To my younger self,
So, you have now enlisted in this world’s most feared and fighting force, the U.S. Marines. You are not sure that this is even something that you can accomplish, but let me tell you that you can and you will. Know that even though you have conquered Marine Corps basic training, this will only be a small blip on the total timeline of your journey.
You may not even think that life could get much harder. I mean, after all, it’s peacetime, right? Start preparing yourself for a rewarding career to come, but also a career full of regular change, hardship, a vast array of experiences, and friendships that will last a lifetime, but also may be cut short due to loss.
You will make it through numerous training programs prior to getting to your unit, where you may even question your decision. But make no mistake, you are exactly where God wants you. He wouldn’t have brought you this far to allow you to give up, so keep pushing forward. You will learn that you will be assigned to one of the most decorated units in the Marine Corps in Camp Pendleton, yes, far from home. But you will end up embracing California, and loving it.
As you will find yourself among new cultures, areas, duties, responsibilities, expectations, and fellow Marines give it everything you have. There will come a day when you will need the Marines to your left and right and will be able to put all the days, weeks and months in the field to good use. The time you will put into building these bonds and building your skills as a Marine will pay off.
Your first deployment will bring a world of experiences, literally. It will start as a routine deployment, but, after a few liberty ports, it will quickly turn real.
You will not only participate in humanitarian efforts in the middle of a civil war between East and West Timor, but you will later rush to the aid of a ship called the USS Cole, in what will later become known as Operation Determined Response, after it was blown up off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.
You will not be crazy about the duties you have been assigned, but know that this will take everyone working together to ensure this operation is successful.
You will take part in recovery efforts, evacuation of the U.S. Embassy, and security operations of the area, while waiting more than 50+ days for the Cole to be transported out of the Gulf of Aden by a Norwegian ship and safely get her home to Norfolk, Va.
You will finally return home to San Diego on Valentine’s Day, where awaiting will be the most amazing surprise — your family, whom you will spend a long weekend in SD with. Enjoy every minute of the time with them, because things have a strong possibility of changing in the years to come.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001, you get a phone call from your mother just after 0500 PST, telling you that there are planes crashing into buildings in NYC.
You will have barracks duty on this day, and it will be unlike any you have had to stand for up to this point. Thoughts will race through your mind of fear, anger, and disbelief, as you wonder how this will impact your current military career, the nation, and the rest of the world.
You will find that you and your fellow Marines will deploy early in 2002 in support of OEF.
You did exactly what I thought you would do, and extended your enlistment six months so that you could be a part of this.
Your deployment will take you to various countries in the Middle East, but you will spend most of your time in the horn of Africa. This deployment will prepare you and your Marines for what will come next.
You will enjoy some much needed time home with family, before getting a phone call to return to California early. You had planned on spending Christmas home, and then go back to start the “check-out” process, but there will be a great need for you to stay.
You will arrive back to find that POTUS has placed you and your fellow Marines on a “stop loss.” You will have a feeling in the pit of your stomach like you’ve never had, not because of what is ahead, but about how to tell your family.
You will call your future mother-in-law first, but you should tell your parents first, that there will be a very good chance that you will be going to Iraq.
Your family will take it hard, as will you after hearing their reaction.
It is now March 19, 2003, and you are now preparing to invade Iraq. Your adrenaline will be so high, you won’t have time to think, or worry about what lies in the hours, days, weeks, and months to come.
Take the time to slow down, think, and process what is about to take place. From Nasiriya, to Tikrit, Sadar City, and Baghdad, each one will bring its challenges. Rely on each other, and be thankful for the years that you have spent together both in training and real-world operations.
You will return home in late summer, to find yourself discharged almost immediately without a whole lot of time to process what you had just experienced.
You will have feelings such as “why me, why am I still here,” “I don’t want to leave my brothers,” “I want to go home, but…,” “what do I do once I get there?” “People won’t understand me, or what I have experienced.”
You will throw yourself into work and into a new relationship, but I encourage you to wait. I say to wait on these things so that you are able to work through the trauma of war, so you can prevent having to leave a career that you love due to the level of constant trauma, and an extremely painful divorce that will test you like you’ve never been tested.
The most important thing I can leave you with is to remain strong in your faith. Keep God and your family close, because you will need them every step of the way.
Older Jason Bush