How can I best serve this country?

February 07 2014

Tyler Durden was right: "You met me at a really strange time in my life." My life changed drastically in the last 72 hours, including this email. So, if I may, let me ask for a bit of help.

Here's my story. I am a 22 year old graduate of MIT from Scarsdale, NY. In 6 weeks I am supposed to leave for the Army Special Forces selection and training. It's been quite the curious road, initially declining service academies and attending MIT, then spurning more "traditional" occupations to enlist. I have spent months with family and friends trying to help them understand and cope with my decision. However, 16 hours before being told it was "my turn" to speak to all of you, I was informed that my application was placed on hold because my vision (I'm colorblind) wouldn't pass muster. It got me to quite a bit of thinking - I wanted to enlist to serve and help those in need in a direct manner. For those of you who find this incongruous, I urge you to look up what Green Berets actually do, look up unconventional warfare, and recalibrate from your visions of Rambo.

Aside from the discipline, camaraderie and everything else I sought out from service, I (admittedly, and somewhat proudly) naively believe that individuals who wish to serve must do so in both direct and indirect ways. Basically, don't just do hands on work like Habitat in more individualistic settings and forget about larger scale movements like grassroots campaigns and supporting larger causes. The converse holds true as well - don't stay large-scale without getting your hands dirty. My decision to serve as a Green Beret went to helping serve those in need currently under the yoke of oppression and without freedoms. I wished to dedicate a legal career after my service to the more large-scale.

Given the hold-up in my enlistment, I have been forced to now at least consider other opportunities while I wait to hear back, be it in the service or outside of it. As such, here's where I would greatly appreciate the advice and the help:

The more information about unique programs and opportunities to get my hands dirty, the better. Sure, everyone and their mother has heard of Teach for America or the Peace Corps. Those and many other famous programs are fantastic and I wholeheartedly endorse them and all of those who take part as people who, like me, are just trying to help make a difference and pay it forward.

But what are some of the "deep cut" type of programs, great things that deserve to be more widespread and have more participants. Especially pending my application's review, I may not be able to pursue my military career (at least not in Special Forces) and as such may ultimately choose to participate in those to fulfill my internal compulsion to do some good hands-on work.
That said, to hear a bit more about me, Special Forces, and why I choose that route over any other, ping me. I'd love to talk about it and hear all thoughts and advice.

Other quick hits:

1) Shoutouts to Jack Wanderman, also MIT '13, for getting me hooked on listserve, and Crosby Steiner for helping me find my words.

2) Whenever you want to get to know someone, particularly a mentor, there are three questions you really should ask:

a) What's your favorite book?
b) What's your favorite novel?
c) If you weren't doing what you were doing, what would you do instead?

3) To stay humble and motivated, consider the following:

No matter what you are doing in life, you were not the strongest or smartest or best positioned, but neither were you the weakest or dumbest or worst positioned. Always remember that whenever you hit either extreme highs or extreme lows to keep you even keel and humming.

De Oppresso Liber ("To Liberate the Oppressed," U.S. Army's Special Forces Motto)

[email protected]
Scarsdale, NY

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