Dealing with the struggle of deciding to be a 'lifer'

It's easy to say in the beginning, but as the years and deployments wear on, being a military "lifer" is not automatic

Dealing with the struggle of deciding to be a 'lifer'

Corporal Joshua Villada, the assistant chief of Guns Platoon, Romeo Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, says good bye to his family aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune N.C., March 8, 2011, before his six-month deployment to Okinawa, Japan. Villada will be participating in a series of exercises while on deployment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Casey F. Meehan)

By Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hiddemen

Back when I started in the Marines, my plan was to be a “lifer”. I had a plan: take one college course each semester I wasn’t deployed, get experience volunteering, and become a Master Gunnery Sergeant (E9) before retirement. I couldn’t even imagine a life after the Corps - that was how deeply I felt about it, but eventually my priorities changed.

I saw my fellow Marines moving on after a few years in the service - some as little as four years, some as many as 12 years later. Their reasons were always different. When my first re-up came, I was close to getting out for purely selfish reasons because everyone at the E4 level thought getting out was the cool thing to do. It took deep thought to steer me in the right direction; I was getting married, and had just received the fattest bonus I was ever offered. I needed to stay in. After my wedding, I shipped out to Japan for three years, re-enlisted, and got more money. Japan was the best place to grow and mold me into a Marine, and I ended up being selected as Staff Sergeant (E6) in six years.

Later on, I found myself in New Orleans, and I realized that I might need to re-think my plan of staying in. Being a married man made me prioritize my family, largely thanks to my wife. I was closer with my family than I had been in a long time, and was enjoying every moment we spent together. 

Another factor that was pushing me to reconsider my time in the Corps was, when sharing a building with reservists, my comrades were constantly retiring around me. I was in a command that joked about being the place where Marines go to die. Many officers I served with went through early retirement, and so did many staff NCOs.

I realized that when these individuals were retiring, they were hurting physically. Personally, I did not want to be a broke man, husband, or father…but then one day my fears came to life and I broke my foot. I was just going for a run, and an undiagnosed stress fracture snapped. It was then, about a year before reenlistment, that I knew I would not be in for another 20 years.

It wasn’t because I felt weak or broken for life just because of one broken foot. It was the accumulation of all these concerns hitting me at once, and my reluctance to put my family through many more upheavals, along with the physical and emotional stress of living a military-centered life. 

I still loved what the Corps represents (still do); I met some of the greatest people and friends through the military, and we were so darn good at what we do (for the most part). I just felt that it was a “selfless” devotion to my country but a selfish move for my family to suffer through. It was time to reluctantly move on, because I knew that if I stayed, I would be making more tours overseas and I wasn’t going to be the family man I wanted to become.

I came to terms that my decision was the right one. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one for me. I’m sure many of you have felt similarly during your careers as well - how have you dealt with these big life and career decisions?