This is an unusual piece, one that military personnel from any period will relate to. Here, a Marine from the future writes a letter to himself with instructions to open and read when he is 10 years old. I’m certain that if any of us had such a warning in life, our future would have turned out much different. Don’t miss out on this read!
By SEAN PAUL
This may be hard to wrap your mind around, but this is the older you. I wanted to take some time to explain a few things, put some things into perspective, and, I hope, provide some guidance that may positively impact your trajectory. This note is intended to find you at around the age of 10, as I feel that is when your life comes to a crossroads. Through all this, always keep in mind that things will be OK: Life goes on—the important concept is that we go on with it.
Life will be OK.
Inevitably, during a lifetime of experience, there will be times when things are hard. It may seem as though the world is stacked against you and that there are no options for success. I want to impart to you that, regardless of how hard things do become, you will be OK.
Your childhood has been challenging. I know—I was there. But this challenging experience will ultimately lead to a life I’m sure is hard to imagine. When you hit 17, you will decide to join the service to escape and to develop a sense of family and belonging.
Keep your chin up, endure, and always remember: It will be OK.
First off, you make the right decision as to which service to join. The Marine Corps will offer you a sense of family, camaraderie, belonging, and personal challenges second to none. These gifts will begin to emerge sometime during the infamous Marine Corps boot camp. You will notice that you start the training as an individual, but you quickly develop into a unit that relies on all its parts to survive. Boot camp will be hard and it will hurt both mentally and physically—but stay the course, and, I promise, you will feel a sense of accomplishment like you’ve never felt in your life. Also, never forget to have fun. Really, where else can you yell and scream at your bosses, get some range time, navigate obstacle courses, and run around like a maniac?
Do not expect to walk in as the new guy and be accepted as a part of the unit. This is a unit of Marines preparing for war. They want to know that every single Marine will act in the best interest of the unit and the mission. Remember, all you have in the end is the Marine to your left and the Marine to your right. With that being said, hazing is a thing, and they will haze you and the other handful of Marines that get to the unit together.
Sure, it will hurt, but have fun with it. When they come for you in the middle of the night, don’t give up: Fight back. Throw punches and kicks, resist as hard as you can. In the end, they will respect you that much more for it.
Once the dust has settled, you will have a short few months before it’s time to go to work. During this time, engage in your training to the best of your ability. Show those around you that you are a valuable asset. Always remember the unit does not conform to you; you must, I mean absolutely must, conform to the unit to survive what’s to come. The fleet is a rough environment, but hey, you chose this.
We all know what happened on 9/11, and when you see those towers go down, do not fool yourself. You will go to war. You’ve set your life on a trajectory that will take you to the enemy’s doorstep. If you have been successful in your training and whatnot, you will survive this.
Keep your eyes and ears open for things that may seem out of place, because I promise you they are and things that don’t belong can kill you. There will be times when you think things are over for you. You will adopt a mindset early on that will help you alleviate this fear: You are already dead. This is an important point, because if fear holds you back then you can get yourself killed or, worse, get someone else killed. You are already dead—so don’t hold back from engaging the enemy. Fully commit your body and mind to the objective.
Throughout the invasion and subsequent deployments, you will experience things that are not normal. Snipers are a real thing: Keep your head down and eyes open because there will be a number of incidents in which one will take shots at you and your fellow Marines. IEDs are a real thing: Pay attention, because you and your unit are going to get hit almost constantly. Remember I told you to keep an eye out for something out of place? That and pure luck are the two factors that will ultimately lead to your survival. Remember my statement about blame? Through all this, keep in mind nothing is really your fault.
You will experience countless incidents of a violent and nasty nature. However, there will be two that will stick with you for the rest of your life. On Valentine’s Day 2006, your unit will patrol in and around Fallujah. As on most other patrols, your team will find an IED. You will follow SOP and cordon off the IED, and the explosive ordnance disposal guys will clear it successfully from the street. Problem is, this IED is a decoy. Your alpha is literally sitting atop another IED that’s buried in the sand.
It will go off, killing the driver and wounding the gunner.
A couple of months later, as your unit prepares to go home, you will ride along on a patrol with the next unit in to show them the area of operation. You will provide them with as much information and advice as you can about things that have happened and places where your unit has been hit. You will tell them about the casualties.
Shortly after you arrive back at the patrol base, your command will inform you that the Marines you rode with drove onto the same spot where the driver had been killed a couple of months before. Several Marines from the new unit will burn alive in their vehicle. Another will lose his hands to the fire as he frantically tries to rescue his teammates.
Remember my comments on blame? These two incidents, for one reason or another, will lead to a lifetime of self-blame along with substance abuse issues and the slew of things that go along with that.
But it was not your fault. It’s no one’s fault.
This is the nature of combat: If you want to blame someone, blame the enemy.
There will come a point where you separate from the service. One day you will be in Fallujah engaging the enemy and the next you will be standing in Boston. The people around you and the environment will feel wrong. There will be a sense that everyone behaves abnormally and your environment is unsafe.
I want to tell you that this is not true: There is nothing wrong with the people around you or the environment. That sense of wrongness is in response to something out of place within you. You’re still operating on the assumption that people are actively trying to kill you. You’re hypervigilant and critical of the complacency of people around you. You’re also critical of others’ happiness. How can anyone be happy when such bad things are happening?
The sooner you get help for this, the better. Remember, it is OK to ask for help.
Everything you experience in life, the good and the bad, will ultimately lead you to become me.
Change any of it and you change the person you become:
And I am truly happy with who I am and the life I’ve built for myself. I am married to an amazing woman and have three amazing children who challenge me to be a better person daily. I have a fulfilling career as a police officer and am furthering my education to pay it forward. Stay the course, endure the physical and emotional pain, and eventually you and I will meet and become a person who satisfies us both.
Sean Paul is a former Marine who served as a TOW gunner with 1st Tank Battalion from 2002 to 2006. During this time, he deployed for the invasion of Iraq as well as a tour in the area of Fallujah. Paul works as a full-time police officer with a major municipality and is a full-time graduate student pursuing a doctorate of psychology. He hopes to serve the first responder and veteran communities. Paul is married to an amazing woman and has three children he adores. During his off time (which is rare), he enjoys training Brazilian jiujitsu, coaching his kids’ sports, and spending time with family and friends.
This article originally appeared on “THE WAR HORSE” website, July, 2022. Here is the direct link: https://thewarhorse.org/marine-veteran-writes-note-to-younger-self-dont-give-up/?mc_cid=8d73d8ac85&mc_eid=9693ec6f98
Could a letter like this have benefitted you in your lifetime?
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An excellent letter to yourself. Insightful and a reality check of what’s in store. As a Vietnam Veteran and now 76 with years to reflect back on this letter might have been what carried me through all my years to a successful retirement! Sgt of Marines 100% Combat Disabled Thank You SEMPER FIDELIS.
Thank you. This article is so encouraging. It strengthened my own hope and courage to keep moving forward.
It would have been nice to have the old me, counsel the young me in my youth. The article could have been written by the old me, my journey from 10 to 77 was marked by many troubled periods. My greatest disadvantage was the lack of a father, not the presence of a Male Pretending as my mother was an unwed mother at the end of WWII. As the oldest of 4 boys, me at 10, Carl 8, Howard 3rd 5 & Emerson 3, little did I know that Howard Jr was not my father and demonstrated that along with Howard Sr my grandfather (or so I thought). What advice could I impart on my very immature 10 year old understanding. There were so many RED FLAGS along the way… I dare say it would have been very much like Sean wrote, I lived the very bumpy road as a child, on my 17th birthday was in the army, and t 21 an infantry Platoon Sgt in Vietnam. I can pretty much admit that I was at some level of clinical depression most of my life from 10 on. I can also admit that PTSD was very likely a companion from the combat experiences that we survived. My life after the army was stressful, yet somehow, I managed to get to the end (retirement) of it fairly well off, yet having had 3 divorces, 2 long term relationships, one that still linger on after 36 years. Most likely because we do not live together, only shared at most half a year together.
Maybe, Sean Paul actually did write that note to himself , and dictated it to himself from that 10-year old’s memory. I sure would have liked to have read it when I was 10.
Why is everything in the Corps under the assumption that they all do their time as “grunts” or Infantrymen? Not EVERY individual in the Corps puts in their time in as a Grunt. Where are the cooks ?, where are the truck drivers?, where are the supply people?, where the mechanics?, where are the armorers?, where are the tank crews?, where are the artillerymen?, where are the engineers?,where are the intelligence people?, —–I could go…….On and On.
That’s the misconception of military service. Someone could put in 20 years shuffling paper, but if some one was to see that person walking in uniform on the street the immediate reaction would be: “Oh, hey that’s a marine, he was in combat, he’s a mean guy; don’t mess with him”! It all reality he might have been a cook or mechanic…….Never on an ambush patrol, Never experienced artillery or airstrikes coming in.
What’s your point?
My point is: If you do not have an Infantryman MOS don’t lie to the world and pass yourself as a Grunt. Admit it to ALL that you were a cook or truck driver. Just don’t lie about your time in service. Simple as that….I myself was a tank driver (11E20 MOS and was wounded twice in Vietnam) and I don’t go around telling people that I was a Grunt. Just be honest and tell people what you really did in the military.
Outstanding! Thank you for sharing.
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Great read. It doesn’t matter if you go for the Marines or Army (my route).
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