Michael Chan's life changed when the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center hit close to his lower east side Manhattan home.
"It was pretty horrific. You could hear the fire ambulances on FDR Drive," Chan said in ABC's Stand Up For Heroes series. "I thought to myself, you know, I want to make a difference. I knew on my 18th birthday, I would enlist."
"I think it was more of a shock at first," he added. "I didn't really understand what was going on. But I knew that I had to learn quick."
While many of Chan's peers were pursuing a higher education, he joined the Marines. Chan served two tours in Fallujah, Iraq, where he served as explosive ordinance security, combat security detachment for the U.S. Army, artillery support for the Al Anbar province and provisional infantry on foot.
Chan served in Fallujah from April 2004 to April 2008, during some of the hottest moments the area experienced.
"I guess we were mentally prepared, but at the same time, it's different when you're actually there in the fight," he said.
Since returning home from duty, Chan suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
"Paranoia is one of the biggest things I've had to deal with coming home. Being able to sleep. Been having a hard time. Just having dreams and cold sweats," he said. "You can hear, like, bombs go off. It feels very real at night in the dream."
During his time in Iraq, Chan discovered a new hobby, filmmaking. He shot personal videos of his duty, which he used for documentaries and films. The videos were "a moral booster" for Chan and his colleagues.
"It was a comical relief," he said. "Especially when you're at war, you can't always think about combat. You have to, at times, you have to decompress."
After he was discharged from service in April 2008, Chan graduated from LaGuardia Community College in New York City. He received scholarships that included the Horatio Alger Military scholarship, the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce award, and the Hollywood Post Alliance scholarship.
In fall 2010 Chan was admitted to the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a Bachelors degree in cinema and television production.
"I found a passion in making films because I thought, you know, Someone laughed at my work and it was good," Chan said. "People enjoyed my work and I felt this happiness inside me that I thought, Man, maybe I could turn film into a career. I just kept working hard at it, until I got here to USC."
Chan is working with Victoria Alonso, the executive vice president of Visual Effects at Marvel, to hone his skills as a filmmaker. He recently finished a short film titled, "Choice" about a young boy who decides to enlist in the military after Sept. 11.
Chan is currently working on featured length script titled, "End of Active Service."
"I want to make films that are honest. I want to inspire people with my work," he said. "I want to tell stories that will change people, stories that matter. I want to make a difference."