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After the fast lane, this Army Veteran slows his roll

Ren Stanley
Ren Stanley, via @Ren_stanley_boat_design on Instagram
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Ren Stanley with his boat "Patience."

Army veteran Ren Stanley joined the Army when he was 22, hoping to find a sense of direction.

"I’m this broke college student, not really motivated," recalled Stanley. "I feel super guilty that I'm blowing all my parents’ money in college. I was in college for four years and I had 45 credit hours. I always felt like there was more to life than this sort of a stigmatized cookie cutter pathway. I showed up to the recruiter’s office and for the first time in my life I kinda took responsibility. One of the jobs that I took was 88 Mike, is what they call it, and that was a heavy wheeled motor vehicle operator, which is a fancy way of saying I was a truck driver."

He was stationed in Iraq. His squad transported water bottles, ammo, tanks, and materials for building new posts on the Syrian border.

"I thought my job was going to be a support job, where we're not going to have any kind of issues," said Stanley.

"We're not going to be in combat, but what I learned was that we were the fucking combat, said Stanley. "Every time we went outside of the wire, we're getting hit by IEDs, and our convoys were stopped. We ran all of our missions at night, because it's too hot during the day, trucks overheat and that it’s a little bit safer at night. The mission was to just get in these damn trucks and then transport this stuff."

"I saw a fuel truck get hit one time by an IED and ignite. The whole goddamn horizon just lit up with fire, it was unreal."

Stanley left the military in 2009. He had joined as an unmotivated student. Now, he says, he’s an adrenaline junkie.

"I feel like the military puts an animal inside of you," said Stanley. "And you don't ever domesticate that. And it's almost like a discomfort. So, I got a crotch rocket, I was going 160 miles an hour down the interstate, zooming in and out of traffic, and I realized I was gonna kill myself. So, I sold that bike and I got out of that. And I moved to Florida, I tried to literally redefine myself and discover myself."

And what he discovered was boat building. Which gave him income. And a source of peace.

"I've been fishing down here quite a bit," said Stanley. "And I wanted a better boat. And all the boats were super expensive. I was like, how is a 17-foot piece of fiberglass $60,000? I started studying this guy, Chris Moore John, he was an old school naval architect. And he was building these models. I was so in love with that idea. I was just enamored by the serenity of it, all the peacefulness of being on the water, the sort of renaissance man-feel to building something with your hands. I learned how to build boats on the first boat. Now I was like well I'm gonna improve it, that's when I built a second boat. That's what the military does. It propelled me to do things that I never would have done before. My biggest adversary in life has always been me. It’s always been fear."

He says what he saw in Iraq gave him an appreciation for life.

"Every day people are afraid," said Stanley. "'Well, I don’t know if I should take that job. I've always wanted to do this. And I've always wanted to do this.'" And the reality of it is, those people that always wanted to do that, or always wanted to do that, they're going to take the safe way out, live out the rest of their life, and die never doing the thing that they ever wanted to do. And after seeing how quickly life can be taken, you're here one minute, and you're gone the next. It's like, what do you want to do with this life? What's the meaning of life? I think everybody’s meaning of life is just to live fucking life. Live life, do it. You know, because what else is there?"