When asked to describe the hardest part of their transition to civilian life, veterans from around the country gave similar answers with one of the most common being: the transition from a “team” to “me” mindset was one of the most challenging adjustments. Nearly 30% of those who served 10 years prior to 911 and 44% of those who served 10 years after, stated that reentry into civilian life was difficult for them.
Assimilation into a civilian culture of individualism and an innate societal competition of self-promotion has proven to be a challenge for many veterans. Though other critical factors such as PTSD and physical trauma experienced through times of conflict or war play pivotal roles during transition, the loss of camaraderie is a sentiment that many veterans share after separating from the Armed Forces.
The military functions with a mission mindset and with the idea that “you never leave a Battle Buddy behind.” Service members are trained to work together toward common goals, to finish their assigned missions, and to protect and defend the country.
Losing the Team
“There is nothing in the civilian workforce that can approximate the bonding that occurs in the wardroom, ready room, or foxhole. Military personnel in those environments put up with much hardship -- long hours, stressful working conditions, danger to personal safety, separation from loved ones, and more. However, because they are all in it together, they get through it. This mutual self-sacrifice, teamwork, and covering each other's six contribute to individual bonding, unit cohesion, and, ultimately, the camaraderie in question.” -Tom Wolf, Military Times
Service members go through Boot Camp training together when they first enter the military. Everything they learn from this initial training is reinforced continuously throughout their military careers. They are taught the importance of perseverance, grit, and teamwork. They learn that the needs of the military are greater than the needs of the individual. They memorize, recite, and live by military values that encompass selflessness, honor, and integrity. They also learn that every well-executed function leads to the success of the whole and that each person's role is paramount to completing a mission no matter their rank.
This type of values-driven and mission-mindset machine is hard to match in the civilian world, especially when the previous mission was to serve and protect the country. Though veterans who find civilian careers in law enforcement and firefighting are more likely to find a similar feeling of togetherness through civil duty and self-sacrifice, others that venture into corporate culture may find themselves on foreign grounds.
Redefining the Mission (The Good News)
“Being a civilian now feels like I’m just another cog in the machine. When I was serving, I felt what I was doing was important and those around me felt the same” - Dog Tag Bakery Veteran Member
A sniper, an airplane mechanic, a medic, and a quartermaster have very different jobs yet each knows that he or she is a part of a greater whole. This sense of purpose, unity, and cohesion can all but vanish (at least temporarily) when a servicemember first leaves the military.
Fortunately, a number of civilian companies make a point of hiring veterans. Working for a veteran-friendly company can provide opportunities to form a new community and to work in an environment that feels familiar. There are also government resources and programs that are centered around veteran transition.
Below are quick tips and community links for reentry into civilian life:
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