Years ago now, after finishing my undergrad degree, I lucked my way into a cushy corner office for a defense contractor and set about trying to fit into a normal life. I had all the things that I figured one would need to be happy: a high paying job, a pretty office with glass walls and a future my wife and I could count on. I was well aware of how hard many vets have it on the other side of a DD-214, and I was lucky. Unfortunately, I was also miserable.

It wasn’t long after that my wife’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite us both making a decent income, we couldn’t afford a full time hospice nurse for her mother’s care (she didn’t have health insurance). So after some deliberation we agreed that my wife would leave her job as a corporate recruiter and move the 250 or so miles to her mom’s secluded home in upstate New York to take care of her. I’d stay in Massachusetts, with my better paying job, and spend my workweek keeping the bills paid, making the six hour drive to New York every Friday night and back every Sunday so I could help out and just generally spend time with Jamie’s mom Jan — a woman I’d been close to since middle school (when she predicted that I’d marry her daughter).

It was perhaps the most difficult time of my wife’s life and, to be frank, it was pretty hard on me too, but there’s no question that those long months of tight budgets, highway miles and, admittedly, sometimes crying ourselves to sleep at night were worth it. Jan passed away exactly the way she wanted to: sitting comfortably in her living room with her loving husband by her side, as Jamie and I slept in a makeshift bedroom we’d assembled in their unfinished basement. In the end, all she wanted was to be home with the people she loved… and that understanding had a lasting effect on the way Jamie and I saw the world.

Jamie had already left her job, and after Jan passed, I found it increasingly difficult to keep going back to mine. Jan had shown me that our lives really are as short as we’re told. There’s no promise of tomorrow, no guarantee that you’ll live to see your children grow old. I, like so many of us, kept promising myself that I’d pursue my passions someday… And as I sat there in my corner office in Marlborough, Massachusetts, using a spreadsheet to determine who would stay employed and who I’d have to lay off for the slow season, it struck me.

There genuinely may never be a someday.

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Jan’s parting gift was an understanding of just how precious our time here truly is, because in a classically Jan way, she’d managed to turn tragedy into growth and sorrow into resolve. So, my wife and I sat down and had another hard conversation: this time, about me leaving the job that paid all of our bills. Jamie, who’s known me since even before her mother predicted our eventual marriage, knew my dream had always been to write… and when I pitched the idea of moving to Georgia (where the cost of living was lower) so I could chase that dream, it took her all of about thirty seconds to say yes.

The next day, we ordered the largest commercial dumpster we could and proceeded to throw almost everything we owned in it. I gave my notice at work, and in a very short span of time, we were headed to stay with my brother in Georgia with only what we could fit in our two cars and a small “Pod” shipping crate.

As if to say, “there’s no turning back,” the tree in our yard fell across the driveway the day we left Massachusetts.

I’d love to tell you that I was born to write, and that the rest was easy… But what followed was a very challenging year. There are millions of aspiring writers out there on the internet and I had no professional credits to my name. So I took the work I could get, writing un-credited pieces for how-to sites; consulting in the racing industry (where I’d worked before the Corps); and working through grad school. My wife, also happy to find a new life outside the corporate world, took work as a nanny — and together we made something like a quarter of my former income. At first, I was emboldened by the hardship, like I was paying the dues for the life I hoped to lead. Soon, I got some better writing jobs and people started to notice my work. But our bank account was still as as empty as ever and where I once felt emboldened, I was beginning to feel guilty. Jamie deserved better than Ramen noodles for dinner, and I had to ask myself, how long was I willing to subject her to that for the sake of my own foolish dreams?

Without telling her, I began applying for any work I could get in our little town in the Georgia woods. Soon, I had an interview for a position bagging groceries, but as the interview wore on, I realized I wasn’t going to get the job.

“You graduated summa cum laude? Spent seven years in the Marines? About to finish your masters? Why do you want to work here again?” the 20-year-old manager of the little grocery store asked me. I’m not sure if it was the military part, the education part or my age, but the guy ushered me out like I was a Soviet spy applying to work at the Pentagon. My car had already been repossessed, so I walked slowly out to my wife’s little Chevy Cobalt and I cried for a while.

And then my phone lit up. I assumed it was another barely-paying writing assignment, so I almost didn’t look; but something in me gave me a nudge. Maybe it was Jan. Maybe it was the fates throwing me a bone… but in any regard, it was an email from Desiree Huitt — then-Managing Editor of SOFREP.com.

One sentence that changed everything for me.

She liked the work I’d submitted to their job opening and thought I had a voice that would resonate on the site. She was willing to give me a chance, and offered to pay me a reasonable rate for a one-off article. There are a few moments in the timeline of one’s life that change everything: a first date, a lost loved one, the decision to enlist… and for me, that e-mail. Not long after my first piece, I was invited back to write two a week. Soon, it was five a week. Before I knew it, I was a staff writer: paying my bills on time and treating my wife to the finest of non-Ramen brand noodles.

In the years since, a lot has changed. I’ve met incredible men and women — heroes — that have served, sacrificed and toiled for their nation. I’ve met incredible writers, content creators and artists. I’ve made friends that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I got to learn the ropes of journalism from Jack Murphy, the art of narrative prose from George Hand. I got to sit around Las Vegas bars with real spies and talk about ghosts. I got to tour abandoned prisons with CIA and Delta representatives. I met politicians, directors and movie stars and had my work read aloud in hearings by U.S. senators. I’ve been called a fascist, a communist, a cuck and a war criminal by some, and had my work heralded by others.

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And the attention my work garnered here on SOFREP opened a floodgate of other professional opportunities too. During my tenure here, I joined the freelance staff for Popular Mechanics and have been featured on their site and in their magazine. I’ve written scripts for companies like 5.11, been featured on just about every military news outlet there is and, of course, got the opportunity to spend time running some of SOFREP’s other sites, like Fighter Sweep and the Loadout Room.

And it’s all thanks to this one e-mail I got while I was crying in a Kroger parking lot.

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this piece, which is, sadly, to say goodbye.

I was recently approached by a guy named Sam Meek — a fellow Marine sergeant that also took a non-traditional professional route after leaving the Corps. A few years back, he and Marine Major General Ray Smith founded a company called Sandboxx with a simple goal: to make it easier to get correspondence and care packages to service members in training and in theater. As their company grew, their blog, run by a talented marketing professional named Nicole Utt, started gaining traction and now, Sam told me, they wanted to build that blog into a site dedicated to becoming a resource and destination for the men and women in America’s armed forces — and as importantly, for their families as well.

After a few weeks of discussion, I agreed to leave SOFREP to head up this new effort, where I could work not only toward building something new and exciting, but toward building a positive outlet for military, veteran and family voices. What I’ll be doing is very different and a bit more family friendly than the hard news and analysis brought to you by SOFREP; but it’s in that very challenge that I found a renewed passion for what I do.

SOFREP won’t hurt for my loss thanks to the great work of guys like Stavros Atlamazoglou, Nick Coffman, Steve Balestrieri and the aforementioned George Hand — who, let’s all agree, deserves as many mentions as he can get — alongside a growing stable of freelance contributors that are experts in their respective fields of war fighting and foreign policy. I’m confident that I’m leaving SOFREP as it grows; and with Nick and Stav at the con, it will continue to do so.

So, at the end of this month, I’ll be parting ways with the site and the company that have been my home for years — but you won’t be rid of me completely. I have a great relationship with the guys that run this site, and I’ve already discussed with the editorial team coming back around for articles here and there. But if you’re so inclined, I’d love it if you’d stop by and check out my work at my new home in the coming weeks. I’ll still be doing pop-culture, military history, technology and analysis pieces — though with a slightly different angle of attack. If you liked my work during my time here at the ‘Rep, I’m hopeful that you’ll like what I’m working on now even more.

Until we meet again, my friends, fair winds and following seas.

 

Alex Hollings

Tech Editor and Senior Staff Writer for SOFREP.com