Editor’s note: What a better way to celebrate the Military Appreciation Month than with some “Why I Joined” stories?

Growing up I liked to play what I knew at the time to be the so-called army. I thought it was all just one big army and knew no branch distinction. I would pretend to sneak around and play fight outside in my mismatched woodland camouflage uniform, and occasionally camo-painted face.

I think part of my eventual decision to join the military involved wanting to prove to myself that I was tough enough to handle it mentally and physically. My father served in the Navy, and my grandpa on my mother’s side served in the Air Force. That being said, I never had any pressure to join the military. If anything, I truly never put any serious thought into the idea that I would until I was in college. My heart was just not in it because I think I was afraid more than anything. Eventually, I would decide to seek a challenge and want to be part of something special, but I needed something to push me over the edge.

I remember the first time that the recruiters came to my high school. Each service had their booth set up, uniforms looking sharp, and that used-car-salesman approach that puts an uneasy feeling in the stomach of most young people. I looked at the Army’s booth, then the Navy, then the Air Force, and then I spotted the Marines. I thought about what I had learned of them from some of my friends who had talked about joining. And let’s be honest, the Marines have the coolest looking uniforms so that has some drawing power toward wanting to get one too. After a few seconds of staring, I left the Marines and walked back over to the Air Force table. I got my little keychain from them and told myself that if I were to join the military that I could see myself in the Air Force. It just seemed a little safer at the time.

I finished high school and began taking college courses while also working a full-time job. I would see old friends who would show up on campus over the years who had just gotten out the Marines – some who were still in – and they were different somehow. I did not know what it was at the time, but I just noticed something about how they carried themselves. It was not until I started to get tired of the monotony and daily routine of a college student that I began to see an opportunity for something more, something worthwhile that I could be a part of. I started to see that the military could offer me something that would finally set me apart from all the college kids around me who were generally coasting toward a piece of paper and a boring job.

I eventually started to hang out with a different crowd of friends. One in particular was a Marine. He would eventually play a part in inspiring several guys in our group of friends to enlist. For me, I saw the pride he had in being a Marine. It shaped who he was. It turned him into a confident guy who was a hard worker and an all-around good man. I started asking him questions about what it was like, and the more we talked, the more I realized it was something I thought I could do. He put me in touch with a recruiter that he trusted (well…he trusted him as much as possible) and was there to make sure everything was legitimate as we went through the process of figuring out if the Marine Corps was a good fit for me.

It turns out it was the best decision I ever made.