Before he was wielding lightsabers in Star Wars or blowing up Twitter with Marriage Story, Adam Driver was a Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company, 81's platoon, out in Camp Pendleton, California.
"I joined a few months after September 11, feeling like I think most people in the country did at the time, filled with a sense of patriotism and retribution and the desire to do something," he stated in his opening remarks.
He joined the Marines and found that he loved it.
"Firing weapons was cool, driving and detonating expensive things was great. But I found I loved the Marine Corps the most for the thing I was looking for the least when I joined, which was the people: these weird dudes -- a motley crew of characters from a cross section of the United States -- that on the surface I had nothing in common with. And over time, all the political and personal bravado that led me to the military dissolved, and for me, the Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends," he shared, voicing the brotherhood that many veterans feel while in service.
Then, months before deploying to Iraq, he dislocated his sternum in a mountain-biking accident and was medically separated.
My journey from Marine to actor | Adam Driver
"Those never in the military may find this hard to understand, but being told I wasn't getting deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan was very devastating for me," he confessed.
Those of us who wore the uniform but never deployed know exactly what he means.
It's a different type of survivor's guilt, a common response to surviving a life-threatening situation. In this case, it's about not even going into that situation. In the eighteen years since the 9/11 attacks, our military has kept a high deployment tempo. Many of our friends never returned.
And for those of us left behind — whether because our mission was elsewhere in the world or, like Driver, we were medically ineligible for combat — well, it's a shitty feeling.
"I have a very clear image of leaving the base hospital on a stretcher and my entire platoon is waiting outside to see if I was OK. And then, suddenly, I was a civilian again," blinked Driver.
"It's a powerful thing, getting in a room with complete strangers and reminding ourselves of our humanity, and that self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder." Or a lightsaber at your hip?
"I was surprised by how complex the transition was from military to civilian. And I was relatively healthy; I can't imagine going through that process on top of a mental or physical injury. But regardless, it was difficult," he shared, voicing what many veterans have felt after their service.
He struggled with finding a job. "I was an Infantry Marine, where you're shooting machine guns and firing mortars. There's not a lot of places you can put those skills in the civilian world," he joked.
He also struggled with finding meaning in acting school while his friends were serving without him overseas.
"Emotionally, I struggled to find meaning. In the military, everything has meaning. Everything you do is either steeped in tradition or has a practical purpose. You can't smoke in the field because you don't want to give away your position. You don't touch your face -- you have to maintain a personal level of health and hygiene. You face this way when "Colors" plays, out of respect for people who went before you. Walk this way, talk this way because of this. Your uniform is maintained to the inch. How diligently you followed those rules spoke volumes about the kind of Marine you were. Your rank said something about your history and the respect you had earned."
Find out more about how he went from Marine to actor in the video above — and how he has found peace in service after service — in the video above.