Scott Ostrom served his country as a United States Marine. He was deployed to Iraq twice, and returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dear Fifteen-Year-Old Scott,
You’re living with your dad in Lake Tahoe. You want nothing more than to be with your mom, stepdad, and little brother back in Florida. Mostly because your father has been such a hard-ass. It doesn’t make much sense now, but he has been prepping you to function at high levels of stress and excel at the toughest job the marines has to offer.
You’ll enlist seven days before our president declares war on a country you’ve never heard of. You will excel in boot camp, thanks to the discipline your father taught you. In Iraq, chewing tobacco, standing watch, mortar attacks, cleaning your rifle, Cherry Magazine, driving all night, and shaving your face all come before sleeping—get used to it, kid.
While you’re there you will get a chance to fight. And it will be everything you imagined it could be. Knowing you have a distinct path to travel—dark and hard—will not be any easier because you put your own feet on it knowingly and willingly. You escape with just a few scrapes and bruises. But . . . it will leave invisible wounds you could never have imagined.
When you get home, it will feel like you lived somewhere where the volume was so loud that the silence back home feels deafening, and you’ll want to scream. Some nights you will. Real sleep comes at a premium; mostly what you will get is the agitated side of half sleep—less like sleeping and more like waiting. You’ll experience night sweats, harsh functionings of consciousness, drifting in and out of your head, and a corroded appetite. You will experience simple daily stressors as if they are being cut into you with a razor, and you will either become depressed or explode in a fit of vengeful rage.
Iraq made you tougher than any civilian can imagine. Keep yourself out of county jail by not proving how tough you are to frat boys, bad drivers, and sloppy drunks. Your behavior will make your family and old friends uncomfortable, so embrace your brothers, because they understand you. Once you become a marine, you’ll have friends—wherever you are—right by your side.
You will soon receive the best friend a man coming home from war can have: a service dog from Puppies Behind Bars. His name is Tim and he is trained in over ninety voice commands. This may sound extraordinary, but what’s really metaphysical and amazing about this animal is how he will train you. He will train you to be calm, have empathy, be patient, trust strangers, nurture a loving relationship, laugh with abandon, and so much more. He will be there when you need someone to lean on and wake you up from those bad sleeps of pain and rage with a kiss.
Surround yourself with people that love you and want to understand you—Tim will weed out the undesirables.
Overcoming and adapting to your new environment will set you free. Moving forward, help yourself, and when you’re ready, help your brothers.
You haven’t done the most important thing in your life. Dying doesn’t make you a hero. Never quitting, never surrendering, and never giving up—that makes you a hero.