The Social Loner: Life After Special Forces
by Jeff Bosley
April 7, 2018
I’ve always been a walking dichotomy of a human. I’m a loner who often can’t do crowds. Ironically my current profession requires absurdly extensive crowd interaction. As an 18D (Special Forces Medical Sergeant) I relished the loner study time necessary to survive medical school. At the same time, I was great at the ODA (basic building block of Special Forces operational teams) camaraderie and lifestyle.
Prior to playing in Hollywood, after my Green Beret career, I was a firefighter. Not exactly a career thriving on solitude. The community we served was constantly around us. Bedside manner was a huge requisite in every shift. Crowds and social interaction a necessity.
Growing up I was kind of a social loner. Never part of a single group. I wasn’t a jock, a nerd or anything in between. I suppose I was a chameleon, but I likely couldn’t have ever truly labeled what I was in a society built on categorizations and labels.
I feel I have a unique perspective on the military and life after the military. I am what you could call a hybrid Vet. I didn’t join immediately out of high school; I lived a pretty substantial life prior to enlisting in the Army and joining SF (Special Forces). You see, I enlisted at nearly 30 years old. At that age my neural circuitry responsible for “executive functions” had virtually completely formed and matured. It was done learning. My wiring was pretty set. I wasn’t as impressionable as I was in high school. I can’t imagine going into SF at any younger age. Yes, my body would have been less damaged, but the rigors of my path within the military were better traveled with wisdom rather than an immature mind in an uninjured body.
This dualistic nature has provided me with a large-spanning empathy. I “get” the high school graduate who spent the majority of his developing years as an infantryman. I can converse with the college-educated military officer. I can hang with some of the most unique and elite operators the military has to offer. I can blend with Hollywood elite. I can transition from calm and poised dialogue to crass and crude hysterics at the flip of a switch. It truly makes it hard to know who I am and where I belong.
For the longest time, I just constantly assumed I wasn’t a deep person, per se. I figured I connected and related to so many people on so many levels that I must just not allow connection beyond the superficial and simplistic. Quantity over quality, as it were.
It wasn’t until recently when I began to re-interact with local and national Green Beret organizations that I realized what “it” was. I spent the second and third decade of my years developing, first, my life as a civilian. Then I continued through my 30s as a Green Beret. Then I went back to being a civilian, but a civilian who was a Green Beret. It was a surreal social experiment covering pretty much the most extremes of the social spectrum.
Now...despite that wide spanning social confusion, what is the ONE thing that is a constant understanding? What is the ONE thing that is a common denominator?
Being a Vet.
It doesn’t matter if I’m swearing and joking with another Green Beret, counseling an infantryman I’ve never met who is contemplating life-ending options, or if I’m laughing with a fellow firefighter who served as a cook in the Marines. We instantly bond. Some more than others, but that common ground, that shared experience cannot be explained, trivialized or substituted. I hate the cliché, but in regards to serving it is absolutely true, regarding ANY topic that breaches into the Veteran/Service member experience: If you didn’t serve, you won’t get it. It’s not a judgment on a pedestal from on high. It is a bond, an absolute understanding, that has zero comparable substitute.
This doesn’t mean we are all mindless and in constant agreement. That is the farthest from the truth. It is my experience that fellow Vets tolerate the extremes of opinions better than the Vet/civilian combinations I’ve witnessed. I can specifically recall the actions of a fellow Green Beret who partook in an activity (all good and legal; nebulous for protection of anonymity) that I vehemently detested. However, simply because we were of the same ilk, it forced me to calmly evaluate his good intentions. I have been able to support him and his intentions, just not the action specifically. It’s all good. It’s old school simple.
As we progress and digress as a culture and society, the bonding of like-minded individuals is getting more and more diluted daily. Whether the latest topic on this phenomenon is Junger’s ‘Tribe’ or some other study showing that social media has ironically made us less social...the camaraderie of serving one’s country defies the trend of modern, solo-living, cave-dwelling, silent, individuals. This trend is strong and pulls at me daily. However, one of the very few things that maintains and sustains my sense of tribal belonging: talking with another Green Beret, if only for a few minutes. That bond cannot be replaced, broken or sold. It is earned and it is forever.