Launching a new careers after military service can be a frightening experience.

Over 40 years ago, age 21, I made a transition from Army sergeant to civilian. As eager as I was to exit the Army, I felt like I was jumping into the total unknown – job, school, everyday¬† life. I made it all the way through high school as a civilian, but now I was terrified at the idea of jumping into the “unknown.”

I went directly to school.

I was a sergeant in the Army and had spent the last five years of my enlistment in various leadership positions. At Northrop Grumman, I was now at the bottom of the totem pole. Now I was the one being told what to do, and my decision-making authority was pretty much nonexistent. This was difficult to swallow, especially since I felt like I had earned those rights through my actions in the military. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I quickly learned that no one really cares what you accomplished while you were in the military once you are a civilian. Awards and esteem mean nothing to most people outside of the military. This was the hardest part of the adjustment to civilian life for me.

While I was in the military I was able to accomplish a lot. I was promoted fast, awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, met the president of the United States, shook hands with senators, worked in elite units — you name it, I probably did it. I was a forward observer and I was very good at my job. I was in peak physical condition, I traveled the world on “adventure” after “adventure,” but that didn’t mean anything when it came to working in an office. Now I was supposed to be well versed in PowerPoint and tact, I was supposed to teach others a skill set in which I was once blazing a trail. This was hard to swallow and it took a toll, not only on my mental state, but also my marriage.

I was unhappy with the lack of adventure in my life, and I took it out on everyone around me. I argued with my wife, I blamed her for “making me get out of the Army,” I closed myself off to friends, assuming that they just didn’t understand, I drank more than I should have, I was an emotional mess. I looked for outlets like going to the gym, hiking through the mountains and running, but none of it worked. I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, like I was now a wasted talent. It wasn’t until a reunion with one of my teams from the Army that I realized what it was that I needed to help me get through the transition.

Just sitting and talking to those guys, the ones I fought side-by-side with in the mountains of Afghanistan, was the answer to my mental anguish. They understood what I was going through, they knew what I did while I was in the Army and this was all without having to say a word. Through talking with them I realized that it doesn’t matter who knows what you have done in your past, as long as you know and you are proud of it. You have to take solace in the fact that yesterday is yesterday and today is a day to create a new yesterday, a new memory. Every day is a chance to add to and build your legacy.

They helped me realize that the key to making a successful transition to civilian life is knowing that your military experience is not what will ultimately define who you are. Jobs will come, employers will value your work ethic and you will grow with the right company once you find it. You just have to put forth the same desire and motivation into the civilian world that you did in the military world.


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