How to Grow a Beard
Why would Jamie reach out to me and ask a United States Marine to write a little something’ for British veterans, and how did this even come about? Similar to when I was awarded the Veteran of the Year for the California DAV this year, someone had come across what it is I do… and saw substance, shown interest, and decided it was beneficial for more people to know what it is I do.
I’m no military badass… no. In fact, I consider myself a part of the Nerds of the Marine Corps—I fixed radars in the service. I’m no super entrepreneur… no. I, in fact, left my “comfortable” “9-5,” which was more of a “0400-2200” or a sometimes a “6 months in another country,” leaving behind a six-figure job. I’m no philanthropist who’s given some absurd number of dollars to a non-profit, I’m no political super-hero, creator of some ingenious s**t that saves lives, or even a well-known public figure… yet. So why did Jamie reach out to me to guest post for Soldiers to Civi? I’m no hero.
I stepped on the yellow footprints at MCRD San Diego, September 11th, 2000, exactly a year before all of our lives turned around. It was a time of peace. A year prior to that… I was a high school kid addicted to meth, and a “local” volleyball up-and-coming… like REAL local. Like many athletes I’d thought about playing in college—I really didn’t have any guidance for where I was supposed to go after high-school… but I knew whatever it was I was going to do, I was getting away from the local grind of living in the same-ol’-s**t I had been. And similar to many athletes high school experiences… I didn’t get anyone to give enough of a crap to send me to college. So in true Graves’ fashion, I followed the footsteps of my best friend who had enlisted a year prior, and another one that had enlisted to leave right after our current year of high school finished.
It’s funny because both of them got out as soon as they could… one even going AWOL (basically not showing up for work one day… for a REALLY long time). Not me… I LOVED the service. I loved my job, I loved my role I played in my units, I loved the Marines, I loved digging up my roots and moving to new duty stations every so often, I loved deploying, I loved exercises, I loved the competition, and I loved leading. I was good at my job, but I was an even better troop handler. I made sure all my guys were taken care of in any way they needed to, as long as they took care of business in the shop. One of my first main focuses while serving, was getting people to understand that there is a life that was outside of the service, that we will ALL inevitably face whether that would be 2 years or 30 (and the individuals who still can’t wrap their head around this, will be in trouble WHEN that time comes). The best way to prep your guys for this is to force them into college classes while they’re still in, one at a time, or a full-load… it doesn’t matter; that’s the best way to start getting them ready.
At some point around my 8-year mark… I bit a guy’s ear off—allegedly. It’s really a long story that revolves a lady cranking out bananas out of her vagina, some incredibly drunk service members, and an invisible rape victim. At the time I had been selected for the next rank up, and had my Warrant Officer package ready to submit; meaning I had a clean record of keeping my nose clean… or as some salty service members would say, I was “good at not getting caught.” I didn’t feel the latter, but I did know I was lucky a few times to have been given a few second chances for things like underage drinking and disrespecting some higher ranked
s**t-heads individuals. But this fight was the ultimate downfall of my Marine Corps career.
I was found guilty in a court-martial that I had opted to be a part of in order to keep my name clean. Although I never served time in the brig (military jail), I was busted down two ranks and a month’s pay was taken out of my pocket. I to this day verbally and intuitively maintain my innocence…, which is a large part of who I am. Regardless… the service was done with me because a 10-year corporal wasn’t able to re-enlist due to service and time limitations the Marine Corps had set in order to “weed out the bad ones.” So in 2010, my last day of service had come… and I was within the matter of minutes—an honorably discharged veteran.
This version of myself writing to you today wasn’t the guy I was when I got out. At that moment, I hadn’t been home in three years, and the only leave I had taken was leave I had on the books that I had to take unless I wanted them taken away from me. So for three months after I’d gotten out, I planned to drink a lot of booze and smoke a lot of weed, before I returned home to Okinawa (where my wife at the time was a teacher on base) to start life over again. And I did. I was a bum until my wife gave me the get out of jail free card, and asked for a divorce—no strings attached. She would just get to keep the dogs.
My new life started.
Instantly I knew what I had to do to become a person who’s making money and own his own s**t. I had to go look for a job. I don’t know what it’s like over across the pond, but I can’t imagine the list is so different.
- Write a resume.
- Look for jobs for 8 hours a day on a bunch of bulls**t websites.
- Get calls back offering you a third of what you’re willing to take.
- Not get calls back at all.
- Submit more resumes.
- Ask friends for jobs they know of.
- Watch whole seasons of Netflix cursing at yourself to get your s**t together…
- Look for jobs for 8 hours a day on some other bulls**t websites.
Eventually, I found a job that was very similar to what I was doing in the service, that luckily was willing to overwork me AND underpay me! But I wouldn’t really wake up to that reality for some years down the road.
My now wife was a recruiter (head hunter) for nerds like me at the time, and she gave me very valuable information that I blew off for the first few weeks. Sure she helped clean up my resume (IMMENSELY)… and sure she helped get me seen by more quality corporations… but what I hadn’t taken and moved with when she had told me about it was; the power of LinkedIn.
That’s right… LinkedIn. That weird-looking Facebook for business site.
I landed my first (and only) job outside the service within six months of actively searching. I received a salary number that I had initially gawked at in a mesmerizing fashion, and I slaved (that’s right… I’ll say it…)… I SLAVED away for this company for six years, until I was let go following a long recovery period due to surgery. But the reality was… while in this cubicle lifestyle (#CubeLife was a coined term often used within the walls) I pushed myself to finish my Bachelors in Psychology, get certified in Hypnotherapy (also a long story), and then… write a book…?
What was I doing writing a book? All kinds of people say “I want to write a book” for years, and never do it. Me? I’ve never had a book writing urge, but one day in October of 2015, while I was recovering from my first shoulder surgery, I started writing all the lessons I learned leading up to that point in my life. The lessons with dealing with our Veterans Association to get our benefits allocated to us; small groups to turn to for help; lessons I learned buying a house, finding a job, learning humility in the workforce… watching our potty mouths, fitting back in with the people who only recognize our faces and not who we are anymore… I just started writing everything that I wish someone had told me on my way out. When it was all said and done—and published—I wrote: “How to Grow a Beard: A Military Transition Guide back into Civilian Life.”
Instantly guys reached out to me. “Hey, I wish I had this 3 years ago… by the way, I have this non-profit…” It seemed that my words and my experiences had been shared by many others besides myself. I didn’t have that reference point yet because up until that moment, I really didn’t have other vets to talk to that were my generation of vets; I only had vets around me from the 90’s asking me how I got back into college. I was the best troop handler I knew in the Marine Corps. I had leaders in front of me that I credit that to.
Why stop there?
My story is one that I shared with thousands of others like me—like you… and that’s how my podcast #YearOfTheVet (found on the major podcasting platforms [if it’s not on yours let me know cause I’ll make it happen]) was born. #YearOfTheVet brings others onto a platform to share their transition stories and lessons learned, in order for us all to become more successful than we currently are today.
If you asked me today what I think you should do after separating from the service… I’d have different answers depending on who’s asking… but one primary generalized piece of information I can hand over is this—DO NOT try to do it alone. Why would you? What are you trying to prove? There’s a lot of people that can help you guide yourself through your transitions. There are a lot of phoney-baloney people out there who call themselves veteran advocates, but if you walk into a place out of curiosity (“How do you help vets…”) instead of desperation (“I need your help…”), you may be able to sift through who’s there for you, and who’s just there wasting your time.
The transition can be difficult. That’s not a secret. But if you reach out to the rest of us who’ve walked down THIS VERY PATH that you’re walking… (that’s right… to think you’re the first is a little pretentious, don’t you think?), you don’t have to struggle. You don’t have to become discouraged. You don’t have to feel defeated. You don’t have to lose. Redwoods were seeds once too! Greatness starts with the decisions you choose to act upon today.
You are a Hero. Live like one!
by Robert Graves