“I was thinking about joining the community, you got any advice?”
I’ve been asked this question many times by young men who are looking for something more. This is just my opinion based on 14 years as an operator and six years as a Pogue reporter.
Forget all pre-conceived notions of what to expect based on the “real” corps. The Suck has no idea what the community is about and it never will. The Suck believes that it is a special force already and there are many people in leadership positions who feel that the community is no longer needed. Those same people are usually in charge and they have been saying that same stupid shit for half a century.
I don’t care what you’ve been through before; you will be pushed past all breaking points you have ever experienced in your young life. Try to imagine what goes through the mind of a mouse right before a wide-eyed cat grabs it in its jaws and you can begin to imagine what is waiting for you.
Eventually, you will be brought to a moment in time where you will have to make a decision. Maybe it will be in freezing water, as you get pounded by six-foot breakers and you don’t know how you’re going to make it for three more hours or even three more minutes. Maybe it will be in a sweltering jungle, covered in tics and beyond exhaustion, as you try to re-adjust the hundred-pound ruck on your back and wonder how you’re going to make it four more clicks.
Possibly, the moment will come when your team is in a 360 during selection. You have been awake for days; you are starving and covered in poison oak. You don’t even know when it happened, but you fell asleep and you wake up to a CS grenade going off in your lap. As you choke awake in anger and terror, maybe then you will face that magic moment when you must decide if you are all in or not. Because the men you would like to walk amongst will not accept you unless you commit completely and they can always tell if you are not ready.
You can quit if it’s not for you, and you portably should, but I can guarantee you that you will regret it for the rest of your life. The reason is simple; there’s nothing like the brotherhood of true warriors. Going all in means no turning back to what you were before. It is the only way to make it through.
If you do make it through all the physical and mental anguish that awaits you, you will be shocked to discover that the real work is just beginning. The men who are waiting for you to arrive do not fit into normal society anymore and after a while, you won’t either. But, you are probably already fractured in some way. The community draws a special kind of distant, slightly off person into its ranks. To even consider joining, is to admit your own fascination with agony.
One day, if you stick around and you aren’t hated or ostracized by your peers for being a lifer, a motard, or worse, you will learn what it means to speak without saying a word and achieve what others may only imagine. You will also discover what it feels like to walk around with the eye candy on your chest; what it feels like to walk into some poguey office and sense the way the energy in the room shifts into quiet deferment. You might even get to experience a few hot groupies.
You will create unbreakable bonds with men that will last your entire life. The kind of men who will drop whatever they are doing if you ask for help. They will give you their last dollar or the shirt off their back. You will learn what a brother really is and you will be blessed because of it. Most people in this world are lucky if they even have one true friend; you will know and trust more than a few.
You will come to understand what it means to serve something greater than yourself and what it means to be a warrior. You will learn how to do what needs to be done. But, you will not do it for the price of oil or the latest political rhetoric. You will not do it for mom, dad, or Suzy’s pink panties. You will not even do what needs to be done for your country. You will do what needs to be done for the men to your left and right. You will even do it for the men you hate and I can assure you that you will discover a level of hatred in your soul that you did not realize existed before. But, all that wisdom will come with a steep price.
Whoever or whatever you love the most will be taken away from you the second you go all in, because there is always another job to do. There is always another patrol, another mission, another training scenario, or another something that just has to be done right now and you and your brothers will do it because there are never enough bodies. Family, old friends, and loved ones will all fade away. You will not want it that way, but that is how it will be. If you have kids, they will grow up in pictures in your wallet or on your phone.
Then, before you know it, years will have flown by and you will not be the same person anymore. Whoever you loved or cared for will still be the same, but you will not be able to talk to them. You probably will not be able to sleep either. You will also have hyper-awareness and a keen mind that seems to spot everything all at once. That works great for the job, but it really screws up a trip to the mall. More than a few “normal” people will either be afraid, repulsed, or fascinated by you.
You will acquire a whole host of new addictions. If you already have some, those will be amplified. If you currently have some kind of girlfriend, wife, fiancé, etc., that you think you love, just get rid of her now. It is easier to do it early than to come home to an empty house years from now. Or, you come home from the last mission to discover what it means to be an Eskimo brother. For you, the kinds of women who are waiting for you after you go all in are strippers, sluts, and whores. They are good in bed and fun to play with, but if you are foolish enough to fall for any of them, then you deserve everything you get. They are simply living fuck dolls; an amplified version of masturbation. You do not get to love anything else but the community. Those nasty addictions and bad life choices will catch up to you quicker than you know.
The organization you are interested in also eats its young and crucifies its old. If you stick around long enough, you will eventually become the villain. If you can’t hang in body, mind, and soul, you will get tossed aside. There is always another person just below you who is willing to step up and shove you out of the way. And, there will always be somebody with a little more rank or power than you, who just took over and they will be happy to tell you to lead, follow or get the fuck out of the way. That is the thing nobody tells you about working with real Alphas; they do not give a shit what you did; only what you are doing right now. You are only as good as your last mission.
No one will tell you when you join, that your brothers will move on in one way or another as you continue to carry the weight. Some of them will drop their rucks and fade away one by one. Some of them will die. There doesn’t have to be a war on either; there’s always some festering wound of a place waiting for us to suffer in. Brothers died doing the job long before 911.
When they die, some go willingly and some are almost surprised. Some cling to this Earth with every dying breath. No one knows how they will take it when their time comes; some of the biggest, baddest motherfuckers on this planet cry for their mothers and claw at the ground. And, some dudes, who barely weigh a buck fifty soaking wet, go down swinging like heavyweight champs. Nothing you have experienced before can prepare you for the darkness that will strangle you the day you lose one of your brothers. And you will never get used to hearing about another death.
All of them become framed pictures on a wall somewhere; men who will never again get to kiss their children goodnight or share good times with friends and loved ones. No one will tell you that those dead brothers can haunt you.
In time, if you stay, you will be surrounded by a sea of fresh faces and yet feel completely alone. They will be different men, but you will be reminded of long-lost brothers you used to know. They will be young men who have some of the same mannerisms and quirks that your brothers used to have. Some will even look just like old friends, and it will stop you in your tracks at times. The young guys will think you are some kind of creeper by the way you will be staring at them.
No one will tell you that you will watch new faces make the same old mistakes over and over. And, you will see how most of the ones in charge also make the same stupid mistakes that have been made many times before. You will discover that the men who carry the weight can only see what is in front of them and because of that, they know exactly what it takes to ruck up. And, the ones who have become villains can only see the endless stupidity from higher and because of that, they have forgotten what it takes to carry the weight.
You will know many men with huge “love me” walls and puffed-out chests. They will tell grand stories and it will all sound so fucking awesome. But, no one will tell you the real heroes are broken old men with prematurely gray hair and shaking hands who stare through glazed eyes at crumpled pictures from an old cigar box. No one will tell you that if you stick around long enough, you won’t even recognize the very community you joined. If you ever find yourself in that situation, you need to remember it is a by-product of going all in. It is then that you will realize how much you love the community.
It is such a big kick in the balls to comprehend that you have to commit completely to the community to be accepted and once you are accepted, you can never leave. You are forever a part of it whether you like it or not. The problem is everybody has to leave eventually. Some leave like rock stars, some sneak out the back door and some go in disgrace.
I saw two types of men in the community. Those who came in right out of boot camp and those who came from some other unit, after doing a few years in The Suck. Each type of man lasted about 10 to 13 solid years of carrying the weight before they called it quits and moved on to some kind of B-billet, which was really just a place to catch a break and pretend like they did not quit. They always came back exhausted and lost; a little too pudgy, a little too far out of the loop.
I was no different; I was just honest about quitting. My cup was full and I was done. I did not want to spend endless hours suffering anymore. I no longer wanted to spend what little free time I had getting drunk in the Iso hooch and talking about tactics and gear. I just wanted to go home and fuck my wife and catch some waves. I wanted to be a father and a husband and I wanted to drive a mini-van and have a nice boring life. Most of all, I just wanted a break. Even though I knew it was time to move on, I still regret doing it to this day. That’s the price of going all in.
The last person I gave this advice to, about ten years ago, was a guy named Stan. He had a wife and young kids, but he assured me he understood what I was telling him. I saw a young man hungry for something more and even though he heard me, I knew he was not listening. A few years later I ran into him in one of my units. His marriage was faltering and he never saw his kids. He was frustrated with the leadership and his brothers. He hoped that the new batch of leaders, soon to arrive, would be different. I told him he sounded just like a community guy.
A few years after that, he got his leg blown off in the sandbox. His wife had left him and took the kids long before that. The Suck tossed him aside once he couldn’t carry a ruck anymore. He moved down south and I lost touch with him. I remember looking at his Facebook pictures before he disappeared and I saw an angry man who was old before his time; just like a community guy.
I used to tell young men to think a long time about what is waiting for them before they decided to join the community. But, I’ve learned that by the time you get to me, you have already made up your mind. Most of the time when a young man asks for advice, they are just looking for validation. None of them really want to hear the bad stuff. I understand that very well. I will leave you with some words of wisdom to burn into your soul as you begin your own journey down the rabbit hole. They are not my words; they were handed down to me by the men who trained me many years ago:
We the willing, led by the unknowing
Are doing the impossible
For the ungrateful
We have done so much
With so little
For so long
We are now qualified to do anything
Never above you
Never below you
Always beside you