Thanks to a laundry list of surgeries, my Marine Corps career came to a rather unusual end. With my future uncertain, and my contract expired, I found myself on medical hold, standing by to find out what a panel of doctors and leaders decided from what they could glean from a small brown folder that held everything they deemed to be of import about Sergeant Alexander Hollings. Meeting me, of course, didn’t make that list.

Soon it was clear: my separation was inevitable. With screws, plates, pins and steel mesh in my abdominal wall, both knees, and right ankle, my value to the Corps had been forever compromised. I bucked against this reality — even completing two first-class PFTs between surgeries to demonstrate what I thought was dedication, but the command clearly seemed to interpret as well-intentioned masochism. As is so often the case when one’s time is up, I’m pretty sure the whole world figured it out well before I did.

So I spent about a year in limbo … knowing that I’d soon be sent packing, but unsure of when or under what circumstances. During that time, I applied to colleges, enrolled in the Seps and Taps (training intended to help you transition back into civilian life) and continued to work in varying capacities, as the Corps had already seen fit to send my unit a replacement.

Admittedly, most Marines know right when they’re getting out, so the uncertainty of my situation was exaggerated by a combination of trudging bureaucracy and the overwhelming finality of their decision. I received word on the pistol range one Thursday afternoon: I’d head in for yet another knee surgery the following week, then allow my convalescent leave to transition directly into terminal leave, and never don my uniform again.