Imgurian NoStrangerToLove is a 21-year-old indirect fire infantryman in the U.S. Army, currently stationed in Hawaii. He's in a mortar section attached to a cavalry troop — his job, as he described to A Plus, "is to provide mortar fire to the scouts who conduct recon missions."
He recently posted a gallery of photos to Imgur, partly as a tribute to a friend and brother-in-arms who took his own life, and partly to try to help those without a military background understand what life is like for those who are either active duty or veterans.
NoStranger's original post was one of the most eloquent approaches to a difficult subject that we've ever seen, so we've adapted it here.
In addition, we reached out to him for some additional comments about what he'd like people to understand about life in the military.
"I come from Hampton Roads, Va.," NoStrangerToLove told us, "where one of the largest naval stations in the country is, so everyone I grew up around was pretty much a 'Navy brat.' Now, that's different than joining the Army in the middle of Nebraska where that is still a very special thing. I have buddies from the Midwest where they talk about coming home and their whole town would come out and throw a welcome home ceremony for them. In a military area, no one cared what you did. But if you did join the military, it was the Navy, because everyone and their parents were in the Navy in Hampton Roads. Two things about that was that I had always wanted to be a soldier and I joined the infantry. With a combat job, I don't do the same sort of thing that all of my Navy friends from home do, so there's the divide there. The second thing was that each time I came home, it was a little less special. Either everyone moved away or they didn't go anywhere."
In the interest of privacy, we've edited some photographs and are withholding his name at his request. All pictures are used with his express permission.
Captions and copy in quotes are his.
"For those with no military background ..."
"I've found that most people don't know what we do as soldiers, so here's a little insight."
"We do some cool stuff."
"Like open-door helicopter rides into the jungles."
"And we train ... and train ... and train some more ..."
"But at the end of the day, we are just working for our little family."
"We are no different than anyone else."
"We are best friends and co-workers, we hate Mondays, and waking up early. We aren't always on time and sometimes we make mistakes, like not shaving in the morning."
We asked him about the difference between his civilian and military friends.
"The guys back home that stayed local never did anything big with their lives, and even my best friends have trouble finding things to connect to us with and making up conversation topics becomes a chore. It's depressing having nothing in common with anyone anymore."
"Just recently, I went home for Christmas, and my fiancée and I stayed with my best friend since second grade. And all we could talk about were times in elementary school or Boy Scouts growing up, but we had nothing to connect about. That's where the problem lies. We don't know how to communicate with civilians without getting frustrated over little things and I don't think they know what to talk to us about. We sort of become machines to them. It's all past memories with them, and they tell you all about their lives and what they are doing and what's going on, then they ask you things like, 'Oh, are you going to Syria? Did you watch the news? Hear what Obama said? Have you shot anyone? What's next for the Army?' "
"No one ever asks me about my baby sister, or how I'm holding up, or what I plan on doing when my contract ends."
"I wanted to tell my friend over coffee that I'm going to get married at Hanauma Bay to one of the few people from back home I still connect with, but instead all she wanted to talk about was her ROTC stuff and asking me what training was like."
"We really are just machines that lose our identity to civilians and it's depressing to us, and you start to see where the guys who can't handle the adjustment end up hurting themselves."
"Out of the Army, no one's really there for you."
"We don't want to talk about the military all the time, but it's hard. The other issue is 'out of sight, out of mind.' The minute I left for basic training in 2013, two months after I graduated high school, suddenly everyone stopped talking to me."
"And add not having civilian friends to sort of anchor you to your humanity, to the stress of work, you lose sight of who you are. And you change as a person. And some guys can't handle that. Twenty-two deaths a day. Honestly, hundreds of suicides a year could be prevented by just being a friend."
Close bonds develop in the military — bonds that don't always have civilian counterparts.
"In my section there are less than 10 of us, so you get really close to those around you," he told us. "They really are my brothers, I've seen the best and the worst of these guys. I've watched Gabriel Iglesias play a USO show on Schofield Barracks with them — that was great! I've also watched them struggle with the time differences. For example, when a girl breaks up with you from back home or you get bad news about a family member passing away, usually you get that text or call at 2 a.m. or in the middle of the work day. Well, you can't leave work to go deal with personal issues. My buddy lost his aunt who raised him, and he had to stay at work and clean weapons choking down tears because she isn't immediate family and the notification didn't come through Red Cross."
"We hurt like normal people, we have bad days like normal people."
But there are good times, too.
"... the picture of my buddy laying on the floor — a lot of the time we are at work, it's waiting for orders to come from the officers to be briefed, to the platoon sergeants and then section sergeants, and it trickles down and can take hours. So in that time, we like to screw with each other, I had unscrewed the wheels on his chair. And one time out in the jungle, I filled my buddies canteen with red pepper powder from the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) without him knowing. We just like to screw around."
"You could work with someone for a month or three years, so when a guy in the platoon is leaving, usually we all get together and get them a gift and go out for lunch during work. It's rough knowing you'll probably never see some of these guys, again but social media lets us all stay in touch."
He finished his post with a message to soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen everywhere:
"Point of the post is this:"
"It doesn't matter your profession ..."
"It doesn't matter how long you've known each other."
"Sometimes all you have ..."
"Is a brother or sister watching out for you ..."
"So whatever is bugging you today ..."
"Just remember this ..."
"A day is just hours ..."
"And your struggles will pass ..."
"No matter what happens ..."
"There will always be someone there for you ..."
"To put a smile on your face when you are feeling down ..."
"Or just be around you in silence ..."
"Struggling through your challenges with you ..."
"You may not always see it ..."
"But your family is bigger than you know ..."
"And they will always have your back ..."
"And you better have theirs ..."
"Family sticks together."
As for civilians with friends and family in the military, NoStrangerToLove told us this: "The best thing you can do as a civilian to help a veteran buddy or active duty buddy that's depressed or struggling is just be there for them, ask them about their personal life, because we don't want to talk about our war stories or whatever, because they aren't really as enjoyable to civilians and we don't want to keep answering questions about people we saw die."
We thank him for his candor and his service. We hope you'll thank him by sharing this — and your experiences — with your friends.