When I left the military, I expected it to be easy. I had only served for six years, and I was leaving to stay at home with my son. And while I easily underestimated how much work it is to raise a child, I also was unprepared for all the emotions I would feel when taking off the uniform for the last time. I wasn’t prepared for losing my identity as a service member, airman, captain, civil engineer and more. It was all gone. And you would think I would have known this was coming. I was getting out of the military and starting a new path. But you can only prepare so much for the transition out of the military. You hang up your uniform for the last time and say goodbye to the years of hard work and dedication to begin something new. There just isn’t any way you can know everything about how this transition will affect you.
The Military Transition Hits Everyone Differently
I have talked to enough veterans to know that transitioning out of the military is hard for almost everyone. And the bummer is that there is no secret formula on what part of the change that will be the most impactful to you. For you, it might be the loss of community, but for someone else, it might be losing the purpose you felt while serving. Others may struggle to find the right career or even any job after leaving. There are so many different life circumstances and mental health challenges that you can’t actually prepare for until you have left the military. It just makes it really hard.
For me, I felt betrayed by the military. The Transition Assistance Program course I was required to take was only focused on finding the next career with a couple hour brief about the benefits of serving in the military. Instead of spending time focusing on utilizing benefits or talking about emotions, it was all focused on finding a job. Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to understand my earned military benefits. And fortunately things have changed for service members. But I still think that each branch’s transition program can continue to change and get better to help transitioning members.
But I feel like there is a misnomer out there that if you prepare for your transition out of the military by finding the right career field, preparing financially, and checking all the boxes, that somehow this change won’t be hard. It ignores dealing with the emotions of what leaving the military means – the good, the bad, or a mix of both.
The truth is you cannot prepare for everything, and you should not expect to know things about how the change will affect you. Many veterans I have talked to have felt it has taken three to five years to find their footing after military service. Sometimes they are embarrassed to admit how long it took. But when we look into how brain formation works– specifically, that the last stage of development happens between ages 18-22, we see that the pivotal years happen to be when most members are going through their bootcamp and first assignment. It makes sense why leaving is so challenging. And if your adult life has been the military, becoming a civilian is a different world and experience.
Good Resource in Making the Transition
What I have found to be the best resource is to talk to other veterans. Get involved in veteran organizations in your community. It can be national organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. But it can also be smaller organizations either in your community or focused on a specific aspect of service that connects with you. Figure out what you are passionate about and then find an organization. And if there isn’t one, you can always work to create your own group to connect with like-minded people.
There are so many resources out there to help veterans as they transition. And that is because transitioning out of the military is hard. But if you reach out for help, it can make that change a little bit easier. And when you find the community it can change your future for the better.
It’s important to remember that there are a lot of great resources available to help make the transition.