I always wanted to be a superhero.
When I was five years old, I began combing my hair with a single curled lock smeared onto the middle of my forehead, mimicking Christopher Reeves' hairstyle in the 1990s Superman movies.
Each day, as soon as I'd get home from kindergarten, I'd throw the bright red cape Mom stitched together for me over my shoulders and dart and flash about the house, climbing and leaping off of furniture, half believing I could take flight any second.
I kept up that practice until we moved to Manitou Springs the summer before my third grade year.
Behind our new house was a great deep ditch carved by rainwater running off the mountain. A tall, crooked oak tree leaned out over it with a rope swing hanging from the trunk.
My little brother Andy and I spent countless hours swinging, twirling, and flipping around on that rope, attempting to recreate Toby Maguire's aerial acrobatics in Spiderman, my new superhero obsession.
But when I left elementary school, I realized I had to get a little more realistic about my future career ambitions. Now that I was in middle school all the teachers were talking about high school, and once they start talking about high school, they can't help but talk about college.
Around that same time, I made a leap in reading level from Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia to Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne Trilogy and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell.
I became enthralled with the world of international espionage and military special operations. Sam Fisher and Jason Bourne replaced Superman and Spiderman as my fictional idols.
The ambition of being a spy was in much closer reach than being Spiderman, but it wouldn't be without its challenges.
Nearly every one of Ludlum's and Clancy's protagonists were former Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers or Force Recon Marines, so I knew that's where I had to start. And by Christmas of my junior year of high school, I'd made up my mind that the Ranger route was the one for me.
I'd given up on being a superhero. Now I wanted to be a super-soldier: to dedicate my life to becoming the best of the best and taking the fight to the baddest of the bad, until at last I'd rid the world of Evil and there would be Liberty and Justice for All.
My mom, my teachers, coaches, and NJROTC instructors all wanted me to go to college.
But I was seventeen and I knew better.
I signed the dotted line, and six days after high school graduation, I was on a plane to Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
To sum up time as an Army Ranger: I wouldn't trade it for anything . . . but I would never do it again.
I learned how to be disciplined and organized. I learned to pay attention to detail, think fast, and make decisions under pressure. I learned how to be a leader and how far I could push myself - that most of my limitations were self-imposed. And I made friends that will last a lifetime - friends that have become family.
I also witnessed and committed horrors.
I physically abused my body extensively and subjected my mind desensitizing, dehumanizing training.
I terrorized innocent people in their homes.
I killed as young as I was. Kid's caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - just like I was.
The more my experiences in the military didn't line up with the narrative I'd been told by reporters, politicians, and pastors, the more disillusioned I became, and by my third deployment, I was on a quest for the Truth.
I spent many sleepless nights that summer of 2012, reading books and watching YouTube videos.
I researched history, politics and economics, spirituality, quantum physics and conspiracy theories.
I read everything from Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges to Alex Jones and Matt Drudge, from Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand, from C.S. Lewis to Alan Watts, Adam Smith to Karl Marx, the Bible to the Tao de Ching.
I filled my Amazon Kindle at least five times over with books, checking sources, debunking conspiracies, and separating fact from theory.
In a few months, my entire worldview was turned on its head.
I wasn't a noble warrior, fighting for Liberty and Justice or Freedom and Democracy; I was a mercenary fighting for corporate profits.
The people of the Middle East don't hate our freedom; they hate our bullets, bombs and drone strikes.
I'd been manipulated by the media's propaganda.
When I signed the dotted line at seventeen, I thought I was on the path of the Jedi. In truth, I was a stormtrooper for the Dark Side.
Now, after four years in service of the Empire, I want to tear it down.
Today, we have the technology to build a society our ancestors could have only hopelessly dreamed of - a society where war and exploitation, poverty and oppression, law, politics, and policing are mere memories of a dark and distant past.
If we can muster the will - if we can overcome the divisive tactics of the Powers That Be and unite as one human family - we can rebuild the Earth into a second Garden of Eden.
That's the future I want to see.
That's the world I want my children to grow up in.
That's the world I'm fighting for.