Should I Get Out of the Military?
Putting a Monumental Decision into Perspective for Servicemembers.
It’s 2100 on a Friday. Your unit just returned from a two-week field problem this morning and you spent the day working your ass off doing recovery ops. You finally get released, and the barracks get rowdy with everyone pre-gaming before hitting the stickiest bar within five minutes of the gate. Then your phone rings. Someone lost a DAGR/NVGs/ M4/Javelin/Stryker/Private. Suddenly a weekend of hangovers, Xbox, and a decent shot at one of your buddies contracting an STD is gone. Replacing it is a weekend spent at the unit, on lockdown, until some guy, who probably wishes he was dead right about now, finds whatever he lost five days ago.
Inevitably the motto of the day becomes: “fuck this shit, I’m getting out!”
Of course you are. No one likes weekends spent at the unit. No one likes PT at 0500, in the cold, with no hat, and no gloves, all because according to the CSM, it is “only January”. No one likes motor pool maintenance and sexual harassment briefings. No one. These are good enough reasons to get out of the military, right? Not really.
Take a breath, every one wants to get out of the military at 5am.
If you are getting out of the military in search of an easy life, you’re going to have a bad time. Nothing in this life is easy — if you find your life to be easy and you’re not retired or ridiculously rich, you’re probably messing up. Easy is knowing your job will be there tomorrow. Easy is knowing you and your family have health insurance. Easy is knowing you will always have a roof (or a tent, or a woobie, or a 6-inch layer of depleted uranium armor) over your head. Easy is relative. Until you’re done working in life, easy doesn’t exist. Bad days are bad days; they aren’t going away. A bad day for a civilian may seem laughable to you now, but a few months out of the military and the fact someone screwed up your coffee order is really going to piss you off.
The people who get out of the military strictly because they are tired of being told what to do, tired of PT, tired of deploying and going to the field, tired of not being able to smoke weed, tired of having to go to work etc., are the same ones on facebook two months later reliving their glory days. “I would join again in a heartbeat!” — he won’t. “Don’t get out, there’s no jobs out here!” — bullshit, everyone else lives out here. Most live just fine. “I hope shit kicks off with ISIS, I’m ready!!!” — bro, you weigh 300 pounds now.
The first question someone should ask themselves when considering getting out of the military is whether or not they’re squared away. If you suck at the military, you’re probably going to suck at civilian life. Do you show up on time, do your job well, remember the things you’re supposed to remember, and progress at a normal rate? Be honest. The military provides a level of guidance unheard of in the civilian world. No one cares out here. No one is going to wake you up, make sure you fulfill your responsibilities, pay your bills, and go to your appointments. If you fail to do these things out here, you won’t get any corrective action, you’ll just fail. I can not emphasize this enough — if you are getting in trouble in the military for being late, lazy, irresponsible or any other form of fucking up, do not get out.
Whether you realize it not, all those ass-chewings, counseling statements, and push-ups are enormous favors being extended to you. The military gives you second, third, 27th chances. Stay in, improve yourself, and get right while enjoying job security and a paycheck on Uncle Sam. Get out with these habits, and you will know pain unlike any you’ve felt before. Ask yourself truthfully, does this apply to you? If it does, be happy, now you know what to do. Take some more time, get right, and get out ready to kick some ass.
There are some people who define themselves as Soldiers (or Marines, or Sailors etc.) This is who they are. This is their identity. This is the first thing people find out about them. This is what they see when they look in the mirror. They may even own some articles of clothing that ensure that everyone around sees it too. Then there are those of us who tried to balance our military identities with civilian identities. We were individuals, normal people, as well as military members. However, when you get out, whether you are a super hooah/moto person or a “this is just my job” person, the fact is, you will lose a significant portion of your identity. You can’t prepare for it, but you should be aware of it. I consider myself a pretty self-aware person and I was caught off-guard by this. It took me a few weeks to recognize what was happening, and when I did realize it, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. In a single day you will go from being entirely extraordinary to being alarmingly ordinary. And if you’re like me, you may not have ever known how extraordinary of a position you were in, until you weren’t — until you see life from this side again.
Do you have a plan? No? Re-up.
You need to plan this. You should’ve been planning this from the day you graduated basic. If you are under one year out from separation and you don’t have a detailed plan, you are in trouble. While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss what qualifies as a plan:
“My sister’s husband’s cousin says he can get me a job at ______.” Not a plan.
“Triple canopy.” Not a plan.
“I’m going to school.” For what? “I don’t know.” Not a plan.
“I’m going to school.” For what? “Engineering.” Cool. Have you started your GI Bill yet? “No.” Not a plan.
“I’m gonna wing it, fuck this shit” Good luck, bro.
A plan should contain the following: budgets, housing plans, an offer of employment and/or an acceptance letter to a college with a certificate from the VA saying your GI Bill benefits have begun, healthcare plans, childcare plans, transportation plans, and numerous other things I will go further into depth on in future articles. Just remember the old, tired, adage: failing to plan is planning to fail.
So what you’re saying is, I should stay in the military.
Not at all my friend. The two best decisions of my life so far (aside from marrying my amazing wife, which by the way if you can get one these, they make transitioning a lot easier) are as follows:
1. Joining the military when I did.
2. Leaving the military when I did.
There is a myriad of reasons to get out of the military, but the only one that matters is that you have a general concept of what you want to do next, you know how you’re going to do it, and you believe you’re ready to execute. When some wonderful person hands you your DD-214, I hope you can say this:
“I have learned a lot from my time in the military. It has made me a stronger, more effective individual. I have a good idea of what I want to do next in my life, and I am ready to take the necessary steps to achieve my goals.”
If you can’t say this when you get out, you might be in trouble. If you can, then the world is yours.
The free world is amazing. I do pretty much whatever I want. All I have to do is handle my business when I need to handle it. However, it requires effort to stay focused, to stay driven, to stay disciplined. It’s up to me to motivate myself, it’s up to me to decide to do the work I need to do, it’s up to me to find purpose in my existence.
Veterans get bored. Life in the military is fast paced and dynamic. Each day brings different challenges. Your civilian life is as dynamic as you make it. If you’re not careful, you will find yourself with an extremely boring, repetitive, and tedious life. Groundhog day. You may think you will enjoy this, but you probably won’t. This past Christmas (2014) my university had a one-month recess. One month! Having gotten out the Army earlier in the year without taking much of a break before going to school, I decided to specifically do nothing for a month. Sounds great, right? Worst month of my life. Idle hands make for shitty Veterans. We have grown accustomed to leading a busy life, full of purpose and challenges, and in order to be happy in our civilian lives, we must find a way to manufacture these things for ourselves.
No retreat, no surrender.
Here is the best news you’ll hear all day: if you’re a Veteran, if you realize what your worth, if you know what you deserve, and you are willing to take the steps to motivate, focus, and discipline yourself — then you my friend are an unstoppable force. Our civilian friends are wonderful people, but, in general, they are no match for us. The lazy? We eat their lunch. The weak? We eat their lunch. The excuse-making, entitled, unmotivated millennial? Guess what? We eat their fucking lunch. We know challenge, we know effort, we know resiliency, we know how to win. Where there is challenge, the strong see opportunity. This world is rife with challenges, and no group of individuals is better prepared to meet these challenges than the American Veteran.
Don’t rush haphazardly into the civilian world. Plan, plan, and plan again. If you need more time, that’s ok, take more time. You will struggle, life will hit you in the mouth. Keep moving. Know your worth, know what you hope to accomplish, do what you have to do, and you can take whatever you want from civilian life. You might be surprised how easy it is.
A note on this article: This is the first of what I hope will be a series of articles. I separated from the Army in May 2014 after nearly six years of service. Although I had planned this transition for years beforehand, there are still many things I wished I had known. The Army tries in earnest to prepare you for civilian life, but civilian life is something that, naturally, the Army knows little about. Internet research about separating from the Army failed to turn up much additional information besides the bullet-lists and calendars supplied by the DoD. My hope is that the transitioning service member may learn something, gain motivation, or gain perspective from my personal experience. This is an extremely important period in their life, and I truly want to see Veterans be successful, as the many challenges our society faces require the same skillsets that Vets have. In short, Veteran success = American success.