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Coming To Terms With The End Of Your Military Service

Transitioning from military to civilian life is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. One minute I was walking down a crowded street in an Iraqi city, rifle at the ready, eyes scanning the people around me for potential threats, and the next, I was walking down a New York City sidewalk trying not to eye the people around me the same way.

When family and friends asked me what it was like to be in the military, I would talk about an old commercial promoting the Marine Corps — the one where blacksmiths fashion a sword that is then wielded by a newly minted Marine.  I used to tell people I felt like that sword — something forged and now razor sharp.

But there are drawbacks to this mindset, to immersing oneself in the military culture for long periods of time. To continue with the sword example, a sword cannot be wielded at all times. It is an instrument for battle. When the battle is over, the sword should be put away. So, when the wars are over, when we leave the battlefield, what do we do? How do we put the sword away and function in the civilian world? These are the questions that run through your mind when you’re sitting there at your desk, typing away at your computer in some corporate job. I served my country proudly in a time of war, now what?

It takes the same mental discipline we learned in training and combat to then turn around and re-integrate into the civilian world and workforce. It’s a place that seems adrift, almost too open with possibilities. You ask, how can I translate my military experiences into a successful career and in what industry, what field? What should I do with the rest of my life?

There are a myriad of transition assistance programs as well as excellent veterans organizations that seek to help you find the answers. They all preach the same things to get that good job: put together a strong resume, learn how to translate your military experiences into skills that employers will understand and value, develop your network through professional associations, family and friends, and of course, be patient and persistent as any job search takes time. And this is all sound advice. It is a necessary part of the process. Unfortunately, it fails to address the one thing that can haunt many veterans — after you get the job, after you get the house in the suburbs, the settled family, the SUV, what then? Do you forget about the past life? Do you repress it like some dark truth?

No one seems to want to talk about the inner turmoil veterans face when completely changing their lives from one of training and engaging in the defense of the nation to one where you live your own life, on your own terms, in the pursuit of career, money, and family. It is disorienting, and ultimately, a bit disheartening.

The only way to effectively deal with this turmoil is to meet it head on — you have to make peace with yourself about your decision to leave military life before you actually do it. I have found that to be the hardest aspect of the entire transition process. The connection to fellow Marines and military people, the sense of pride in our accomplishments, the clear purpose and meaning that you feel your life has, all of that creates a distinct pull that is difficult to resist. But, at some point, we all have to transition. As the Pentagon prepares to drawdown manpower numbers to shift into a peacetime force, it is important to recognize that we cannot and should not develop a permanent warrior class of Americans. We should be citizen soldiers (or Marines in my case). We should be well rounded. We should start families of our own. We pursue our dreams.

While serving in the military can be an incredibly positive experience, it is — as with all of life’s experiences — something that will come to an end for most. Accepting that fact, and the implied consequence that you will have to move on with your life, is the challenge we all must face with the same strength of character and discipline we displayed while serving in the first place.


This article has been modified from its original version, which was published on Task & Purpose, the veterans news and culture site powered by Hirepurpose.

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    Roy Neve

    I retired from the US Army just over four years ago (30 Oct 12), today is 7 Nov 16.  It has been hard for me not knowing what shall I do next after nearly serving 30 years of service.  I attempted to search for employment the first six months with no luck.  I decided to pursue my Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in Human Resources Management since I assisted many of my soldiers & NONCOMs (non-commissioned officer) in convincing them a degree is important in their careers in the service & especially after they depart from the service.  I completed my MBA in 21 months, moved from just outside of Fort Huachuca, Arizona to Central Texas about 35 minutes from San Antonio.  Been here for just over 16 months, employed with four different organizations from full - part time.  Not lasting more than a week to just over three months. Currently, I have been employed with an organization near Austin for over 11 weeks, 40 hours at just over $10.00.  Working as a laborer, unloading boxes from trailers, driving a forklift to include other activities as well.  Not the job that I intended to be in after training troops for combat, instructing soldiers on performing their skills in their newly Military Occupation Specialties, mentoring soldiers & NCO's to be better leaders & soldiers for military service.  Attending multiple job fairs, had family, friends, Veterans Administration, civilian organizations to include the Wounded Warrior Project to assist with my resume. Everyone has a different twist on revising my resume to their way of promoting my skills for potential job employment.  Nothing worked, since I tend to be passed over every time due to having too many qualifications, degrees, skills, language abilities & more.  Employers tend to shy away from me or are timid in hiring me for their organizations.  I carry my business cards with me all the time, to pass out to potential employers as well for individuals that I meet for a possible lead to positions elsewhere and stay on top of my LinkedIn account with contacts & positions that I might be eligible to apply for.

    All I can say to my fellow service members, no matter what branch you served with.  Do everything that the military has taught us to be the best that we can be.  Improvised, adapt & overcome every obstacle that these employers place against us.  We are at war, not being literal but we must attempt to overcome these obstacles and conquer the position that we want to obtain.  We were professionals in performing our jobs in the service & we did it well.  We just need to have the same fortitude that we had in the military & apply these same skills into the civilian world.  Some of our service members are able to slide into positions better than the rest of us.  Since many of us are still struggling to fit in, not just in the civilian world but life entirely.

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