From Flight Suits to Khakis: What Happens When Military Service Ends
Advocacy Editor of Military.com, Ward Carroll, opens up about the challenges of transitioning into civilian life.
Military service ends for everyone at some point. Regardless of how rewarding and enjoyable it has been, regardless of rank attained or awards earned, eventually it’s time to start the next chapter and transition to a civilian career.
For me, the time came at the 20-year mark. I spent the majority of my time in uniform stationed at an air base in Virginia Beach attached to various F-14 squadrons. When I received orders to teach at the Naval Academy in Annapolis I knew my flying days were most likely over, so I considered what life on the outside might look like once I became retirement eligible.
Because I’d been a Naval Flight Officer — a backseater — and not a pilot, the airlines weren’t an option. My bachelor’s degree in political science was pretty useless in terms of determining a viable civilian career field.
"The same elements that made you an effective war fighter will ultimately serve you well during the civilian chapter of your working life."
Although for decades I had assumed that there would be all kinds of jobs waiting to be blessed by my presence when I elected to get out, only when I started looking for one did I realize my options were limited. And by “limited” I’m not necessarily speaking in terms of income potential. I’m talking about limited in terms of job satisfaction potential.
As I traded my flight suit for khakis and a golf shirt I was thrust into a world of grey areas. Sure, there were job titles and GS pay scales, but those didn’t replicate the structure I’d known. Who was I relative to my co-workers? What did they know (or care) about my years of service?
In spite of all my “prep” for the transition, I wasn’t prepared for the subjective part of the move — the “spiritual” side, if you will. I was more lost (and depressed) than I ever thought I would be.
Fortunately by the end of the first year of my transition, I’d found my footing, job-wise. In time I was a trusted member of a team again. And that job ultimately gave me the confidence and experience to make the move to the private sector into a role that fully leverages my military career and creativity.
Change is hard; transitioning out of the military is harder. Part of making it easier is thorough prep work research and being networking wise. The rest is understanding that it won’t be easy and fighting the notion that the best years are behind you. Sometimes you might need patience. Sometimes you might need to go after it in a hurry. But the same elements that made you an effective war fighter will ultimately serve you well during the civilian chapter of your working life.