Having spent an enlistment in the Marine Corps, I understand the conventional side of the military. Like any Marine in a standardized unit: I participated in field day, worked my way up from the lower enlisted (as best I could) and adhered to regulations as required. Then, some years after I was discharged, I found myself in Kurdistan with nearly free rein. Now, with the Islamic State practically finished in Iraq, I have made my way back to a conventional military in the country of Ukraine.

Disclaimer, I am in no way complaining (especially since I chose to come here); only making observations of the situation and my life’s events.

As a Peshmerga volunteer, and later military advisor, I mostly bowed to no man except the current unit commander. Sure I gave respect and adherence to orders when and where it was due, but for the most part was left to my own devices which was to great effect… it turns out. Myself and a colleague were able to establish a military training facility and influence the outcome of battles through our efforts to develop better soldiers. We requested munitions accordingly and were accommodated most of the time, logistics permitting. We came and went as we pleased, whether it was to run errands off base or return to the states for some R&R. During combat operations we floated around the battlefield doing our best to influence the tide and create a positive outcome for our forces. The operational tempo was slow but the sense of freedom and autonomy was something to revel in. Conversely, when it came down to the missions — they were very straight forward “go here and capture this” type ops but that didn’t bother me too much. Then it came time to depart as Iraqi Kurdistan ceased military operations and operational control was turned over to the Iraqi Army shortly after the offensive to retake Mosul began.

After a short duration doing private security contract work, I find myself embedded in the Ukrainian militaries ranks. New war zone, but same bag of tricks with the exception of some crucial factors. Before we were war lords in our own right, here we are just another pair of cogs in a massive war machine that can be replaced the moment we fail to perform. The fact that we are foreigners or have a unique record of military service means nothing here. We follow our squad leader’s orders, a man with a 3rd of the experience we have, and fall in line like everyone else. Platoon PT and unit formations are a daily routine followed by the expected adherence to uniform regulations and procedural requirements. Military bureaucracy is in full swing at every corner from supply to administration; we have returned to a place that we left behind a long time ago. I relish our time spent conducting combat operations but loath every second being stagnant in garrison. The operations themselves are absolutely amazing though, HVT snatch and grabs paired with deep reconnaissance into no-man’s land where we can gather valuable intelligence on enemy activity; a soldiers wet dream in an age where deployments are few and far between. But I keep asking myself is the trade-off really worth it at this point?

I guess my point is that it has been incredibly difficult going from an incredible amount of independence after an unconventional military experience, back to a conventional military role again. It causes me to empathize with guys who choose to leave the military and return later after some time as a civilian or those who experience a similar pattern.