Thoughts From An American Soldier Waiting To Be Discharged

I remember. I remember spending carefree days with a beautiful woman. I remember her face, her laugh, her touch.  I dream sometimes about nights relaxing with friends while laughing and smiling with ease. I have fast fading memories of lazy days at home watching reruns while sharing the couch with a beloved pet. I remember, not happiness exactly, but contentment, an absence of impotent rage and depression. This was before, before I learned to cringe involuntarily at loud knocking, before an unanticipated phone call held only dread, before I knew about recalls, exercises, being undermanned, rank, uniforms, grooming standards, and an unending supply of acronyms and alphabetisms. This was a time when I could consider not going to work with no fear of possible prison time, hard labor, or fines. This was before I joined the military. Before I sold everything I loved, everything I was for the hope of a better future.

Once I had a beard, and longer hair. I wore whatever I wanted. My actions were derived from conscious choices. Spare time was abundant and used to nourish my mind, my body, and my soul. I moved often, sometimes on a whim, but mainly to find a better job. No one told me where to go. No one held my hand. There was no plan. There was no paperwork. There was just me: my mind, my dreams, my life, and my choices. I loved it.

My pride brought me to this. I was ashamed of failing, ashamed of being unemployed, ashamed of living with my parents again, ashamed that the woman I loved was far too good for what I had become. So I made the hard choice and I enlisted, but I remember.

They cut me off from everything that came before. They cut me off from everything that nourished my soul, my books, my cooking, and my love. I was moved, again, and again, and yet again. They took me further and further from friends, from the opportunity to make new nonmilitary friends. They put me far, far away in the middle of nowhere. They keep me in places where it is impossible to make civilian friends. Places where there are only military and military families. Now, they surround me with things I do not want but am forced to take. They work me to the point that I can barely keep my tenuous connections to lost loves and nearly forgotten friends. They afford me no time to read, to cook, to refresh my mind, to tend to my life.

It was all given up voluntarily, as I am reminded at every turn. My old life, my soul, was handed over to them to be chained by bonds stronger than iron, sharper than Twain’s wit, more complex than the most elaborate maze. They have yoked my life and soul with the bonds of bureaucracy, sharpened by signatures, reinforced with duplicates, and guarded by the beguiled souls of those who have forgotten.

My memories and my new military friends protect my sanity. My new friends are kind and generous people, volunteers as I am, but many have forgotten. Not willingly and never all at once, but they have forgotten nonetheless. Some have forced themselves to forget as they became trapped in the deceptively soft security blanket offered to their recently conceived children and young, adored wives. It’s never as secure as it seems, but no one discovers that until it’s too late. The rest have forgotten slowly, little by little with each new move, with each old friend lost, with the ever eroding passage of time. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, sense it in their sagging shoulders and carefully worded responses. I am desperately afraid I too might forget.

That’s what they want. They want you to forget, to lull you into a soft sense of security with the seemingly steady paycheck and constant promises of new improvements. They want to keep you, keep you till you break, keep you till they have lost interest, keep you till you’re all used up, till you’re just a husk who’s forgotten how to live. They want you to forget that you’re a toy to them, an amusing insect, a cog in the machine that they control, to be used and disposed of as they see fit. Still, I remember.

My pride, yes my pride, sustains me. The same pride that landed me here has sought to redeem itself. They have wounded it with a thousand tiny cuts, seeking to destroy it, to crush it, but it waits, it seethes, it rages quietly waiting for release. It keeps my memory sharp. When the time comes to voluntarily stay or be released, and the time is fast approaching, it will remember. It will remember every harsh word, every condescension, and every belittlement it has suffered. It will remember all four years in agonizingly sharp detail and I will remember what it was like before, before I joined. I will remember contentment and I will remember her.

Until then, until the time when I am once more offered a choice, a time still far off, I wait. I wait and I remember. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Tau Zaman

    Thank you for your service, nonetheless.

  • TheTimes


  • NoSexCity

    One question: when the time comes, do you think whatever they bait you with to re-up will work? I’ve known so many people that joined, hated it and still wound up staying for one reason or another.

    Not necessarily because they’ve forgotten, but because this new type of life has become familiar.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, also, for writing this.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, also, for writing this.

  • Kia Etienne

    i feel your rage through your words. thank you for writing this, honestly. 
    its beautiful.

  • Josh Boykin

    One of the best things I’ve read on this site. Thank you for your service and sacrifice, and I sincerely hope that you’re able to come back to the things you love soon.

  • Tony Jiang

    sounds like any other job someone takes out of desperation. save your tears. 

    • Tyrone


  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your service and know that your words are read and remembered.

    • STaugustine
      • guest

        Do you seem to think it would be completely peaceful in Afghanistan and children wouldn’t be killed by the taliban if we weren’t there?

        It’s not black and white.

      • STaugustine

        Hey! That’s a brilliant defense tactic in *any* murder trial! “Yer honor, you know… that family woulda been killed by *another* gang, sooner or later, anyway…”

        You, my friend, have the moral intelligence of e coli; but then, you were programmed that way, no?

      • Tyrone

        KFC ANYONE???

  • Adrienne

    You knew what it was going to be like. It’s nit hard to find out what it is like. As a military spouse, I am for some odd reason very offended by this. It’s only four years. It weeds out the fake people in your life. Maybe you and SHE should have gotten married if she means that much to you. If she stopped talking to you in those four years, then she wasn’t it. Life is what you make it. If you couldn’t make any of the last four years worth it, the life ahead of you isn’t going to be worth much either.

    I know that there are a ton of people I the military who feel the exact same wY you do. But each and every one of those people never left their room. Whatever time you have left, wherever you are, try to make the best of it. Once you leave you will not have free rent, a steady job or paycheck, I hope you can find the joy in serving your country.

    4 years is not long.

    • James

      Be respectful please, you’ve made a lot of assumptions about this man in your cavalier assessment of his life. I understand your right to speak your mind as well, but you have no right to tell him how he should live his life in or out of the military. He’s been serving the country, happily or not, and that should be more than enough for all of us.

    • Guest

      Are you serious?  Everything changes always.  Four years isn’t a long time on the grand scale, but it’s a long time in a person’s life.  

    • Kelsey Ellefson

      How are you one to judge what time, no matter its length, means to someone? 
       You of all people should understand and feel empathetic towards a soldier who, by his own pride, decided to serve his own country. 

    • Julie

      I hardly think it’s fair for you to assume anything about his situation. Maybe your husband had a more pleasant military experience because he had you with him, whether it was physically or just emotionally. The writer of this blog wasn’t so fortunate, as he wrote, to have someone to consistently support him in the way only a spouse can. And then you have the nerve to say that obviously these people who didn’t contact him really didn’t care. My friend has a boyfriend in the military, and it is damn near impossible for her to get ahold of him and stay in contact regularly, but she tries her hardest. Until YOU have served in the military and amidst the hardships and heartache YOU managed to find some joy, all on your own, don’t criticize him for not doing it. People don’t all cope the same way, and believe it or not, it might be a little more difficult than you think to be ignorant of war, and the terrible side of humanity on a daily basis to find some “joy.” Most of all, your husband is serving our country, not you. While I get that military spouses have their own problems and hardships concerning the war, I’d think you’d have some respect for the people that protect our freedom and our lives on a daily basis.

    • Travis

      I agree. If you join the military because you don’t want to go back and live with your parents, then you absolute will not be able to cope. You have to do it for the correct reasons. 

      It really isn’t hard to speak to former enlisted about their time and experience, so it really just sounds like he made a bad decision and now blames the military for their ways (ways which some people thrive in and thoroughly enjoy).

      Well written piece, however.

    • Nick

      Then let me tell you that what you just wrote deeply offends me. I have served in a Marine Corps infantry unit for the last few years and can honestly say that I have never wanted time to speed up more in my life. Could you tell me what it is like? No, huh? Maybe that’s because you are a military SPOUSE – you have never had to hump a ruck, take and/or return fire for months on end, or complete any of the endless, idiotic tasks assigned to us. I’m not trying to throw a pity party, but please don’t claim that your status as the wife of a serviceman gives you firsthand experience of what we go through on a daily basis. You have absolutely no concept of how miserable it can get; I’d like to see how much you’d make out of four years in a grunt unit.

      I also can’t stand how so many people like you talk up the “benefits” of being in the military. Sure, we have “free rent” – if you want to share a small room without air conditioning with two or three other men and stand weekly room inspections (that’s only while you’re stateside by the way – it’s MUCH more enjoyable once you’re living in a cave in Afghanistan). I guess you could say we have a steady paycheck – one that equates to what an impoverished American makes. You can keep your “benefits” – I’d rather dig holes for eight dollars an hour as a civilian.

      Again, I’m not trying to attract sympathizers, and I’ve probably given you more flak than you deserve, but military wives really get my blood boiling from time to time. You walk around acting as if you’re the one who has trained, who has deployed, who understands what it’s like to stand in our shoes. Trust me when I say this: you DON’T.

      • Tyrone


  • Connor

    What is this? I don’t even…

  • Courtney Mitchell

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • LindaN


  • eshipita


  • Gregory Costa

    My best friend, Marc, deployed over a month ago and, I don’t know, I wonder how our friendship will evolve from his experience. It’s odd seeing photos of him from a year ago working in my biology lab immediately followed photos of him suited for war.  All I can say is that right now, I miss the hell out of him and wish for old times…I feel like a chick when I wonder if I’ll remain relevant in a year.   

    • douchegirl

      Don’t “feel like a chick” because you wonder how important you are/were to someone. It’s human nature. 

  • Jay Reynolds

    I find it oustanding the degree to which some people find themselves able to place an imaginary version of themselves into the shoes of a soldier, especially seeing as no commenters here have even been through basic. As a side note, service via proxy does not constitute as qualifying you to criticise.
    Service can be a massive reality check for most of the population, to attempt to hold onto a ‘free-spirited’ (or so you sound, author) ego can drive you near-mad. Mostly because the experience of service leaves an indelible mark on the soul: irrelevant of whether you stick your new experiences or attempt to revert.
    If there’s one thing that all people can positively extract from the experience of being a soldier, is the crystal clear understanding of the things in life that you -truly- enjoy the fuck out of. Until your contract is up, authour, play the game.

    • STaugustine
      • Swift

        Honestly, if we were not there you would be complaining that no one is trying do anything when you hear about Taliban stoning women to death for getting a divorce or having an affair.  The worlds not perfect.  I can tell that you are just the type of person who likes to complain.  

      • Tyrone


    • 145

      I served as a conscript soldier in my country. Well said.

  • STaugustine

    You make a conscious decision to sign up for flying over to a distant place, where the natives couldn’t possibly pose a threat to the country of your birth, knowing full well there’s a very good chance you’ll be killing people? Fuck you, mercenary. And fuck the shit-heads who think that’s an honorable decision to make. How many brown babies had their skulls crushed or their skin burned off,  today,  just so various monopolies could control that oil?

    “My pride, yes my pride, sustains me.”

    Yeah, obviously, it’s all about you.

    • Tau Zaman

      I think he meant his pride, as in, his dignity. Like, not his pride about his manliness or how freakin’ awesome he must be for being in the military. And I think you know that too, but it was easier for you to pick out a word like “pride” out of context because you thought you could use it against him.

      I think he’s done a pretty decent job at shedding light on the fact that it’s definitely not a great line of work and his own employer tries to dehumanize him and purposely desensitize him to the horrors of war.

      And conscious decision? Please. Are you a slut-shamer too? Do you blame rape victims? Because what the fuck is a conscious decision. Lots of people make conscious decisions to apply for shitty jobs. It’s not because it’s their dream career. Some people become prostitutes and drug dealers. Sucks to be them too. It often happens in the lack of other alternatives.

      • STaugustine

        “And conscious decision? Please. Are you a slut-shamer too? Do you blame rape victims”

        I guess this analogy makes you very, very dim. Or, are you saying the guy who signs up for War is a retard who *had no idea* what they do with those bombs, rifles, missiles, et al? Or, wait: I know: you’re comparing a man who makes War a job-choice to those women who, you know,  *signed up* for rape.  Got it.


      • Tau Zaman

        Sigh. I was really hoping for intelligent debate. But I never, ever saw it coming from people who called eachother dim, and idiots. Actually, I’ve seen you write comments on other TC pieces, and you’re pretty much just always antagonizing and making unfounded arguments. I’m so over it, have fun, but just know you really had a chance to keep my attention.

      • STaugustine

        Oh dear, I almost had the “attention” of an Amoral Consumer Bot… an opportunity missed!  Weep.

      • Riley

        Your aggression astounds me. Chill out. 

      • STaugustine

        Your stupidity depresses me. IQ-up.

      • SDP

        Get off your high horse. You’re not that fantastic, sweetheart.

      • STaugustine

        I care so much what an anonymous cypher “thinks”! And: better a high horse than low slime

      • Tyrone

        troll is successful.

      • STaugustine

        “Tyrone” the coward responds anonymously;  silly cunt!

      • guest

        You sir, should be ashamed of yourself.
        You’re acting like he consciously enlisted to kill some Iraqi kids, while he just wanted to sustain and provide for his family. He’s risking his life everyday to set up a democratic system and you just call him names from your comfy couch. You may not be in favor of the war, but you still should have the decency to show some mercy. Like he decided to start a war…

      • STaugustine

        You are an ignorant, amoral shit and without millions just like you these “wars” (invasions) wouldn’t be possible. 

      • Tyrone

        strong come back.

      • STaugustine

        Mine required an IQ, a sense of morality and some literacy. Yours? None of the above. But jingoistic animus will suffice for canon-fodder like “Tyrone”.  So carry on, skin-waste.  Carry on.

    • Tyrone

      i hope that one kid he doesn’t shoot comes back and rapes you and your family before defecating on your face and burning you alive.

      • STaugustine

        Nice fantasy,  “Tyrone”.  Make sure to “clean up” after ejaculating on your mom’s second hand keyboard,  okay?  See ya.

  • guest74

    Remember that everyone is an individual and has their own set of experiences with their own perspective on them. 

    One man might hate the military, one man might love it. One man might hate the town they grew up with or a girl they once dated, another might love that same town and that same girl. One man might hate the college they went to, another might love it.The point is EVERYONE is an INDIVIDUAL with their own EMOTIONAL RESPONSE. Let him have his perspective, and you can go on having yours. One mans opinion doesn’t taint an entire establishment – the majorities opinion does. And one mans opinion definitely cannot, nor will it ever, taint or tarnish another’s experience. 

  • zxcvb

    I have no sympathy for you. 

    But I do hope that you never forget. That you never forget the thousands of civilians that you helped to murder in lands that you and your ‘pride’ had no right to enter. 

    • Tau Zaman

      There’s this misconception that every single person in the army is personally on the front lines shooting little kids. Honestly, not everyone is. Now I get that the key word in your comment was “helped,” and thus, even if they’re not actively fighting you’re still suggesting they’re enablers of that behavior, but really, just by participating in our own society, aren’t we all enabling and funding war? I dunno, to me it’s the equivalent of blaming a medic on the field.

      • zxcvb

        My main problem with this article is that the author chooses to reminisce on their own losses- ” they cut me off from everything that nourished my soul, my books, my cooking, and my love”…”I was moved again, and again…”…”They took me further and further from my friends”- so much so, that it simply becomes a drabble on their own self-importance; how no-one has ever experienced hardship like they have, how no-one has ever experienced pain to the extent that they have, how no-one has ever loved like they have…memememe etc. God, I couldn’t give a flying fuck if the author never got to cook another meal, or have sex with his girlfriend. Not once does the author allude to the sufferings that civilians in Afghanistan (and many other nations that the US Army has fucked its load all over) continue to experience on a daily basis, and how the disasters that they have caused precede a willing soldiers attempt at self-pity. 

      • Tau Zaman

        Well, there is definitely lots of suffering in Afghanistan and other places to be sure. But why does that mean he’s not allowed to suffer too? I just think it’s unfair that we expect people to write about everything on OUR minds. TC pieces are relatively short. This was a meditative piece about the torture than individual soldiers endure too. He doesn’t imply that anyone else DOESN’T suffer. 

        I just see this trend happening alot. Like, people complaining about gay rights activists because there are bigger problems in the world like famine or HIV. The point isn’t to prioritize; it’s not a contest. He just wanted to say what he felt.

      • STaugustine

        “… to me it’s the equivalent of blaming a medic on the field.”

        Because the medic is there to patch up people who are there to kill people in their own country… so they can kill more people, possibly.  Noble shit.

    • nick

      Yes, I’m SURE the author himself has committed genocide.

      I bet you’re one of the millions who called for war in 2001 (and subsequently in 2003), only to renege and spit upon a common man trying to make something of himself.

      Were the wars ill-advised? Probably. Are servicemen to blame? Absolutely not.

      Stop pointing your self-righteous finger and look in the mirror to find the real culprit. Convenient as it might be for you to try to forget, America wanted war at the turn of the century. Just because someone volunteered to fight on your behalf doesn’t incriminate him.

    • Tyrone

      fucken cop a dick ya useless cunt.

  • whocares

    screw the army and screw america

    • Deuce592

      I hope you live somewhere other than America, because if you don’t, you can leave.

  • Jordan

    Very good piece.

  • Dan Ray

    If you can read this blog, thank your teacher, cause it’s in English,  thank a soldier.

    • Guy


  • Smaiet01

    This was touching. A truely gritty insight paired with lovely prose. We hear about soldiers dying and its just another number. There are no robots out there fighting for us. There are real men and women who have fears, thoughts, doubts and love. It is sad that this is the only option of stability for most low income males and females who just want to mean something. God Bless you and courage to still be able to feel.

  • Greg Petliski

    You think too much, soldier.

  • Mari

    I really liked this piece. It was beautiful. And, despite the politics inherent, I am sympathetic to the author. No, I don’t agree with war. No, I don’t agree with mindless killing. Yes, this was the author’s choice and no one else’s. However, I will grateful for the protection that men like him  provide. 

    Whether you believe that he is a senseles murderer or a patriot, you at least have to recognize that this is his experience. 

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