Welcome to the third installment of the Soldier to Civilian series. I want to begin by thanking you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read about my Soldier to Civilian process. I also want to thank you for your comments. All of the comments are very much appreciated. Thank you.
In part 1, I wrote about the decision. In case you missed it, you can read it HERE. In part 2, I wrote about the process. In case you missed it, you can read it HERE. If you remember from part 1, I said I would wait to get all emotional and share my feelings (which I’m 99.9% incapable of) until later in the series. Here in part 3, I hope to share that .01% I am capable of. Wish me luck.
I’m not up to par with the regulations from other branches, so if you or someone you know who is planning their retirement, he or she needs to check their branch specific regulations. However, with the Army, because my last duty assignment was overseas, I was afforded 30 days of Permissive Temporary Duty (PTDY) and Terminal Leave. ****CLASS IS IN SESSION**** PTDY, in this instance, are free vacation days that I use to find a place to live and get my family settled. Terminal Leave is the accrued vacations days that I have remaining that I can use to find employment, work, get my family settled, VA appointments and whatever else I need to do. The definitions and rules for each are more lengthy than what I described, but to ensure I don’t turn this into an Army Regulation, the descriptions I provided, albeit basic, are comprehendible. ****CLASS IS OUT****
When I left South Korea, I was authorized 30 days of PTDY and I had accrued 62 days of Terminal Leave, giving me a grand total of 92 days to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was excited to have 3 months of “vacation time” to get reacquainted with the family, get settled into our new home and look for employment. Who wouldn’t be excited to have 90 days of vacation time, right?
When I returned to the states, everything was okay. I was getting sped up on the boys’ activities. The wife was updating me with her and the boys’ lives since I left. It was a crash course. As with all my other deployments, I had to come in and adhere to the schedule she created. Although I may not have agreed with some of the specifics with her schedule, the worst thing I could have done was immediately change it. As the Head of the House, yes, I have that right to create a schedule that I think will work for our family. However, the worst thing to do was change it because I would create undue stress on my boys and my wife. Her schedule worked and the boys were accustomed to it. My wife is also very understanding by giving me time to adapt to this change in lifestyle. If you’re saying to yourself, “Adapt to a new lifestyle? This guy is married with children! What about the sacrifices his wife had to make because he was playing Army?!” You are justified in those thoughts. But please understand that when I’m gone for at least a year at a time, I create a lifestyle for myself and become out of touch with the lifestyle back home. It is imperative for me to remain focused on the task at had during my absence to ensure I return to my family. While I am away, my wife has to wear many hats (Mommy, Daddy, Decision Maker, Homemaker, Soccer Mom, and the list continues). Once I get acclimated to this lifestyle again, then I take back my roles and we continue living together as one body. I hope that makes sense.
Prior to my return, I began looking for employment. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work, so I applied everywhere that was hiring. I used mostly job search engines, i.e. Indeed, USAJobs, CareerBuilder, HeroesForHire, etc. I bet I applied to 200 different positions. Some of these applications resulted in an interview while the others didn’t amount to a hill of beans. The interviews resulted in a “thank you for your interest, but we decided to pursue other applicants” emails. The frustration was building because I didn’t have a job to transition into once I returned. I was beginning to question our decision to retire in Tennessee. I began asking myself if this was the right move, or should we have waited until I found a job before deciding where to retire.
Once I returned to the states, the wife had set up an interview for me two days after I returned. The interview went great and they offered me the position on the spot. However, the position paid only $8.93 an hour. Before I say this, please don’t think I’m conceited or walk with my nose up in the air, because that’s far from the truth. When I was offered that position, my first thought was “Great! A job! Finally!” My second thought was, “Seriously?! I’m worth WAY more than that!” Because I had no other employment possibilities, I began to think that was all I was worth. Questions of doubt began creeping in my mind. Questions like, “Who wants to hire a 20 year veteran with multiple deployments, PTSD, Anxiety disorder and who is broken from years of combat stress?” How could I provide for my family on $8.93 an hour? Granted, we would have made ends meet, but I was tired of sacrificing for the past 20 years.
I had a few more interviews and more job offers after this, but I don’t want to turn this into a “what am I doing now” post. I’ll save that for later.
I kept trudging along, applying for more jobs. I was getting to the point where I didn’t care about the details of the job. I was growing impatient and nervous. I decided to walk into businesses, introduce myself and land a job by filling out an employment application and a handshake. Instead, I was told that I had to navigate to the company’s internet site and apply for employment. Have things changed that much in 20 years?! Now I’m at the mercy of some computer program that looks for specific words in my resume? I’m at the mercy of some head hunter that has been contracted by the company in which I’m applying to call me to set up an interview? What happened during the past 20 years? What happened to confirming a hire with a handshake?
During the job search, I began to travel down the path that leads to depression. Actually, I was living in a mental suite located at 123 Depression Street, Depression City, Depression, USA. About 2 or 3 weeks after I returned, that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized that I would be leaving the only life I’ve ever known. I began have feelings of fear and depression and anxiety. How was I supposed to make this work? How am I supposed to move from a 20 year career to a new career and make this work? Who is going to hire me? How do I translate my military training into a language that civilian employers and understand? I was beginning to feel lost in the shuffle.
One day, my wife asked me what was wrong and I almost lost it. I was moving from a position where I was the most important person in this family to a position where I was playing background. Laura was pretty much established here in Tennessee and I was the new kid on the block. She had found a church during my absence and was meeting friends. She was meeting people in the community and developing relationships. Her blog was growing to new heights. She was getting invites to awards shows, tours and various functions. She was blooming where she was planted. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! She’s supposed to follow me. The Army gives me marching orders and she follows where the Army sends me. I am the one who builds the foundation in our new location. I develop the friendships, decide on the church, get invited to various functions. In the blink of an eye, I went from feeling important to feeling like the kid sitting in a chairs because no one wants to dance with me. This was not something I was accustomed to.
When I was a recruiter, one of my many jobs was to overcome objections. Many kids were afraid to join the Army because of fear. Fear of basic training. Fear of leaving their family. Fear of war. Fear of a new lifestyle. All those fears were wrapped into one, heart-pounding fear. That fear, my friends, is called the fear of the unknown. That was the fear that I had. My life went from purpose and meaning to doubt and uncertainty.
I had spent the past 20 years being told where to go, what to do and be happy doing it. Now I’m being told to go somewhere else, find something else to do and try to be happy doing it. That’s fine and dandy, but I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what I’m qualified to do. I just don’t know.
I looked at my friends on social media. They seemed to have their lives in order. Many of them were also veterans who got out and established themselves in a company. Their transition seemed to be effortless. Why was my transition so difficult?
I met people at my church and was greeted with the same gratitude I’ve come to expect over the years. I heard the constant remarks, “Thank you for your service.” I attended a couple men’s groups asking if they knew of anyone hiring. Instead, I received “You’ll find something. Thank you for your service.” I met the neighbors, hoping to be able to connect on some level. Instead, I received a “Thank you for your service.” I reached out to many people on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) asking for assistance. Instead, I received a “Thank you for your service.” I was growing tired of the “Thank you’s”. Don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate the gratitude. I am thankful for it. But after hearing it for the past 20 years, it almost sounds hollow. The way some people say their “Thank you,” many of them sound forced.
I was never looking for a handout. I was looking for assistance from people who were working in the civilian sector for years. When I received a new Soldier in my platoon, I made sure they were acquainted with the other Soldiers, they understood their jobs, they were read up on the policies and procedures and they had all the tools to make them successful. When I returned, none of that was here for me. I was in a new place, living a new life, creating a new lifestyle, looking for a new career. No one wanted to dance with me.
Most Soldiers are ready to return to work after they have been on vacation for about a week or two. Many will say they don’t, but most will say they do. After a Soldier leaves the Army, the majority will tell you that they miss the camaraderie. I was missing that camaraderie. I was missing the connection I had with my friends in the military. We suffered, struggled, and lived together through adversity and triumph. I was missing that. All that was gone and that is the realization that was staring back at me. I was growing deeper into my despair.
I needed to find some stability in terms of employment. The weight of the world was on my shoulders to provide for my family. I was the new kid in town that everyone stared at, but no one talked to.
This transition from a life I lived for 20 years to a life I had no clue about was difficult. I lived in the fast lane – deployments, training exercises, late nights, counseling, mentoring, coaching, training, training, training. Now I’m living in the slow lane – trying to figure out how to get my grass-green like my neighbor’s, which soil to use in my flower garden, building shelves, unpacking boxes in the garage, hanging pictures and mowing grass. Instead of planning for the next deployment, I’m planning the lunch meal for my kids. I’m pulling my hair out because I should be teaching a new Soldier how to operate their equipment. I feel guilt and shame because my kids need me more than any Soldier ever could.
I wanted to yell. I did yell a few times. I wanted to cry. I cried a few times. My retirement date was quickly approaching and I had nothing to show for it. I was on borrowed time. I’m answering character questions in interviews. You know, the “what would you do in this type of situation” questions. I thought I answered them all rather well. Unfortunately, my thoughts and their thoughts were not the same apparently. If they want to know if I would steal from them, then just ask. If they want to know if I’ll cause dissension in the work place, then just ask. There’s not much I can’t do, but my experiences in the Army don’t seem to translate into the experiences these companies are looking for.
I told my wife I was lost in all this. I’ve never written a resume. I don’t know what a cover letter is. I’ve never interviewed for a job. I’ve spent 20 years with one employer, so why doesn’t that show these employers that I am loyal to one place?
Please don’t assume I’m whining or complaining. I rarely complain and whining is not a word in my vocabulary. I was excited to retire and begin a new chapter in our family’s lives. I just never expected the transition from Soldier to Civilian to be this difficult.
Stay tuned for the final part in this series.