Notes from the field

My Transition from Military to Civilian Life

by veteran in GRM 

*Due to the sensitive personal nature of this blog post, the author asked to remain anonymous.  

 

It was sometime after 0300, but the Iraqi summer heat and the stagnant air in our bunker kept me awake. I was at my computer desk in the Battalion Operations Center in Qayyarah Airfield West, staring at a pros and cons list of leaving the military.

 

I loved my job. I had graduated college and was commissioned in the Army where I found both purpose and direction on active-duty. Entrusted with the responsibility of managing a platoon of paratroopers—and later a staff section of non-commissioned officers—I learned how to lead, how to multitask, and how to take care of people. 

 

I trained hard.  I jumped out of aircraft. I learned self-discipline, courage in the face of adversity, and how to put the mission before myself. Among other lessons, the Army taught me how to take criticism, how to stand by my convictions, and the importance of selfless public service. As I reflected, I realized that my time in the military is when I really grew up, became an independent adult, and fully formed my personal set of values and morals.

 

However, the high operational tempo and deployment schedule of the military made it difficult for me to pursue other personal goals – I wanted to get married, to start a family, to enter higher education, and find other ways to make a positive impact on the world. 

 

Just like my first parachute jump, I hesitated slightly, and then lept.  I transitioned out in 2018, after 6 years of active duty service and just a few short months after returning from a tour in Iraq.

 

“You’re too bossy!”

 

The transition was harder than I expected.  Graduate school didn’t have that same sense of camaraderie as the Army. In short, it was a total culture shock. 

 

During my first semester of graduate school, our professor assigned a group project. At our first group meeting, after about 15 minutes of chatter amongst the group, I decided to take charge – after all, we only had an hour a week to meet, and we needed to get the project done. I set deadlines, allocated tasks, and set expectations for each meeting. 

 

I thought to myself – rather indulgently – that my colleagues probably appreciated me taking a leadership role. So I was taken aback when someone bluntly announced: “You’re too bossy”. I perceived myself to be exercising decisiveness and work-ethic (skills that would’ve earned me praise in the military). I was hurt, embarrassed, and frustrated. Were my leadership and management skills outdated? Could I still rely upon the lessons and skills the Army had taught me? Would I have to entirely abandon them and learn all over again?

 

I was frustrated, but sat back and let the group work out the project details naturally. Even without my leadership, we still got an A, leading me to question my methods and whether or not I could adapt to a dynamic new civilian world.

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

 

Upon graduation, I, like many other veterans, found myself yet again struggling as I searched for employment in the civilian workforce. It wasn’t easy to translate my resume into civilian terminology that would be understood, appreciated, and valued. I received rejection after rejection as I grew increasingly nervous that I had made a terrible mistake by leaving the military.

 

A few months later, I met with a friend at the dog park. He was also getting out of the military and we were discussing the new job he had taken with a veteran-founded NGO, Global Response Management (GRM). I told him how my new graduate degree qualified me to work in non-profit development and he offered to set up a meeting between me and their Executive Director (ED).

 

Through my conversation with the ED, I learned that GRM prioritized developing meaningful opportunities for veterans to rejoin the workforce. She was also a veteran, a former Army officer, and I told her the anecdote about being told I was too bossy in school. 

 

She empathized but helped me ultimately realize that although the methods of communication are sometimes different, the lessons and skills I developed during my time in the military are eternal. People first, always. Lead with courage and conviction. Make decisions and follow through. Listen to the input of your teammates, coworkers, and subordinates. Commit to a culture of continual improvement and the never-ending pursuit of organizational excellence.  

 

She immediately brought me onto the team as a volunteer, and then a few months later they offered me a contract, and shortly thereafter, full-time employment. Working with GRM, I found myself yet again on a team of like-minded individuals who were motivated by the same values and principles as I was. 

 

GRM’s important, life-saving mission drives me and my colleagues to work hard, collaborate, and continually ask how we can better achieve the mission of providing healthcare to vulnerable populations impacted by conflict and disaster. GRM gave me a place and a purpose. 

 

The transition from the military to the civilian world was difficult, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and for me, that light was GRM. 

 

If you’re a veteran struggling with transitioning to civilian life or in search of opportunities to continue serving you can email us ([email protected]) about volunteering in one of our programs.  Alternatively, Military One Source and the Veterans’ Association have further resources to assist with transitioning.

 

BLOG POSTS ARE THE OPINION OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE VIEW OF GRM

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