The transition from military to civilian life isn’t always easy. The public’s perceptions of servicemembers and veterans tend to be that of either heroes or broken warriors, which leaves little room for middle ground, according to a growing number of people trying to breakdown stereotypes about those who serve in the military.
As part of the American Legion Auxiliary’s efforts to support servicemembers as they make the transition to civilian life, we talked to six veterans about what it’s like to step out of the uniform at the end of their military service and adapt to a different set of obstacles as a civilian.
On how to treat veterans
“The No. 1 thing I would tell a civilian trying to help a veteran is this: ‘Soldiers are soldiers because they volunteered to be soldiers,’” said Michael Glover, who served in the Army’s Special Operations. “Don’t make them feel like victims. The Veterans Affairs Department makes them feel like victims, and it offends veterans. Be direct and clear and concise, and speak the same language soldiers speak.”
On embracing family life
“Getting out of the Air Force caused mixed feelings,” said Jen Hayward, who served as a cyberspace operations officer. “I’m glad because I get to see my children grow up, but I miss the lifestyle. I wouldn’t trade the seven years I was in for anything.”
On adjusting to life without a uniform
“The hardest transition, I think, is no longer wearing the uniform and no longer being a soldier who deploys,” said Retired Army Col. Mike Winstead. “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not easy on families and I’m happy not to leave my family, but the camaraderie that you have as a soldier stops, and you have to deal with that.”
On finding something that interests you
“When you’re in the military, you’re sent to many
places, and you don’t always get to do what you want,” said Chad Truitt, who served in the Marine Corps for 17 years. “Whether you serve for four years, 20 years, or 40 years, you can transition into something you enjoy.”
On the need for a personalized transition process
“The transition process is set up for one-size-fits-all, and that’s just not the case,” said Scott Winter, who served 20 years in the Army before retiring in 2014. “Most people in the class were frustrated when taught how to fill out a job application. We needed to learn how to build resumes based on our experiences and how to tackle the USA Jobs application process.”
On adjusting your vision
“I thought I would get a career right away, buy a house, and maybe start a family, but that isn’t the way things work,” said Martin Cardenas, who served in the Navy for four years. “I quickly learned I wasn’t going to be able to find a job using the skills I learned in the Navy with pay that I was comfortable with. I decided to continue my education using the GI Bill.”