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Dan Willis was an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2010-2015 after a tumultuous and short career on Wall Street, serving with Fox Company 2/9. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in economics at Columbus State Community College, and expects to finish at The Ohio State University. Dan humbly serves as RTB Media's Creative Director and Co-founder. Follow Dan on Twitter.

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  ear Carl Forsling,

 

I am writing in response to your recent article published in Task & Purpose – All Military Service Deserves Equal Respect, Regardless of MOS. The world of Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet at-large is awash in angry people looking to sling vitriol and contempt at every opportunity. The military community brings its own special brand of insults and hatred and shit-talking-gone-haywire that few other groups in society can rival. And while there is no shortage of veterans and service members looking to stack their service up against those of lesser (perceived or otherwise) MOSs or branches for their own selfish reasons, to frame the perennial POG vs. Grunt discontent as a simple matter of ego and dick measuring to be quickly ignored is to miss what lies at the core of the issue.

 

 

As a rifleman with Fox Company 2/9 deployed to Afghanistan, I had a stroke of amazing luck once. I was chosen on a whim to escort a wounded Taliban fighter on his medevac flight to Bastion – which equated to nothing short of a week-long vacation for me on a base the size of a city. It was mostly great. With nothing but time and an air-conditioned can all to myself, I read old editions of the Economist and dime-store novels like a banshee. The not-so-great part was leaving my precious isolation chamber – I had come directly off of patrol and was perpetually clad in dirty green FROGs, sans cover. I never spoke to more Sergeants Major in my life – where in the ever-loving fuck is your cover, Marine?! They were always in clean cammies, smelling of aftershave and coffee, in near-disbelief that they found me walking around Leatherneck without a cover, smelling of shit and dirt and, to put it simply, Afghanistan.

 

 

I avoided chow halls like the plague. Sure, the food was great, but I always had to explain my situation to get in because the proper uniform of the day was most definitely not dirty-ass green FROGs. I would walk past a coffee shop and popular wifi hangout on my way to the Exchange to support my avoidance of the DFACs. More clean Marines with lattes, on their phones, having conversations with friends and family back home. They’d look at me, and I’d stare back. I remember feeling naked without a loaded magazine in my rifle – I imagined these Marines would’ve felt confused with one. I had never seen or experienced the contrast between my service and that of these Marines so explicitly.

 

 

And I had long known that there would be virtually zero difference in the rate of pay that I would command and that of some LCpl Latte only tangentially connected to Afghanistan. Everyone in the infantry would bitch about it, if only because they knew they would immediately get some kind of supporting response. But that disparity alone never made me resent Marines that weren’t grunts. It wasn’t until I was so abruptly removed from our world and dumped into theirs.  Intellectually, I knew there was a difference between combat and non-combat service, but I was not prepared to see it so vividly, so quickly – like being thrown from the oven and into an ice bath. Or, perhaps more accurately, like being thrown from patrol and into the Jacksonville mall. Combining the profound, albeit anecdotal experience of that week on Leatherneck and the factual knowledge that I am paid the same to participate in all manners of death and ugliness as someone is paid to participate in all manners of cleanliness and administration, it should be easy to imagine that I find your sentiments difficult to reconcile.

 

 

My time as an infantry Marine can be measured only in degrees of unnatural absurdity. Some of these absurdities transcend MOS. The hierarchy and bravado that exists between branches and occupations and rank is, inherently absurd, and something that you and I can relate to one another about. But some absurdities are known only to a small few. Laughing at the mangled remains of your enemy, while dissolving at the sight of a fallen brother, the only difference being one man you knew and the other you did not, carries this base absurdity that I still cannot find a container for in my mind. That the separation between the battlefield, the trading and gambling of life, and the convenience of a 24-hour chow hall and air-conditioned living quarters is only a fifteen minute Blackhawk ride is, inherently, absurd. That I chose the former over the latter, with no additional incentive other than to shut some small voice up inside my head, is absurd.

 

 

I have to reconcile these absurdities somehow. While deployed, it’s easy to live with the cognitive dissonance, distracted by realities far more threatening. But now that those threats of combat and loss and insanity are distant, I need the conversation that you are trying to shut down, and I believe our community needs it as well. From my perspective, the divide that separates me from non-infantry veterans and service members is real and visceral and terrifying and infuriating.

 

 

I respect your service, Mr. Forsling – and your perspective. But asking me to respect all service equally, regardless of MOS, is something I cannot do.

 

 

Best Regards,

 

 

Dan Willis

Creative Director

RTBMAG.com

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: In an effort to open this conversation up, RTB reached out to Mr. Forsling for his thoughts on Dan’s response. We greatly appreciate Carl’s time and comments.