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I Am Ambition, Moving on After a Life as a Combat Soldier

Me (Ben Longoria) setting up my .50 cal machine gun in preparation for a mission in Mosul, Iraq (2007).

I could take the easy way out and bash you with the same story you've heard ever since the towers fell. And hell, before that as well. I could go on and on and tell you about all the bullets that mosquito buzzed over my head. How about I tell you how I was blown up in November by a bomb in a pothole? Or maybe we can talk about my post military life, and all my struggles with suicide? No, how about I cry on your shoulder about the ones that did kill themselves. I mean I thought about it. They did it. That always draws a tear. Pulls at the heartstring of the good patriot. Gets those flags waving, hands saluting, and yellow ribbons flying in that good ol' American sun. You see me now don't you? The guy who isn't old but isn't young. That fucked halfway point where I'm graying but I still don't have a wrinkle. Not much at least. Of course my body aches like I'm eighty. You've seen me and the others sometimes around the college carrying backbacks with ACU digi camo, the ugliest ass thing the Army has ever dreamed up in its glorious history. Or, for those of us who remember how to press and polish, I'm wearing my back-in-the-day BDUs? Perhaps I'm wearing my black veteran shirt down the street? The one with the white flag on the shoulder. See me now? Have you said thanks? Have you told me about everything I sacrificed? Don't worry you don't have to remind me. I've never forgotten, and some days I feel like I'm still sacrificing myself. I'm an icon to conservatives and a murderer to liberals. Sucks because I'm liberal so I have no place to politically call home. Shit. Oh well. Make sure to let me know how you almost joined, or how you were in basic but got out because of something medical. It's always something medical. What about your brother, sister, dad, mom, uncle, aunt, neighbor's dog's friend who serves as a special agent ranger seal team six sniper with a +5 mace. And before I forget, I'm a divorcee who likes to drink and is choked in debt. I cuss too. A lot. Do you see me yet? Do you know what I am? I'm that generation. That guy. That fucking same story you hear all the time. I'm the movie you watched then forgot. I'm the guy who gets a free meal at Applebee's two days out of the year. I'm the country song pandering to my southern fan base. “Why the South?” I've wondered. I assume the gun thing. I'm the dude sharing all those military memes with the family I don't have around anymore because we all had to find new duty stations or new lives on the outside. I'm the PTSD stereotype. Do you see me?

No you don't.

I thought all those things were who I was. Wait. Let me say that right. Those things are who I am. Some of them. I don't like to wear veteran clothes. Just my PT jacket (it keeps me warm), my shorts around the house, the boots (for yard work or a hike, I bought them at Oakley so they don't really count), and my Dragon team hat from Fort Irwin (because the brothers I had there were the best I ever had). I am most of those things, but I'm...not? Not exactly. I'm more. I am a veteran. A combat one in fact. Don't confuse me with those veterans who had a lax ass time on deployments. I was exactly what the Army is about. A scout. The eyes and ears of the Army. Right now every eleven bang bang (infantry) puked reading that sentence. Good. They have weak stomachs. Kidding. Back to my point. I am a vet and yes I fall into those super overplayed overdone stereotypes, or culture if you wanna keep it positive. For a good while I thought that's all I was and ever would be. You know how hard it is to go from being one cool motherfucker dropping from Blackhawks and blasting a .50 cal to just another guy? It is hard. Concrete on your face hard. Some don't make it out. They get lost. I did for a while, but I found my way out of that place. Discovered a guide who led me out. The Virgil to my Dante. The GPS to my car. You know how I spared myself that fate, from getting lost in those woods where I'd either become nothing but a once upon a time soldier or a dead one? I found myself in those woods and dragged by ass out. I'm a combat veteran. I'm also a dad. Not the best one but god do I love my kids. I'm a stepdad. Kinda. I'm gonna marry my girl one day that's a promise, but right now we're taking it slow. We've just started living together. I'm a minister. A liberal atheist minister. Ain't that some shit? Gotta love this country. I'm a writer. That one is big. I've always been a writer. Unlike all the other things that one is the one thing that has always been a part of me since I learned to pick up a pencil and stitch words together. Really I'm a storyteller. I'm not me without being a writer. I'm not just a veteran. I'm so much more. I want to be more. Isn't that what my service was suppose to impart upon me? To show me my potential, not just in the military, but in life? I'm absolutely and profoundly proud of my service. For all the pain it gave me, I'd never trade it or take it back. But I refuse to let it be the defining chapter of the story that is my life. That life didn't just end the day I left. I merely opened a new chapter. And for all my struggles with suicide, mine and those I cared about, what a waste it would be to end it all as just another veteran, a victim of an unpopular war, the guy we've all seen or heard about, another suicide someone is doing pushups for to remind you of a glaring issue people casually concern themselves with as long as it isn't an inconvenience. But me...oh friends you haven't seen me. That's not me. There's so much more inside of my heart and soul that has yet to blow you away. I'm just getting started. I'm just getting to find out who I really am beyond that. Don't be in awe at my service. Be in awe at what I made of it. Be impressed by how I've chipped through the granite to find the real man inside. If I'm reading this out loud to an audience don't clap because you're like, “hell yeah America, this guy is a vet and seen some things!” Clap because I've come out of the thicket, the weird limbo most of my kind get bogged down in. I'm no one hit wonder son. I'm a best hits collection. Most of all take hope in knowing that there's more out in the world for an old war hound. You hear that brother? Sister? There's more to the world than rank, camo, bullets, pt, formations, and hurry up and waits. I found that place and I'm asking you to come out and join me. We've impressed everyone. Dropped plenty of panties with our heroism. Take a bow dude. Soak it in. Be proud. But be more once the curtain drops. No one can take our laurels, no one. Those belong to the few. Just go out there and discover your next chapter and turn it into one hell of a great show. Out there in the future, here in the present, is the rest of the human you were meant to become. Not out of some great destiny, but out of defiance, a defiance to become another post 9-11 soldier stereotype. I refuse to become that man when I can be more.

I am a son.

I am a brother.

I am a father.

I am an ex-husband.

I am a boyfriend.

I am a writer.

I am human.

I am flawed.

I am proud

I am an American Soldier

I am a combat vet.

I am anything I want to be, and I promise you can too.

But first you have to find yourself.

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