Note To Self: An Iraq War vet advises his 21-year-old self, on the eve of war


(CBS News) 27-year-old Alex Horton is an Iraq war veteran of the U.S. Army. From 2006 to 2007, he served for 15 months as an infantryman with the 3rd Stryker Brigade. Today, he works for the Department of Veteran's Affairs and is finishing his degree as an English major at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

In anticipation of Veteran's Day on November 11, Horton wrote a note to his 21-year-old self, ahead of his deployment to Iraq.

Watch the "CBS This Morning" video above and read Horton's Note to Self below: 

To my 21 year old self, on the eve of war,

I know you have a lot on your mind right now, but I need to tell you a few things before you take that bird into Iraq.

Now you're sitting in Kuwait drinking warm near-beer for your 21st birthday, wondering what combat is going to be like, and if you're going to keep calm when that first bullet cracks over your head. You're worried about making a mistake that gets someone killed. But you're going to be fine. Your training will kick in. You'll watch your platoon's back, and for the rest of your life, they'll have yours.

But some of your brothers are going to die out there. It's not only part of combat, but life itself. something hard for you to understand right now. I don't want to tell you who is going to be killed. I want you to cherish every moment you have with your buddies. I want you to savor it. Let their presence linger. Remember what their laugh sounds like. Remember what their dreams were. Someday, when you're back home, you'll have to live for them.

You're going to be in Iraq for 15 long months, but it's going to take the rest of your life to come home. Remember mom talking about grandpa having issues 40 years after the Korean War? He had it much worse than you, but you will see many of the same things he did. That's a strange thing about war. It never changes, and it will never leave the air.

Nothing I can say will prepare you for life back in the states. Running water and supermarkets will feel like decadent luxuries. The warm touch of a woman will feel so good that it'll be almost unbearable. But your heightened senses will also betray you. Crowded bars will suffocate you. Loud noises in the night will launch you out of bed and into the embrace of a pistol. But it's up to you if it's going to be a point of strength or a point of weakness. But every night gets easier, and after a while, you'll sleep like a rock most nights.

Despite some challenges, the Army and the war will give you more than they took. You know when I said the guys in the platoon will always be there for you? They're your best friends now, but what's about to happen up north will forge something greater than friendship, even greater than love. You will be linked to them forever. Keep that in mind when they call. You'll need to lean on them when no one else will understand.

And this might be the most important lesson: remember to enjoy the gift of life your fallen comrades will give you. Slow down once in a while. See what the world looks like without a rifle in your hands.

You don't know it yet, but someday you'll be looking for peace. And you'll find it.

Alex Horton
Veterans Day 2012