In August of 2001, I was hot and miserable. The humidity of Virginia was a new level of suffering I had yet to encounter until then but would ultimately surpass 10 times over during my years in the United States Marine Corps. My classmates and I were a rowdy and immature bunch, completely unaware as to the gravity of our professions. We all joined after high school, all for mixed reasons and all settling in for a relatively easy enlistment.
The collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, changed all that. Those of us who had joined the Marine Corps for the chance to serve and defend the country would get our chance. However, before 9/11, many of us had less patriotic motives for joining the military. Many of us had dead-end jobs, bad family and financial situations or were just looking to change the direction of our lives. Others, like myself, realized that we didn’t have the money, grades or athletic ability to see our way through college. Our only option was the military, and as I watched those towers fall, I knew that my choice to join the Marines carried with it far more heavy implications than I had ever realized.
I deployed to Iraq in fall of 2004 and participated in the second assault on Fallujah. The city of Fallujah was considered at the time to be the most dangerous city in the world, and it was the last place I ever saw myself. Fallujah is known as “the city of mosques,” for at one time it housed almost 200 mosques within its limits. Fallujah was just as dangerous as advertised. However it was just as beautiful. I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in the fall of 2005. My experience had taken its toll, and I found the best course of action for me was to find a job and work until I could figure out my path. It helped, as I was constantly trying to take account of my role and the responsibility of my experience.
It wasn’t until I began my academic career here at Cal that I truly began to analyze what it meant to be a veteran in post-9/11 America. I examined my motives as a teenager, signing five years of my life to the United States Marine Corps, and more specifically the impact my individual participation may have had on the lives of the Iraqi people. I had never before examined my role as a cog in the machinery of the American military. However, I began to realize more and more that though my service wasn’t based on ideology or patriotism, it was based on a belief in something greater than myself. It became based in the notion that I was continuing in a long line of brave men and women who dedicated their lives to the idea of placing the safety of others above themselves.
Right or wrong, the bond that develops between people who fight for others is often stronger than family. Those like myself weren’t fighting against terrorism, we weren’t fighting to find WMDs, and we weren’t fighting against tyranny. We were there because we didn’t want to leave the people we now considered family. Little regard was given to our impact on the lives of the native people, and that I will always regret. I can no longer think of my service as “my time in war” because to do so is to get bogged down by the gravity of how my participation contributed to the shattering of lives in a country few has seen.
My father was a Marine, my grandfather was a Marine and my uncle was a Marine. The idea of a service minded life was taught to me early. Our service doesn’t end at our discharge, but continues to each other and our community. I realize this more and more through my participation in the Cal Veterans Group. The Cal veterans group exists as a support and service group, assisting all Veterans in higher education. We lean on each other for support, be it academic, fiscal and perhaps more importantly, social. We interact with one another to retain the sense of belonging we once had in the military, whatever branch we served in. We do community outreach, sometimes volunteering at local vet centers, other times through organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. We perform outreach at community colleges, counseling transfer students in matters such as their veterans’ benefits and transferring into Cal.
It’s through organizations like the Cal Veterans Group that veterans can navigate the rough transition back to civilian life. The traditional college experience is lost to us, for it is our experience that sets us apart from the typical college student. We have the same worries, the same deadlines and the same midterms as everyone else at Cal. Add to all our similarities the weight of experience and the worldly knowledge that comes from those experiences. It is those experiences that supplement our education here at Cal and those experiences that we will continue to live with and learn from for the rest of our lives. At the 10-year anniversary of the United States’ involvement in Iraq, I can tell you I have learned more about who I am than I would have had I not joined the Marine Corps.
Corey Hashimoto is the Cal Veterans Group vice president.
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