The Warrior Caste – our tribe. It’s a faded memory, but I can still feel it. Signing my proverbial (maybe more like “literal”) life away in front of that shit-eating recruiter, full of nothing but absolute positivity and that old Marine Corps spirit. Being that young we don’t think of anything that can go wrong with the 4-year commitment we just resigned our own fate to. But we also couldn’t know all the things that would go RIGHT.

Hit that fast forward button to the end, past the pumps downrange and all the pain, hate, anger and joy. It’s 2010 and I’m handed my DD214, still warm from the printer. It smells like ink and cheap paper, but that bitch also smells like absolute freedom. What brought me the most self-resentment is how completely satisfied I was with my decision. Not that I was EASing to the 1st Civ Div, but how happy I was about it. I, like every other dude who has ever gotten out, thought only of how fucking sweet it was going to be as a civilian. No more formations, no more Company First Sergeant and no more bullshit. [Insert maniacal laugh here]. You know what I’m talking about.

A few years into the civilian sector and I was completely depressed and worse, alone. I had the privilege of serving with 2nd Bn. 7th Marines: a unit so highly affected by suicide post-deployment, that it made national news a few years afterward. A LOT of my brothers were dying. I would be straight up lying my ass off to you if I tried to make you think that alone in a dark room, I never held that heater to my dome too. Thoughts of my badass little boy growing up without a dad and my incredible wife having to scoop my cap off the deck however…well that kept the extra pound off the trigger. Thanks, fam.

But there’s something that the prestige and love of being a father and husband still can’t fill. Typing those words makes me feel like the worst kind of asshole, but I know there’s more than one of you hardened fuckers reading this who knows exactly what I mean. It took me years of searching to find it – BELONGING. To be necessary because a group of guys are counting on you to do your job. I prefer to think of it as being a part of the tribe. The tribe has been written about before, but I’m here to emphasize it again to those out there who are like I had once been: lost. Un-necessary. Tribeless.

It’s far too easy for dudes like myself to overlook, or otherwise cast aside the meaning of belonging to your tribe. As they say, you never know what you’ve got until you lose it. A sense of belonging is an essential component to human life – made more profound in our own experience by the fact that our bonds were forged through blood, sweat, smashed beers and staring down with sheer contempt our own mortality. Among the warrior caste, the bond is transcendent over your own blood. We’ve all come together from every walk of life, a spectrum stretching from the dudes coming from wealthy families that had no need to join up, to the dudes scratching their way out of the worst corners of this continent to better themselves. Unfortunately after the wars end, we come home and scatter to the wind…but I’m here to tell you that if you’re not in contact with your tribe, son, you’re wrong. I’m also here to say that new tribes can be found, and that new bonds that make us necessary again can be formed.

Meanwhile, back in my reality, I knew it was time to make a new move. I’d been working a shitty job in manufacturing that I’m (retrospectively) extremely grateful for. That shitty job issued me a compass and protractor and I didn’t hesitate to reverse azimuth my ass out of there. After that, it didn’t take long to figure myself out. I got into LE academy as soon as possible, squared my shit away and got a job on the streets. I found my tribe again, dudes like me who wanted to break shit, jam mags and jack steel. I won’t try to tell you that anything on SWAT is like banging it out in Sangin or conducting platoon-level operations in Now Zad with Abusive 1-1 and dash 2 on station. It’s not, but fuck me if it isn’t just as much fun. Why? Because it’s not the operation that matters, it’s the tribe. It’s the feeling of acceptance for being the type of guys that you and I are. Society has all but neutered the modern man, pushing false belief that manhood, being alpha, is wrong…dwell on that for a minute. The image of what a man should be has been smacked with glitter and poison, causing the newest generation of young blood to believe that being a giant, achieving greatness in any capacity, is somehow wrong and that settling to be a shadowy midget is the only acceptable course of action. Modern society doesn’t just want “people” to feel un-necessary, they want manhood to be un-necessary. When we find a tribe we can escape this fucked up situation. We can feel necessary again…we can feel belonging…and we can push through the hard times, no matter how bad they may get.

So the only advice I can ever provide about feeling lost or purposeless is from what I have lived firsthand. Be true to yourself. Fight and love from the heart. Heal what needs to be healed. Re-find your tribe – a bond that makes you necessary – and give yourself to it.

Mike Ripnifkin is a former Afghan-deployed Marine and filthy PIG with 2/7 SSP and current SWAT dude. MR is happily married to his wife and is the daddy to his own prodigy. When Mike isn’t smacking doors, feeding on general chaos or instilling knowledge to his son, you can usually find him wandering the green mountains of Utah with a chainsaw in hand. He is a complete social abnormality, always comfortable when it’s awkward for you.