End of Active Service: 10 Years Later

Seriously, it’s been 10 years.

Ten years ago I left the Marine Corps.  Ten years ago I decided I needed (rather than wanted) to go back to college.  Ten years ago I decided to give up a way of life.  Ten years ago I decided freedom was worth more than a pretty substantial paycheck. Ten years ago I walked away with an honorable discharge (and not much else).

I had acquired very little possessions while I was in.  My wardrobe consisted of a week’s worth of clothing. I owned more Marine Corps uniform shoes than civilian footwear. I left the Marine Corps with only one purse (and it was from Aeropostale).  It wasn’t until I started working again later in 2007 that some coworkers encouraged–ok it was a hard nudge–me to pick up some makeup for myself. I had one ball gown in my possession but nothing else in the way of dress attire.  I lived almost exclusively in my handful of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies.  The minuscule amount of furniture my husband and I owned came from Walmart; he built those items with one of his friends during the course of my second deployment.  Our bed was the same he used in high school.  (We’ve updated our bed since then because a full size bed does not cut it for two people!)

I felt quite inept picking out a civilian work wardrobe that I went to New York & Company, picking up several of the same style shirt in different colors.  I was equally inept in the kitchen which is why I watched different Food Network shows on a daily basis.  The other side of my ineptness was using the word F*ck ALL.THE.TIME.

My sincerest apologies to everyone who met the post-Marine Corps 2007 ‘Me’.  She was constantly using F*ck as a noun, verb, and adjective.  She could barely cook macaroni and cheese and Hamburger Helper.  She put minimum effort into her clothes and worked out even less.  She got another tattoo, pierced her ears two more times, and got a tongue piercing for the hell out of it.  Rebellion that should best be lived out in the teenage years cropped up in full force.  Yes, she was a little bitchy and indifferent.

2007 is not a year recorded well via photographs.  My computer crashed after we lived in Wyoming and I didn’t have many saved somewhere other than my desktop.  These are a few of the photographs I had saved on Facebook.

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I still stand by my decision to separate from the Marine Corps.  Towards the end especially my journey with the Marine Corps was causing more heartache than sense of achievement and purpose.  I grew quite tired of working with people whose maturity level peaked in early high school.  I didn’t like the way orders for deployment were handled with my second command.  In numerous ways, I felt like my life in the Corps would be like the spin cycle in a washing machine and I would be trapped saying, “What if?” all the time instead of going out there and finding out who I really wanted to be.

I learned a lot about myself by leaving the Marine Corps.  I learned how to talk (more) like an adult should speak.  Now I tend to only use the word F*ck when I stub my toe, run late to appointments, get cut off by someone in traffic, my dog craps in my car and subsequently vomits on the seat…ok I still swear a lot.  But I don’t swear as much at work like I used to and that’s a good thing.  (I swore last week when I dropped my water bottle cap on the floor because that’s seriously the grossest thing ever.)  I now dress in dresses; you can thank Stitch Fix for setting me up with a grownup wardrobe.

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One of my favorite Stitch Fix dresses

I am a self-taught cook and baker, mostly because I cannot imagine dolling out big bucks for culinary school.  If you need any examples of my playful devotion to the good food life, you can always scoop out my Instagram.  While I mostly post about food finds in restaurants and at the grocery store, I share a bit about my home food life as well.

One of the best things I did after leaving the Marine Corps was working on responsibly drinking.  I didn’t take the best care of myself in 2005 after returning home from Iraq of legal drinking age.  I haven’t faltered too much since then and granted, I know I wasn’t quite as bad as other people.  One of the worst things I did though was being that stupid person drinking in the back of a car when the driver is also drinking.  I always knew better but for a while I didn’t care.  Don’t be that person.  Don’t let someone be that driver.  It’s a recipe for disaster and thankfully none of us involved (and others on the road) weren’t injured or killed as a result of our poor decisions.

I am proud, on the other hand, that I stuck to my goal of completing a collegiate education.  I am privileged to have completed two undergraduate degrees and a Master’s degree.  Many veterans do not complete an education after separating from their respective service branches and their benefits go unused.  Other times, veterans squander their benefits away by not applying themselves in the classroom and run out of benefits before they run out of classes for their chosen degree plan.

Unfortunately, along the way not all my decisions ended with my desired results.  If I could have avoided my two periods of unemployment my family would be in a better financial position now.  If we had taken advantaged of the depressed Phoenix housing market in late 2011 to early 2012, we also could be sitting on more equity.  If I had been adamant with the VA back in 2007 my journey to get them to see my chest pains as service connected would be easier and the disability compensation could have helped out during unemployment periods 1 and 2.  At the time I made different decisions, I foresaw certain end results.

I’ve benefitted a lot the last ten years as a result of leaving the Marine Corps and having served when I did.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an incredible tool and unfortunately, not everyone utilizes or will utilize it well.  If I had stayed in, I’m not sure how dedicated I would have been with my education; the few times I utilized Department of Defense tuition assistance, I wasn’t applying myself fully to my classes.  I met many great Marines who are still a part of my life now; we all spent a different amount of our lifetime in the Corps and a few are still serving.  It’s good to see the Marine Corps is treating them well and I’m grateful none of them look down on me for leaving.  The freedom we have to stay connected via social media greatly adds value to my life given how scattered we are around the country (and at times, for them, around the globe).  I know social media gets torn apart of lot for being a time suck,etc.  but again, it’s a tool.  Use it wisely.

My life now at the ten year post-separation mark is starting to look pretty good.

My new job lets me work from home occasionally and I’m starting to share that journey on Instagram.  (Don’t worry, not all my lunch breaks include sangria.)

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This year I started a friendship with a former boyfriend’s partner and since February, she and I have developed an unexpectedly supportive bond  We would not have met had my ex and I not served in the Marine Corps meeting at the pivotal point of his return from Iraq.  I might be fortunate to meet her in-person in January if all goes well and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity as well to take a trip out of Arizona.

I also snuck in more family visits this year than years previous.  I received a surprise visit with my parents in April.  My older sister made it out to Scottsdale for job training and we spent two days visiting.  More recently, my dad came out for two very short trips and he and my stepmom might be out again in the fall.

Hopefully 2017 continues to be a good year for me.

~Cheryl

 

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