It was 1998—the year I turned 21 years old and close to the exact moment the ship I was deployed on entered the waters of the Persian Gulf. At the time, it was the most significant military build-up in U.S. history since Desert Storm.

My mission was to lead a group of Marines in recovering any pilot shot down in our area of operations and neutralize the plane. It was the first time I was issued live grenades. Before taking my position for the next week, I called home.

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