Life After the Armed Forces: Going From a Military Brotherhood to a Civilian Community

I grew up in a small town in the heart of Central Florida, a place all the people my age wanted to get out of as fast as possible. Some of us saw college as our way to bigger and better things, while others took the military route. Today, a few of my hometown friends are still proud members of the Army, the Air Force, and the Marines. But, there are a handful of them who have already decided to retire from the service and see what life after the Armed Forces is like.

One decided his line of service was nothing like what he expected. One loved it for the first few years then grew sick of the distance and the minimal time off. Another went in and never looked back until he was injured and one more decided it was time he got his degree and do something a little less physically demanding. All of these individuals had different reasons for hanging up their uniform, but from what I can tell, they each experienced similar things in their transition from being a part of the Armed Forces to living like an average American. Here’s what I’ve noticed: the process is anything but simple, and it comes with its fair share of tough lessons.

Lessons like:

Unlearning Certain Rules and Behaviors

In the service, there’s a time and place for everything. A time to get up, a time to be ready by, a way of doing this and a strict process for doing that. Life after the Armed Forces has its own set of “time and place” rules too, but they’re not nearly as rigid. There’s room to flow; to breathe a little easier without always having to be alert.

This can be a strange concept to get used to. After so much routine and taking orders, it’s not easy for retired men and women to just relax, it’s not part of their programming. But, they do eventually get reacquainted with civilian life. They start spending more time with their families and reaching out to old friends. They look for schools to attend or work opportunities to apply for, and life starts becoming a little less about survival and more about fulfillment.

Facing New Challenges

Unlearning certain rules and behaviors is a challenge in and of itself. But, there are a few more twists and turns recently retired service members have to navigate. Many find it harder than expected to find a good job. Others just want to buy their first home and maybe a new car and settle down.

Meanwhile, life is going on all around them. Just as the person has to adjust to the practical aspects of life, they often have to find a new community for themselves and their family, too. The military kind of provides this as people join with the opportunity of living on base. When members leave, it’s all in their hands to figure out where to live and who to be close to.

All of this can easily get overwhelming. It’s common for those transitioning from the Armed Forces to feel moments of doubt, uncertainty, or even fall into depression. This is especially true if the person is already experiencing signs of PTSD or if they have an injury that’s keeping them from getting good work. Thankfully, there are veteran injury compensation tools available to support those in the latter situation.

Creating Peace with Yourself

There’s another struggle facing recently retired veterans that they may not be aware of at first – the person in the mirror. There are certain things done for the safety of the country that are a bit extreme. Combat requires each person to make tough calls for survival, calls that some won’t always agree with in hindsight. It’s a weight many retired members carry, but the silver lining is that there’s more to a person than one uniform or one label.

Beyond this chapter of their life, a member of the military is also a son/daughter, a wife/husband, a good friend and a good person, too. These are things each person transitioning back into civilian life has to understand in their own way. Everyone makes their peace differently. Some will find it easy to adjust at first, then face difficulties later on. Others will be hit in the face with reality the moment they get back. Throughout it all, though, they have to be at peace with themselves in order to truly move forward from their military past.

If you or a loved one recently left the Armed Forces, the most important thing is finding a community. There are plenty of support groups out there for veterans and their loved ones. To learn more about support groups in general, click here.