I think of my time in the Marine Corps every day. It was an exceptional adventure that forever changed my life. The process of earning the title “Marine” is an existential transformation because the Corps is more than just a branch of our US military – the Marine Corps is a fierce, modern tribe with a collective, ancient soul.
Having been out of her active ranks for a few years now, I realize in retrospect that the Marine Corps was also the most elite life-school. Our classroom was often the unforgiving desert, the unrelenting surf zone or the unfamiliar, violent and faraway city street. And our school’s most important lesson was selflessness.
Armed with the belief that we are stronger together than alone, our Marine tribe has patrolled hell on earth time and time again with the understanding that we must, above all else, accomplish the mission before us and take care of one another.
Victory – our very survival – depends on this moral certainty. And so the Marine Corps’ enduring sermon is simple and profound and often lost on many in this modern age: that a noble life is one dedicated to the simple service of our fellow man.
In this way, it is an elegant and ironic twist that the most important thing the Marine Corps taught me had so much less to do with war and so much more to do with love.
It’s a remarkable thing for me to be reflecting on my time in the Marine Corps this Veteran’s Day from a small room in a small village in southwest Nyanza Province, Kenya, as an employee of Nuru International.
Nuru is an innovative social enterprise founded by my dear friend and fellow Marine, Jake Harriman. Nuru is building the world’s first self-sustaining, self-scaling, integrated development model to end extreme poverty.
It’s an incredible undertaking and something strange is happening…it’s working!
It’s working because our Nuru Kenya staff understands the need here, and they are equipped and empowered by Nuru to design solutions to meet that need, innovate past challenges, and adapt and scale their model to effect real and meaningful impact in the lives of their fellow Kenyans they serve.
It feels as though I’ve joined a revolution, and it’s as exciting as any combat mission I’ve ever been on in the past…but with a much higher chance of long-term success.
Before meeting Jake and working at Nuru, I never made the link between the importance of empowering people to have a “meaningful choice” and the decisions that follow in absence of that choice.
But now, reflecting on all of my deployments fighting insurgents, Al Qaeda and Somali pirates, it all makes perfect sense. I’m honored to take my place next to these fine professionals…damn few. This is our next war, after all.
Aside from a few minor and entertaining military to civilian cultural adaptions (more details on this, I assure you, next time), it’s been a natural fit to join my civilian brothers and sisters who have been fighting this war in the development world since they left college.
This was their original calling. They wear no uniforms, carry no arms, but they are world-patriots and I’ve since realized theirs is also a warrior’s path. They also seek to fight to serve their fellow man.
Nuru has done something transformative in aligning the values and warriors of the Marine Corps and the values and warriors of the Peace Corps…for the first time in the history of development Army veterans like Barry Mattson and Peace Corps veterans like Douglas La Rose join together in places like Zefine, Ethiopia to fight this ugly war together. And we’re a much better poverty-fighting unit for that seemingly unnatural union.
Each time I walk in the shambas out here I can’t help thinking about walking the combat patrols in Al Anbar Province. The sun feels the same. The sound of the crackling dirt beneath my boots feels the same. The looks of desperation on those I see along the way feels the same.
The difference now is we have no body armor between us and those in need. No Oakley sunglasses. No guns. No armored trucks and bulletproof glass…only the Nuru model, the commitment of our dedicated staff and a shared belief that we are stronger together than we are alone.
And so on this Veteran’s Day, I can’t stop thinking about ”the other warrior,” our country’s other brave veteran: the development worker.
They are unsung heroes in this world and deserve a moment of reflection and respect alongside our uniformed veterans. As I stand beside these men and women – these warriors – I think about how much my heart swelled when, as a young leader in combat, I realized that the words from my beloved Shakespeare – honor, obligation, courage, sacrifice – became more than mere poetry.
I realized that these were things I actually saw, each day, in the routine execution of the duties of men and women who knew that the most important thing was to serve others. And now, having joined the ranks of these fine development warriors, expat and Kenyan, I can say that I am honored to know that Shakespeare’s poetry has been given human form and meaning by their daily habit as well.
In our new war, I’m truly honored to join their ranks and continue the fight.