Entering the service is often an earth-shattering experience, and as the years go by, the lifestyles we once knew can be the equivalent of traveling to a strange foreign country. Things like uniforms, formations, the chain of command, acronyms, yes-sir, at-ease, tango-foxtrot, and the obsession to constantly stay in step with everyone become the standard way of life.
Returning to the old way of things is something very seldom thought about, but when the time comes to make the transition from a soldier to a veteran, it is necessary to lay all the bricks straight to build a solid foundation for when you get ready to take the plunge into the civilian side.
It’s at the beginning of this transition period where a person’s path to success or failure trenches itself in the sand. With enough motivation and determination, one can make the most out the tools and resources given to them. The military knows that service members will eventually be leaving and it has gone to extraordinary measures to make sure that those soldiers do not get left out to dry. Millions of dollars have been allotted to provide transition support. It’s up to you on how you use that support.
When it came time for me to exit the service, I told myself I could either be that guy who develops short-timer’s syndrome and zips his way right to the finish line, just for the sake of finishing. Or I could slow it down and make a plan. Luckily I chose the latter. I used all the spare time I could to develop a plan. And I thank myself for doing it clear to this day.
I spent countless hours digging deep to find what my passions and interests were. I wasn’t a 20-year veteran that was about to retire. I was a 24-year-old young man who gave six years of service and was now about to throw myself into the flames of the real world with no experience as an adult civilian. For this reason, I took it seriously. I watched other soldiers simply coast their way through the process so that they could hurry up and wait to get out.
I, on the other hand, surrounded myself with like-minded soldiers I met while in my transition battalion, most of whom were older and carried double my rank. They understood what it was they wanted out of civilian life. Some were retiring, but others were getting out early as well and seemed to have their ducks in a row on an exit strategy. A lot of their advice still resonates with me to this day, so I highly recommend seeking out answers from your peers to any questions you may have.
This time would be a defining moment for me, as this time was where I made the decision as to what I wanted to do with my life. I wrote and re-wrote lists, and then I threw all of them away and started over. I did this again and again. Eventually, it resulted in a plan for finding a career path, getting a college education, raising my family, a list of where I wanted to live, dreams, and milestones.
With everything out there right in front of me, I felt confident in my choices and had my wife’s blessing. We had a plan for our future, and now it was time to act on it.
Once I had a plan to use as my foundation, I had to make it happen and preferably within the time I had remaining left in service. I had to develop a course of action. Now, I don’t know how all branches of service do things, but the tools and the services that the Army provided to assist in transitioning left me feeling a little spoiled.
From the start, I got placed into a Warrior Transition Battalion. From there I was given a vast amount of resources to help me decide just exactly how I was going to take action on the plan I had created. The Army provided transition counselors who did almost everything you could think of to help you successfully exit the service. They assisted with resume building, job placement, college applications and the GI Bill. They also provided a wealth of information on training programs, job and school fairs, financial planning, veteran benefits, and more.
My particular counselor helped me find a job with a start date right around the time my service ended. He also assisted me in enrolling in college and finding a place to live. Luckily for us, we decided to stay near the same installation that I was ending my military career, so I knew the area and was able to make the transition, knowing that assistance was nearby if I ever needed it.
One may think that this sounds way too easy. “Hey, this guy was given a job and had help with his college application, and was referred to a wonderful community to call home.” But what separated me from others was that I planned my exit strategy like my life depended on it. And hard work certainly paid off.
Eight years later and I continue serving my fellow veterans as a federal employee at the Department of Veteran Affairs. I also own my own business now as an entrepreneur. By planning my exit strategy, I was able to create a path towards success and smash through all the goals and barriers I set for myself. I get to do what I love for a living, and it brings in enough income to allow my wife to stay at home with my two children and raise them in our beautiful home. That, to me, is what makes it all worth it.
Every veteran has their unique story to tell about their transition. If you find yourself having issues adjusting to your new life, just find a vet and talk to them. At times you may feel like you’re in this all alone, but just remember that all of us veterans stick together. You’ll always have us by your side.