This is the second post in an indefinite series. Everyone knows that 9/11 was the horrible mechanism that initiated our descent into a war fought by a small subset of Americans. But how well do you know the men and women who have joined the fight? Do you imagine they are wildly different from you? While 9/11 ties veterans together on a thin connective string, many more reasons drove us to join this war, and those are the ones that tie us to you. You can look in the mirror and know that a few sliding doors could have found you leaving home to wander off to the edges of the world with us. And you can see that these reasons are exactly what will help us inform a version of America we’ll all share together. These are stories about why we left to fight, and why you know us better than you think you do.
These are Arne Smith’s Other Reasons.
My childhood was a pretty wild one. Born into a dysfunctional home, my biological mother was a very abusive woman with lots of issues between alcohol and drugs. I was the oldest of four. My job as the oldest was to protect my brothers and sisters. I took the horrible abuse from my mother head on; the beatings, the attempts to take our lives on multiple occasions. I didn’t understand then how my childhood would help me grow as a person. When I was seven years old, I was pulled out of my birth home and put into the foster care system with one of my brothers. Sometime around then was when I first met a man who had been in the Marine Corps. Many kids grow up with a childhood dream job that fades away over time, but not me. I knew at seven I would be a Marine. I remember putting a Marine Corps poster above my bed with a little card below it that read “My Future Job”. I had it in my mind that if I became a Marine, no one could ever hurt me or my loved ones again. I’d already spent a majority of my childhood protecting those I loved, I couldn’t picture a world where that stopped.
We lived in the foster care system for a few years. At the age of ten, my brother and I were adopted. What we thought would be a living home was another living nightmare. Another abusive home with a man who claimed he had to “take the evil out of us”, and that it was his “calling from God”. For the next year, my brother and I would receive multiple beatings from this dickhead. We were eventually pulled out of that home and put back into the foster care system. About a year later we were finally adopted into another home. They were a typical middle-class family who already had an older son. Even as we fell into a more stable and traditional family life, I could never shake the protector mentality over my little brother. My younger brother and I had a special bond, one built through hardships, struggles, and fights for our lives. I was eleven when I broke my older brother’s nose for picking on my little brother.
As years went by, I always wanted to join the Marines. But, I can say honestly that if it had not been for a Marine Corps recruiter, I would never have made it to boot camp. I moved out of my home at seventeen filled with anger and sensing that something was missing there. I couldn’t put a finger on it exactly, but in my head, I felt it wasn’t my home. Inevitably, my dumb ass started getting into trouble. My recruiter showed up one day at the home where I was staying and took me to dinner. I remember his words to this day, “If you’re not in the recruiting office tomorrow I’m going to kick your ass.”
The next day I was there, and I was shown one of the greatest acts of kindness I have ever experienced in my life. The recruiter saw me going down a bad path and didn’t want to see my life ruined. I basically finished my senior year of high school in that recruiting station. He and the recruiting staff brought in a tutor for me, and every day, they’d grab my work from school and provide a space for me to get it done. I ended up graduating early because of these men. I went off to boot camp and it was the best thing for me. My older brother ended up in prison and my younger brother is in and out of jail. It’s the exact path I would have been heading down if it wasn’t for those Marines.
So how did it all connect? Unfortunately, you often see people who come from a shitty place play the victim card. Instead, I believe my childhood hardened my mind. Going through an experience that most would consider hell actually shaped me into a strong survivor. I am able to deal well with stress and very little overwhelms me. So, while I was physically and mentally prepared for the challenges I faced coming into the Marines and would see again in combat, it was in all the interactions I had with Marine Corps NCOs that I found what I was looking for. Like the recruiters I had known at home, the leaders I had were absolutely amazing. Their will to teach and make you better than they were was extraordinary. I reenlisted three times. I just loved the individuals I was around, and I couldn’t stay away. Even though you deal with a lot of bullshit, the guys around me meant everything to me. I would have to say they very much exceeded my expectations. I knew by then that the Marine Corps was mine, it was the family that I was able to choose.
Arne Smith is a Marine Corps combat veteran and closet BBQ master (*it’s not world famous yet, but it will be). He currently resides in Maine, where he lives on a shit ton of acres and is studying for a Bachelors in Adventure Therapy, which he plans to use to start an outdoor adventure company that brings together Veterans and anyone else who needs to get outside and create their own family.
Editors Note: First off, I fucking love Arne (it’s pronounced ar-nee, in case you’re wondering) and serving with him in Afghanistan was a blast. Eating the world-famous* BBQ he makes after we got back was even better. I was slow to ask Arne to share this personal shit because…it’s personal. But like the good dude he is, he opened up and helped paint an honest picture about why someone with a broken past found themselves in the service of a nation at war. It’s even more fascinating to me because my childhood was the opposite of his; I was lucky to have loving biological parents, a stable home, everything I ever needed and most of what I wanted. And yet like Arne, I saw a gap in my life. Where Arne had overcome a thousand hardships but lacked a family, I had a wonderful family but hadn’t overcome a damn thing…I lacked anything in my life I had earned myself. We both went searching for the things we were missing in the same place, and strangely, we both found what we were looking for and came out better for it.