An Army Ranger Interviews A Navy SEAL On Resilience

What is resilience? It’s not something you can buy off the shelf. You can’t pout until it’s given to you, either. You acquire it by doing the most human of things: struggling. In this struggle, it’s essential that you keep fighting through and driving on, whether you have succeeded or failed in your goals. Each time you go through the process, you become a bit more resilient.

Eric Greitens is a former Navy SEAL, Rhodes scholar, and founder of veterans organization The Mission Continues. He has written a book on the subject: Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living A Better Life. In a series of letters to his SEAL comrade who struggles with depression, alcoholism, and post-traumatic stress disorder, Eric seeks to break down the elements that make for a resilient life so he can help out his friend and, in turn, others.

Raul Felix:
Eric, your organization, The Mission Continues, puts post-9/11 veterans to purposeful work by leveraging their already established experiences, skills, and giving them additional training. This is a bit contrary to what other organizations have done, which focused on giving veterans goodies with no long-term value. When did this idea come about and what does your organization do?

Eric Greitens:
Our wounded and disabled veterans had lost a lot. Some had lost their eyesight. Some their hearing. Some had lost limbs. All of that they would recover from. If they lost their sense of purpose, however, that would be deadly. I also knew that no one was going to be able to give them hope; they were going to have to create hope through action.

I wanted to welcome returning and disabled veterans not just with charity, but with a challenge.

So I donated my combat pay to begin a different kind of veterans’ organization, and two friends contributed money from their disability checks. My plan with The Mission Continues was to offer fellowship for veterans to serve at nonprofit, charitable, and public benefit organizations. We would provide veterans with a stipend to offset cost-of-living expenses and with mentors to help them build plans for their post-fellowship life. Most importantly, we would provide them with the challenge and the opportunity to rebuild a meaningful life by serving again in communities here at home.

Raul Felix:
In your book, you mention three forms of happiness: Happiness of Pleasure, Happiness of Grace, and Happiness of Excellence. All three are needed. Many veterans, especially the ones who get out in their early or mid-twenties, fall into the trap of overindulging in pleasure with alcohol, drugs, unscrupulous sex, and other whims in order to get that emotional high they experienced while on mission. I know I did and still do. Why does focusing more on excellence, which is way harder, lead to a richer form of happiness?

Eric Greitens:
I think that—most simply—the happiness of excellence leads to a richer form of happiness because it involves growth. When we push ourselves and engage in activity that leads to excellence, we exercise our power—and this leads to growth, to mastery, and—in time—to achievement. All of that deep engagement with the world creates joy along the way.

In addition, part of what makes this happiness richer is that, often times, our efforts actually make others happy along the way. You, for example, know that it takes a lot of effort to write a good piece. As you write more, you become better at your craft. At the same time, your writing offers something to others. And if this is true for you, you’ve got a great combination—inner growth and outer service.

Finally, I think that the happiness of excellence is often richer because it helps to provide us with a sense of direction and, over time, a sense of purpose. When I think, for example, about the kind of happiness that’s available to the man in your poem, “Keep Moving, Young Man,” we both know that the happiness of pleasure might offer a moment of relief, but afterwards a guy like this might plunge even deeper still. If, however, he had a sense of direction…if, however, he felt himself getting better…if, however, he felt like he was making a contribution to others…that might—over time and with lots of hard work—lead him to a different place altogether. And that’s the great promise of the happiness of excellence.

Raul Felix:
You mentioned that “The naive mind imagines effortless success, the cowardly mind imagines hardship and freezes, the resilient mind imagines hardships and prepares.” We were taught in the military that you have to have a contingency plan in case things do go wrong. When you acquire a veteran fellowship, what do you do in order to ensure they are prepared and do succeed?

Eric Greitens:
That’s a great question. We try to apply all of the lessons in the Resilience book to make sure that they have the best chance of success. So, for example, we make sure that they have mentors to learn from, models to follow. We create counselors to guide them, friends to aid them, and there is a curriculum that they complete, all designed to help them to build the mental toughness and to develop the sense of purpose that are necessary to make it through a tough time.

Raul Felix:
You have a whole letter dedicated to friendship. I agree that having good friends is one of the great things that makes life worth living. My friends have been there for me and have bailed me out of physical and legal trouble more times than I can recall. Also, real friends will call you out when you’re messing up your life, business, or just plain being an asshole. Can you give us a recent example of when your friends have helped you out?

Eric Greitens:
Of course. I run a small business—I started it when I came home from Iraq, and I’m proud of it. It provides a good living for my family and for the people on the team. A few months back I had a guy who worked for me—a guy I’d given a lot of opportunities to—who lied to me and stole from me. That’s a gut punch. I called a friend [to replace him] the next day. He was at my house two hours later, and he’s been with me now every day for over seven months. My company is so much stronger than it was before—and we got there because of my friend and the incredible people on my team. It’s a classic Resilience case: I never would have wanted it to happen, but in retrospect, I’m actually grateful that it did because it made us so much stronger.

Raul Felix:
Part of the allure the military, especially Special Operations Units, has to young men is that whole transformative process. It pushes you to your physical, mental, and emotional limits. It has the power to test you and make something more out of you than you were before. If not the military, what other rites of passage do you think would a young person need to go through in order to earn the same amount of pride and sureness of oneself?

Eric Greitens:
A rite of passage usually marks a transition from one phase of life to the next. When you join the military, you literally step off of the bus, and *bang*, you’ve got a drill instructor yelling in your ear and you’re in a whole new world. You’ve come to a place that is meant to transition you from a citizen into a citizen-soldier/sailor/airman/Marine who is built to serve others.

Going to college usually marks a transition, as does entering a monastery, getting married, or having a child. You move, in each case, from one phase of life to the next. You become a husband or wife, a father or mother.

For young people looking to develop pride and confidence, there is only one path: self-created success. You will know you are good and strong when you have done things that are good. Achievement can take place in the art room, on the athletic field, in an auto body shop, in your business, on a farm—and achievement can take many many different forms. But true confidence comes when we grow, when we learn, when we master new skills. Almost everything new can be frightening at first, but with the right kinds of experience, we grow in courage.

That’s why resilience is an essential virtue; you can’t grow without it.

Raul Felix:
You’ve done quite a bit with your life. You’ve been a Rhodes scholar, humanitarian volunteer, Navy SEAL, and you’ve started a great non-profit organization. A lot of people would look at what you’ve accomplished and think they can’t hope to reach that level of excellence and may be even intimidated by it. Obviously, everything you’ve accomplished was a result of your own hard work and resilience. What last bit of advice would you give to someone who is young but hasn’t really done much with their life in order to get moving toward the right path for them?

Eric Greitens:
Well, thank you, Raul. That’s very kind of you. I’ve been fortunate to work with wonderful people along the way.

What I say to young people is this: You have a contribution to make. You have something to offer. And to develop your own sense of purpose, do two things. One, stay humble. It’s important that we remember that every person is better than us in some way. Every person has something to teach us. So learn from people around you. At the same time, be bold. Try new things. Attack hard problems. Do the tough stuff. Push yourself. If you can be humble and bold at the same time, you’ll create something beautiful.

~Raul Felix

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Army Rangers Talk About The Times Their Words Have Shocked Civilians

Sgt. Brian Kohl, 55th Combat Camera, US Army

Sgt. Brian Kohl, 55th Combat Camera, US Army

Men in Special Operations units look at the world very differently than the average civilian does. There is no subject or phrase that is too taboo for us. All kinds of jokes are commonplace: rape, racist, dead baby, misogynist, and plain disgusting ones. You’ll never get scolded for offending someone; if anything, you’ll get mocked for not being offensive enough. Such an environment has a lasting effect. When we’re set loose on the civilian world, we must learn that most people can’t handle our dark, twisted humor. I asked my Ranger buddies about times they have said something that horrified society’s sheep.

Raul Felix:
When some cunt broke my heart I was drinking at the bar I worked at drowning in booze, my own tears, and woes. I told the young female blonde dumb bartender, “I want to slit that bitch’s throat.” Then word got around that I was a psychopath.

George:
“This [name a situation] is a fucking abortion, it’s a bloody mess.”

Leo:
I told a woman that was trying to take my dad’s beer that I would fillet her like a fish.

TJ:
When people ask me, “What’s up?,” I say rent and the price of pussy. Both are always going up.

Matthew:
In film school I was in a class that was covering all the things you needed a permit to legally do—shut down a street, fire a gun, etc. So I was doing a short at the time that required shooting someone in the back of the head and that person falling off a building. So I ask, “What do I have to get in order to shoot someone in the head and throw them off a building?” I thought it was a perfectly logical question considering the movies that come out these days, but holy shit did everyone else, teacher included, think I was a psychopath.

Calvin:
In reference to an abortion [my girlfriend] had: “No, I felt OK about it. After all, it was one more confirmed kill.”

James:
Saw new talent in the office, told my coworker that I would “pee in her butt.”

Raul Felix:
At my best friend’s birthday I had been heavily drinking. They had two short female friends they were close with but that simply tolerated my existence. I joined the group and said, “I like to dominate small women” and patted one of the chicks on the head like she was a dog and walked off. They were upset about that for a while.

George:
“You’re looking at me like you either want to fuck or fight; either way it’s a good time.”

Steven:
“Look at the turd-cutter on that chick. I’d eat a mile of her shit to see where it came from.”

Dirty Dick:
I can’t think of a story or anything I’ve said out loud off the top of my head because I’m so inappropriate all the fucking time. But you can talk about how my cousins showed me videos of the cartel mutilating each other and I laugh about it while they’re staring at my crazy American Psycho face.

Chris:
I used a freshly skinned rabbit pelt for a puppet to the horror of the college girls at the campout. I guess skinning it without a knife didn’t help.

Calvin:
Felt a pregnant classmate’s belly in a bar—classy, Oregon—and said, “That’s so cool that you’re adding life to the world. I always wanted to leave it with less than I came.”

Matthew:
I was sitting in the newsroom at NBC in Kansas City and felt the presence of the cameraman and reporter over my shoulder as I read a text message [in] which the thread included a thumbnail of my most recent dong shot.

Steven:
(In reference to the Ice Bucket Challenge): If dumping a little chilly water on yourself is the level of intestinal fortitude that you consider being Rangerrific, then you, sir, should be a Seal. If the challenge was to pour a gallon of ISIS and virgin blood over my head while I aggressively masturbate to “Two Girls, One Cup” while I fist-fuck a porn star’s ass and kick a puppy in the face, then, sir, we are on the same page.

Alvin:
A few civilian friends and I were going to pull a train on some chick. While they were all arguing about who was going to go first, I called dibs on last.

Erik Larsen:
Civilian to me when I was a recruiter in New York: “How do you live with yourself knowing you killed innocent children in Iraq?” My response: “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” Civilian walks off in horror.

Rammers:
Before I leave certain locations or say goodbye to people, I use certain words to say goodbye instead of the usual (“have good one,” “see ya later,” “keep in touch”). Most of the time I say, “Don’t get shot.” Once, before I left my economics class prior to the Thanksgiving weekend, my professor told the class, “I hope everyone has a good holiday weekend” [and] I replied, “Hopefully no one gets shot.” She then repeatedly asked, “Who’s getting shot?” three times. I laughed and said, “Getting shot is always a possibility where I am from.”

~Raul Felix

5 People You Will Meet In The Army

The Army is one of the few organizations that give you a true sampling of the types of people that live in America. It seems that shooting and blowing shit up while getting a free college education appeals to people of all races, classes, and creeds. The Army welcomes everyone from the lower-class youths who come from the ghettos, suburbs, and small towns to the kids born with a silver spoon in their mouths who join because being a veteran will look good when they’re running for Congress 30 years from now.

While there are hundreds of thousands of people on active duty and millions of veterans with complex personalities and unique sets of circumstances, this is the Internet and we don’t have time for such silliness. We like to package people in neat little descriptive boxes in list format so we can have a good laugh as we can relate those personality archetypes to those we have met in real life while taking our daily dump. In accordance with such a timeless tradition, here are 5 types of people you’ll meet while on active duty in the Army.

1. The Old Man

The Old Man decided to join the service in his late 20s to early 30s, which effectively makes him an old fart in an environment full of 18-to-21-year-olds full of testosterone and optimistic patriotism. He has a staunch air of dignity about him and is soundly schooled on how the real world works. The Old Man is no stranger to hard work and has done many blue-collar jobs in his late teens and throughout his twenties. He may have even gone to college, but more often than not, he didn’t graduate. Nevertheless, the Old Man isn’t stupid. From Basic Training to beyond, he’s usually the first one to grasp a concept, apply it, and unfuck the damage the dumb 18-year-old privates did when they fucked something up.

The Old Man always seems to have a dark past that he doesn’t talk about until he truly trusts you: a former lover who destroyed his spirit, a drug habit that took to him to the brink of financial ruin, or a slew of unfortunate life events and circumstances that made him need to get away from it all. Regardless, the Old Man sees the military as a fresh start in life and knows how to leverage it to his advantage. He is well versed in all the pay increases and benefits he is eligible for and won’t hesitate to take advantage of them. The Old Man’s maturity will make him a model solider that his superiors (whom he is older than) will never have to worry about.

2. The Ambivalent Patriot

The Ambivalent Patriot is the last person in the world you ever thought would join the military. When he was a civilian, people would describe him as shady and shiftless. His attitude toward life aligns closer to that of Jay and Silent Bob than that of Audie Murphy. Whether he got some chick pregnant or because he got kicked out of his house and had nowhere to go, he joined the armed forces. He usually picks a job that would require him to do the least amount of physical work and will enlist for the bare minimum amount of time required of him to get his full GI Bill benefits.

Surprisingly, the Ambivalent Patriot is usually a competent soldier not because he has any sort of patriotic duty or motivation, but rather because he realizes it’s easier to shut the fuck up, follow the rules, and do the right thing than it is to be an idiot who is constantly getting in trouble. He follows the philosophy of being “the grey man,” meaning that he remains invisible and tries to be exceptionally unexceptional. He meets the standard in every task that is presented before him, but he never stands out in such a way where he draws positive or negative attention. He’s in it to do his time and get the fuck out as soon as his enlistment is over so he can actually pursue the career he actually cares about.

3. The Cherry

The Cherry has been planning on joining the military since he was fifteen and has watched nearly every war movie made in the last fifty years. Fresh out of high school, what he lacks in real-world knowledge and common sense he more than makes up for in unrelenting motivation and physical aptitude. The Cherry will be a constant headache to his leadership. He may have grander visions of becoming a great soldier, yet he will make every retard mistake in the book on his path to doing so. He often has to learn lessons the hard way and will be constantly getting his balls smoked off because he fucked up something simple for the third time that week. He may receive an Article 15 or two and perform extra duty en route to becoming a good soldier.

The Cherry will spend his formative years in the military and spend the weekends in his barracks room drinking, bitching about his life, playing video games, and jerking off to gang-bang porn. On the rare occasion he does get laid, it will usually be with a woman of questionable moral character who already fucked one of his buddies. Yet he knows he isn’t in any real position to be picky. He’ll get his first taste of combat, lose a friend, lose a love, and lose his faith in humanity before he is 21. While the Cherry may have entered the Army full of innocence, glee, and hope, he will leave it corrupt, grizzled, and cynical.

4. The Lifer

The Lifer never intended the military to be his career, but several combat deployments and two reenlistments later he’s now a Platoon Sergeant with twelve years in service and knows that he may as well do twenty. While he is quite good at leading men and killing people, there isn’t a huge job market for that in the civilian world. Accepting his lot in life, he now seeks to be the best and most professional soldier he can be.

The Lifer comes in two varieties: 1) a total dick who, having been in the belly of the beast too long, is a stickler for the rules and regulations; or 2) a totally chill guy who realizes he isn’t going to make Sergeant Major and is over the fuck-fuck games. One will make you work your ass off to the point of stupidity and redundancy. The other will make your work your ass off, make sure you’re properly trained, and will release you at a reasonable time because he doesn’t see the point of you working late if you’ve been properly and adequately trained. Plus, he wants to get home and fuck his hot wife, too.

5. The Living Legend

You heard of him before you even see him. Even if he isn’t in your direct chain of command, just the sight of him strikes fear into your heart and soul. He has this aura that is a healthy mix of anger, hatred, and badass. His face is by default a scowl and his lower lip is constantly filled with chewing tobacco. He’s a salty, senior non-commissioned officer with the energy of a 19-year-old. You’ve heard of the crazy shit he’s done in Afghanistan and Iraq leading his men into the fray and leaving many dead Hajis in his wake. Some of the stories you heard seem so farfetched that if it were any other man, you would call bullshit. But since it’s him, you believe his stories.

He’s so respected and feared in the battalion that even his superior officers are afraid of him. When he gives his opinions, everyone listens. He rarely raises his voice because he is above that. He’s calm, cool, and decisive. He’s one of the few individuals you’ll meet in your life that not only lives up to his legend but adds to it every time he deploys. Even if you saw him today as a civilian, your heart would race and the hair on the back of your neck would rise because he is a scary motherfucker and you’re damn glad he’s on our side.

~Raul Felix

Read more of my writing at Thought Catalog.

3 Historical Examples Of The Federal Government Screwing Over The Troops

Anyone with a half a brain knows that politicians are self-indulgent ass clowns who don’t have the nation’s best interests in mind, but rather the best interests of themselves, their party, and their private-sector cronies. Doesn’t matter whether they’re Republican, Democrat, Whig, Democratic-Republicans, or Federalist; most of them have their fingers up their ass and let their party feuding take precedence over taking care of their men. It’s the common practice of politicians to go with the easy wrong over the hard right. As a result, the soldier on the ground and the veteran in the wheelchair suffer.

1. They refused to send much-needed resources to George Washington’s troops.

In 1781, the American Revolution had been raging for five years. The Continental Army under George Washington’s command had finally evolved from a haphazard militia to a professional, well-trained military force. Yet they were wasting away in the New Jersey winter. They had not been paid in a long time, were malnourished, and were freezing their balls off because they didn’t have the adequate cold-weather gear. Desperate to keep the ranks filled, they had also been coerced and bullied by their line officers to remain in the Army and reenlist under unfavorable terms after their initial enlistment was up.

George Washington had appealed to the Continental Congress on several occasions urging for the proper funds and supplies so he could adequately pay, feed, and outfit his troops. Yet, the fat, wig-wearing, self-centered politicians let Washington’s pleas go unheard. They were too busy involved in their own corrupt scandals and politicking to give a damn about the common foot soldier’s poor conditions.

The soldiers saw this as a broken promise by their nation. They were putting their life on the line for the Revolutionary cause, yet their government was not fulfilling the most basic part of the deal. They’d had enough. In what came to be known as the Pennsylvania Line Mutiny, with muskets in hand and artillery pieces in tow, virtually the entire Pennsylvania Line headed on a two-day march to Philadelphia to make the ungrateful Congress listen to their demands. They made it as far as Princeton.

Their commanding officer General Wayne caught up with them and negotiations began. The general heard their grievances and they had come to terms: The men who were detained beyond their enlistment or coerced into reenlistment were to be separated with their pay. The men who remained were to get their pay and clothing. The number of men in the Pennsylvania Line was cut in half from 2,400 to 1,150.

2. They used police and military actions on World War I vets.

After coming home from The Great War, American combat veterans realized they had gotten the raw end of the deal. While they were in the trenches of Europe getting shot at, shelled, and gassed, the men who had stayed back on the home front working in war industries had made about ten times as much money as they had. To make a fair readjustment, they lobbied Congress for what would be commonly known as the Bonus Act, which passed in 1924. Each veteran was issued a certificate for $1 for each day of domestic service and $1.25 for each day of overseas service. The catch was that the certificates wouldn’t mature until 1945.

Then, in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, realizing that many of the fat-cat corporate gods had gotten special treatment from Congress because of their lobbying power, the soldiers decided to press Congress to pass a bill for the early redemption of the certificates to provide some relief from poverty many of them had been experiencing.

Forty-three thousand veterans and their families with little to no money in their pockets traveled from all over the nation to march on DC. The Bonus Army had been mobilized. They organized a well-run Hooverville built from the material salvaged from rubbish dumps. They would peacefully occupy the House of Representatives’ offices to have their voices heard. The strategy worked and the House passed the Wright Patman Bonus Bill. It was a small victory, but their biggest obstacle was just ahead of them: the Republican-run Senate under President Herbert Hoover.

They massed on the United States Capitol awaiting the news, chanting, “The Yanks are starving! The Yanks are starving!” so loudly that they could be heard in the Senate corridors as the bill was being debated. The Senate overwhelmingly struck it down with a 62-18 vote. The marchers were deeply disappointed but decided to remain in continued protest. A month later, with tensions running high, the 72nd Congress adjourned. The cowardly congressmen left the Capitol through the back doors and underground tunnels to avoid any confrontation with the Bonus Army. Now with this session of Congress over, Hoover wanted their poor, unemployed, homeless asses out of DC. He ordered their forceful eviction.

Police went into one of the half-demolished buildings that had been used for housing and began evicting the veterans and their families. Someone threw a brick at one of the police officers, which resulted in the police officers shooting their guns and leaving two veterans dead on the ground. With that bloodshed, it was time to call in the troops commanded by future World War II General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur sent over 200 cavalry, 200 infantry, and six tanks to disperse the protesters. The soldiers donned their gas masks and shot tear gas into the crowd. Fearing for their lives, the Bonus Army ran for safety. The soldiers went into the camps and forcefully removed those who occupied it and then set it ablaze. One reporter said, “The blaze was so big it lit up the whole sky. A nightmare come to life.”

3. Pandering to racial bigotry overrode their common sense.

Theodore Roosevelt is considered one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history, and rightfully so. But even he made a severe mistake in his presidency by succumbing to the racial bigotry and pressure of his time.

In 1906, Brownsville, Texas was a small town with a little over 6,000 people. The community’s citizens were anxious over the fact that a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers had been stationed at nearby Fort Brown. “Buffalo Soldiers” was the name given to all-black units because the military at the time was segregated.

A shooting spree had occurred, leaving a white bartender dead and a Hispanic police officer with a destroyed arm. To the townsfolk, it was pretty obvious whose fault it was. Several people reported seeing some black soldiers leaving the scene of the shooting. Then, to further their conspiracy, they allegedly planted discharged ammunition of the same caliber the Buffalo Soldiers used in their rifles on the ground as evidence. Despite this effort to incriminate them, the soldiers’ all-white commanders insisted that all of their men had been in the barracks that night and had been accounted for at the time of the shooting.

Though there were many contradictions in the evidence and statements given, the Army Inspector General accepted the townsfolk’s statements. This developed into what has become known as the Brownsville Affair.

The soldiers were then pressured to name who fired the shot, but they said they knew nothing about the incident. As much the community wanted to, they could not tie the shootings to any one of the men. Yet on the advisement of the Inspector General to appease the piece-of-shit people of Brownsville, Roosevelt ordered that 167 of the men be given a dishonorable discharge for their “conspiracy of silence.” Among the ranks were men who were had served in the Spanish-American War, some with 20 years in service and only months away from receiving their retirement pensions, and six of whom had been Medal of Honor recipients. Congress later did its own investigation into the matter and upheld Roosevelt’s decision. Those men lost it all because their political leaders lacked the morale and intestinal fortitude to do the right thing. Instead they shoved their corrupt political cocks in their ass and called it a day.

~Raul Felix

You can read more of my writing at Thought Catalog.

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.

Eager To Pop My Cherry On The Battlefield

You’re a cherry fucking bitch. That’s the label you get when you arrive at your first unit. You haven’t yet been deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq to prove yourself. Your superiors have several deployments under their belts. Some of the more senior noncommissioned officers (NCO) are men who were in before 9/11 and were among the first into Afghanistan and then Iraq. Your role as a cherry private is to be a sponge for all the knowledge they’re going to bequeath upon you. They’re there to mentor and mold you into a capable soldier who will aggressively and effectively put two bullets into the chest and one into the head of Haji.

As a cherry private, you live in constant fear—not of the enemy, but of your Team Leader and Squad Leader. You fear making a mistake, however small, that will bring their wrath upon your poor soul. And you will make many fucking mistakes.

You have a brain fart and forget the fourth stanza of the Ranger Creed because you’re so nervous. “Do fucking pushups, motherfucker!”

You miss a spot when you shaved that morning. “Hit the fucking ropes!”

You’re two minutes late to being five minutes early to formation. “I’m going to fucking crush your balls after formation.”

You didn’t properly tie down your night-vision goggles. “Start fucking low-crawling, you fucking retard.” Other times you will get smoked merely for being a cherry private.

Little by little, you start to learn how to do things the right way. You’re always on high alert, making sure your uniform is on properly, your equipment is accounted for and is serviceable, and that you’re not fucking up somehow. Yet you always feel like you are. The mere sight of an NCO in the distance causes your heart to race. You’ll spot-check yourself and your buddies again. If he calls you over, you run quickly to him, hoping you didn’t do something that will ensure a soul-fucking.

You shoot thousands of rounds at the range, getting your shot groups tighter and more consistent. You conduct close-quarter combat exercises, live-fire exercises, jump out of airplanes, drive Humvees and Strykers, and fast-rope out of helicopters. You’ll do first-responder training and land navigation. You will work out every morning. You also do countless shitty details and spend lots of time hurrying up and waiting.

You’re eager to deploy. You’re tired of being a cherry bitch and want to get that deployment patch on your right shoulder. You want to stop hearing about what it’s like over there; you want to see it firsthand. You want to join the legions of men who came and fought before you. You want to do your part in fighting for your country and destroying those Haji fucks. This is your war.

It seems that every generation of young men must relearn how grim war is. We watch documentaries and war movies. We read books about the inexplicable horror and terrible waste of it all, yet with each generation, there are a handful who are eager to go on this grand journey. With each generation, there are old men who have lived their lives willing to send young men to fight and die when their young life has only begun. Sometimes it’s for a noble purpose; other times, it’s for profit.

Your deployment date approaches after months and months of training. You go home on leave one last time. Your mother is terrified and tells you to call her often. Your friends are proud of you and tell you to make it back alive, or they’ll kill you. Your fellow cherry privates are as excited as you are to get drunk as often as possible. You report back and find out some of them are idiots and got DUIs, beat their wives, or pissed hot for drugs. Looks like they ain’t going.

Your leadership makes sure you and your equipment are squared away. You’re given a packing list and are visually inspected to make sure you have all that’s required of you. You palletize your duffel bags, rucksacks, and other special equipment. You fill out your last will and square away your finances. You get medically evaluated and vaccinated. There are only a few days left and you serve half-days until you deploy.

The day is here. You sign out your M4, night-vision goggles, and carry your assault pack on your back. In there you have your laptop, a book, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Final manifest is called and you load onto the bus. The bus takes you to the Air Force base. There, you wait until the bird is ready. Once you’re told to load on the bird you follow the line of men in front of you. You step on the bird, take your seat, and wait for takeoff. You know that when you come back, you won’t be a cherry fucking bitch anymore.

~Raul Felix

Read more of my work on Thought Catalog.

Where Are My Whores?

I feel like my generation has been gypped. I’m not speaking about the typical Generation-Y woes with the failing economy and our youthful optimism and ambitions being crushed by the real world. This feeling of unfairness is only felt by a select group of Americans; the men who served and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is much talk in the news about how both the Bush and Obama administration mishandled those wars, but I’m not here to get into those politics. While these modern wars gave us luxuries unheard of in past generations, there is one thing that past generations of veterans had access to that we were completely fucked out of: liberated groupies and prostitutes.

After the long, intense, brutal fighting of the D Day invasion against the Nazis and slowly reclaiming Europe, the Allied forces were met and seen as liberators of France. With panties drenched in lust for their liberators, French women would fuck soldiers left and right to show their gratitude. Joe was a hero and his reward, if he chose to act upon it, was that wonderful European pussy. In war, no man knows which day will be his last, so it would be logical for him to act upon it. These women knew what their valiant saviors desired and wanted, and provided it with the utmost eagerness.

Such a simpler time.

Such a simpler time.

What happened in Iraq and Afghanistan? Whether we liberated them from the Taliban or Saddam, they may have been grateful, but the women of these nations were not throwing themselves at American troops. They weren’t happily repaying us for their new found freedom from tyranny by eagerly showing us their beautiful Middle Eastern bodies. We didn’t have free rein to fuck Haji bitches and get them addicted to our American dick. No Haji foxy lady ever gave us the “I want to fuck you eyes”. Most of them were quite the opposite, covered up head to toe in veils. Denying the horny and sex deprived American fighting male the eye candy he sorely needs in an effort to keep his sanity. A pure selfish act on their part.

Not sure if she wants to fuck me, or she is about to detonate her suicide vest.

Not sure if she wants to fuck me, or she is about to detonate her suicide vest.

Well, if we couldn’t win the hearts, minds, and pussies of the local women, we should have been able to use the free market and purchase it at a mutually agreed upon price dictated by the laws of supply and demand, correct? That’s what our fighting men were able to do in the Korean and Vietnam War. After killing hoards of gooks, our brave and battle hardened men were able to go back to base and take a few days of R&R. Around the bases, there would be bars and massage parlors where a GI in need of company could easily acquire it. There would be an overabundance of young, feminine, and attractive asian women with adorable accents to chose from and eager to love him long time. He’d then ravage her delicate little body to his heart’s content and consequently, she would then get paid a handsome price, it was truly a win-win situation.

The free market at work.

The free market at work.

In an effort to not piss off the delicate Muslim psyche, the US Military has made it almost impossible for a man to get a prostitute while he is in the war zone. There is no interaction with the local populace outside of missions for most troops. There are no flings with Afghan or Iraqi women or meeting a prostitute with a heart of gold. There are no love affairs that are complicated by the horrors of war and cultural differences as drama slowly unfolds, when both parties learn that love can truly conquer anything. There are no bastard children of American men left behind. The closest we came to finding love overseas is through porn and nude pictures of our and other troops whorish, cheating ex-girlfriends we uploaded to “The Drive” and shared with the rest of the base.

Sex was happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that occurred in support units where there were mixed genders and among government contractors. As for the combat arms units compromised of solely men(the ones that actually did the fighting), were left in a state of sexual purgatory, without any hope of female companionship. No Afghan damsel worrying whether the American man she loves will make it back. No Iraqi prostitutes eagerly awaiting for her core American cliental to come by. Nothing but masturbation for us while our girlfriends from back home cheated on us or stopped answering our phone calls. Men at war and whores go hand and hand, too bad our times did away with that beautiful tradition.

~Raul Felix

“Me so horny for more blog baby. Give me blog, me love you long time!” Alright: The Military’s Parasite Problem