarily suggest you try to do everything all at once if you don’t absolutely need to. If I could do it all over again, and if I had the means, I would definitely have not worked as much as I did, even though I don’t regret how hard I worked. College is a time for discovery, and sometimes I wonder if I was too burdened with bills and being a grown-up to do that then—but now I’m making up for it by discovering myself along the way now.

Raul Felix:
Another training cycle started. The same dance all over again. I had calmed down my bar-hopping since I had gotten a girlfriend, but it didn’t mean I still didn’t drink to my heart’s content. Working, drinking, and hanging out with my girl was all I contented myself with during that training cycle. It had all become second nature at that point. We took off for the sandbox again. This time I drove Strykers through the streets of Mosul on hundreds of direct action raids. I was happy because at last I was doing the cool guy shit I’ve been training for. In typical poetic fashion, my girlfriend broke up with me. This was costliest and most heart-wrenching deployment during my time in battalion. We lost three great men all within a month of each other.

It’s a strange feeling being in a bar when only 48 hours earlier you were in the middle of the streets of Mosul pulling security. I was more than eager to get out of the Army. I had acquired an annoyed and hate-filled attitude toward my job, but I knew I had one deployment left before I was free at last. I bought a motorcycle and developed a passion for motorcycle travel when my buddies and I took a trip around Washington State.

In my final deployment to Iraq, I was driving Strykers like I did before. Though we did go on quite a few missions, it was way slower than the previous high-operations tempo deployment. The war was winding down. There was a stretch where we went two weeks without a single mission. Books, video games, and TV shows were how you kept your sanity from the boredom. I came back with only a month left on my enlistment. One month later, I hopped on my motorcycle to travel the US, leaving behind the red-fenced compound that took me in during my most formative years and forged me into a man.

~Raul Felix

You can read more of my writing at Thought Catalog.