On November 30, 2012, I was officially transferred to the Temporary Disabled Retired List, which is the Navy and Marine Corps’ incredible awkward way of saying that they were tired of trying to stick me back together. I had been on medical hold at that point for almost a year and had only recently gotten out of the hospital following my sixth surgery (third on my knees). While transitioning out of the Marine Corps was difficult for me in some regards, my final duty station had been in Fort Devens, Massachusetts – where I served as an Inspector/Instructor for the reservists of the 25th Marine Regiment and was a part of the funeral honor and KIA notification teams for the center portion of the state. My job required frequent interactions with the public and I lived a little less than an hour from base, so in many respects, I already had one foot planted firmly in the civilian world by the time my beard started growing in.
Although I knew my separation was imminent, the nature of being perpetually broken for more than a year of military service was frustrating and difficult to predict. My initial efforts to evade a DD-214 pink slip by muscling through fitness tests despite my injuries had taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, but also delayed what I would come to realize was the inevitable. Eventually, I came to the point in the process where there was nothing left to do but wait for the Naval Message that ordered me to go home – so I promptly applied to a few colleges in the area, assuming this final step couldn’t possibly take long. I was accepted to my first choice, Framingham State University – a small state school near where I lived, and I planned to attend in the Fall… only to see the new semester begin as I continued to wait in limited duty purgatory.
Framingham State was extremely helpful throughout the process, delaying my enrollment by a semester due to the Marine Corps’ timeline stretching out further than I’d expected and putting me in touch with the VA liaison for the University to help me get my documents in order. I entered the Corps in the days of the Montgomery GI Bill, but a few years prior to my separation Uncle Sam transitioned to the Post 9/11 GI Bill program – a shift I have to thank for my ability to attend school full-time instead of in the evenings after work.
Before the first day of classes, I headed into campus to get the lay of the land and check out the workout facilities. Framingham has a decent division three football program, and their gym was open to all students and faculty. It was smaller than most gyms you’d find on a military base, but what it lacked it dimensions it compensated for with twenty-year-old women wearing their finest in Abercrombie workout gear and trying desperately not to sweat through their makeup. I’ve been a married guy for a long time, and I had no interest in getting to know these young ladies, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that they made for one heck of a first impression as I approached the glass wall separating the gym from an open auditorium.