Former Marine sniper Jake Wood, founder of the nonprofit Team Rubicon, is tragically aware of this dynamic. In his recently published memoir, Once a Warrior: How One Veteran Found a New Mission Closer to Home, Wood writes that the grisly numbers of veteran suicides – since 2012 more have killed themselves than have died in combat – are a “stunning statistic and a sobering rebuke – and many Americans have never heard of it. This epidemic cannot be fully explained with clinical diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder. To understand, we must look more broadly to the dearth of purpose and self-worth some veterans experience upon return.” Young people join the military for a number of reasons: patriotism, education, community, adventure. But these motives share the desire for a mission, a sense of service. The military offers young people both ready-made community and larger goals, both practical and altruistic.
Unfortunately, the experience fades as quickly as it comes. One day you’re getting screamed at in basic training, the next people in an airport are thanking you for your service. And then it’s over, almost like a dream, and you’re plunged into the cold hostility of civilian competition. As Wood writes, “civilian life confounds and frustrates you. Were people always so self-involved? Instead of protecting life and liberty, you’re supposed to muster enthusiasm for socializing with your coworkers with an eye toward that promotion. But this new set of norms feels like a step in the wrong direction. It’s hard to form bonds with people who are more interested in greasing the wheels of their career than forming a real brotherhood. You knew your fellow soldiers would die for you; you’re fairly sure these people would plant their Italian loafer on your back as they stepped over you onto the ladder’s next rung.”
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