A number of years ago, a friend and I were discussing our pending retirements from the Army. I was about a month away from leaving and he was about nine months out. At one point, I told my friend that “there’s no such thing as a 75-year-old man in the Army and that everyone eventually has to transition out.
If everyone before us could do it, so can we.
And we did, even though leaving from under that security blanket of the military culture was a tough thing. I’ve learned three major things since I retired:
A lifelong endeavor
The hardest thing in my military service was when I began the transition back to civilian life and realized I must learn to be what I never was: an Official Adult Civilian.
Most of us enter the service before we’re 20, and it’s a well-known fact that the adult brain doesn’t fully develop until your late 20s. This means that those who stay in that long, their brain finished the entire last third of its development after entering military culture. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just different than what happens for civilians. And the difference is striking when you live it.
The difference between your personal and professional identity
The difference between the personal and professional identity is another hurdle I’m trying to overcome.
I realized about four years after I retired that I was still thinking of myself as an operator and not necessarily as a husband and father or even as a good friend. Think about it like this: The day I retired, I had 25 years and 16 days service, had been married for 21 of those years and had only 19 years as a human under my belt before I signed up.
Plus, all my children were under the age of 20.
I had more years as a soldier than I did as a husband, father, or civilian. I had to make a concentrated effort to tackle that, and it’s something I work on still today.
What feels personal is probably universal
I borrow a quote from the great Bob Delaney, a former New Jersey state trooper who worked undercover for three years to infiltrate an organized crime group: “What’s personal is universal.”
A few years back, I was truly blessed to work on a small contract that the Army did, conducting training courses called APET (Army Profession and Ethic Training). Delaney speaks on the topic of post-traumatic stress, about which he is an expert. Speaking of those dark days that many of us go through, whether due to PTSD or something else, he says that even though we all think we suffer in our own private torture chamber, the reality is that those feelings are universal to a lot of people.
Many non-military folks suffer from similar stress; law enforcement and firefighters come first to mind for me. But people who have suffered other troubles – like deaths in their families or violent car accidents or miscarriages or many other things – can all experience this stress post trauma.
At the end of the day, my experience has been that the best things most of us can do post military are to keep contact with at least a couple buddies from our time in service, talk to them and share what’s going on in our lives. And be honest about the fact that sometimes we need help.
Be courageous about it and take the chance to start the conversation. You’ll be glad you did.
Support is available
You are not alone. If you’re going through a tough time, such as transitioning from military service and need support, the Veterans Crisis Line is available anytime, day or night. You can even call if you’re concerned about a fellow Veteran.
Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or text 838255.
Jason Beighley is a retired U.S. Army tier one operator. He left the service in 2009 as a sergeant major after 25 years. His operational time included missions in Mogadishu in 1993 (Black Hawk Down), the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He currently works full time as a trainer/coach, focusing on tactics, marksmanship, leadership, planning, and other topics.