My career in the Marine Corps resembled being shot out of a cannon. I was an enlisted Marine and made it to Staff Sergeant (E-6) within 5 years. Had I stayed in (which was my initial intent), I would have made it to Sergeant Major (E-9) relatively quickly if I stayed along the path. Though my career was a success, and I was being groomed for upper echelons of leadership, there was something missing.
I believe most of us go through this loss; when we need to make a choice of whether to stay in or not… I was no longer happy.
One can only suck it up for so long, and others can tell you, “Yeah, but you have it great,” only so many times. When you wake up each morning and feel like you have to convince yourself to roll out of bed to start the day, it’s not a good thing. It’s a sign that you need a change, and you need that change now. Coming to terms with the reality of the lives we are leading, it can be a humbling experience. The moment I realized that it was time for me to get out was when I heard “Anchors Aweigh” leading into the “Marines’ Hymn” at my last Marine Corps Birthday Ball as an active-duty Marine. In the past, just as “Anchors Aweigh” transitioned into the “Marines’ Hymn” a chill would travel up my spine and I would stand taller; I felt like a giant. During this Marine Corps Ball back in 2004, I felt nothing. That’s when I knew my days in the Marine Corps were numbered.
I kept my decision to get out of the Corps to myself. I felt a sense of shame; that I would be disappointing the Marines who looked up to me. I felt a bit of disloyalty to the Marine leaders who recommended me for Meritorious Corporal, Sergeant, and later Staff Sergeant. I felt fear, agony, and anger. I was a bag full of emotions that I had to bottle up inside because my peers were 10 years my senior in age, and my “younger” Marines, though my age group, would lose a bit of respect for me had I shared what I was feeling inside.
It’s hard to lead when you have no one who wants to follow.
As I neared the end of my enlistment, I was asked by my leaders when I would be re-enlisting. I couldn’t lie to them, so I told them I would not be, that I would be getting out of the Corps. The look of disappointment and resentment was apparent. My Platoon Commander barely spoke to me after that, and when he did, he spoke down to me. The Gunnery Sergeant above me (who I had known since I was a Lance Corporal) pulled me aside and chastised me. He told me that I was letting my Marines down, that I was failing them. All my fears and beliefs of how the news of me getting out was coming to fruition, but enough was enough, I spoke up.
“If by me leaving, means I have failed my Marines, then I have always been a failure. If they cannot succeed without me, I have not done my job, and I know I have done my job and done it well.”
Without much more to say, the Gunnery Sergeant asked me what I would be doing when I got out, and before I could say, “I don’t know,” he said something that resonated with me and still does to this day, “It doesn’t matter what you’ll do, you’ll be successful at anything you get into.” If only he had started our conversation with that, how different I would have felt, and how differently I would have looked back at our discussion that took place 15 years ago.
I could go on and on about what others had said once the news of me getting out was now known far and wide, but instead I will keep this story a cheerful one, because where I am today is where I want to be, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else in the world.
I’ve found that success in the military, in any branch of service, translates well into the civilian world. I am in a career that allows me to speak with active-duty Marines and to mentor them, once a Marine, always a Marine. The biggest fear of the Marines I meet is how to transition from military life to civilian life. Now, with a generation of men and women who have served in combat, throw in some PTSD into the equation and that complicates things even further.
It’s difficult to go from being surrounded by like-minded individuals to being surrounded by people who “just don’t get it.” It’s difficult to transition from the high speed, low drag lifestyle of the military, to the mundane 9-5 life. Not to be crude, but it reminds of what I could imagine it feeling like to be recently released from incarceration. The difficulty in acclimating, the difficulty in carrying out a “normal” conversation where each sentence isn’t sandwiched by an expletive, the difficulty in just fitting in.
Therein lies the problem, who said we had to fit in in the first place?
I once saw a meme on the internet where it showed a picture of a square peg labeled, “Marines,” and a round hole labeled, “Civilian World.” This also applies to any branch of service, so please don’t let my Marine bias take away from the point. Should we as former Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors conform and become that round peg? Should we relinquish what made us great, what made us stand above the rest? Absolutely not. We should take with us the knowledge and experience of our service, the discipline and motivation in our performance, and carry it forward so we can stand out yet again.
Veteran, that’s a title none of us want to relinquish. If someone told you to renounce your veteran status, you would introduce that person with the four knuckles of your fist. Being a veteran tells others that you stand for something, that you follow through, that you are the type of individual that they can count on. You are coveted, and rightly so.
Once I became comfortable with the fact that my service was not an anomaly, that I was the anomaly instead, my civilian career resembled the career I had in the Marine Corps. I do not regret getting out when I did, it was what I needed to do for me. So do what’s best for you, because no one but you knows what you need to make yourself happy. If you feel the need to seek advice from someone, speak with someone you trust. Though speak to them as would a sounding board, because even though you trust them, trust your instincts more.
Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
It wasn’t long before “Anchors Aweigh”, and the “Marines’ Hymn” brought back that chill up my spine. I could play them on repeat and each time I felt like I could run through a brick wall. There’s just something about those songs, just like there’s just something about me, about you, about all of us.
My name is Khaled Hafid, former Staff Sergeant of Marines… and current square peg. Get some!Khaled Hafid - LinkedIn