Maneuvering Post-Military Life after Service

The Military has a method to help young recruits make the transition from Civilian to Military Culture when they enlist; they call it Boot Camp, Basic training, or Officer Candidate School (OCS). The whole point is to disorient recruits from Civilian culture and to then reorient them to Military Culture. Each branch of the service does it a bit differently, but the essential process of assimilation is the same. Recruits are taught new names for things; a bed becomes a rack, pants become trousers, food is chow and the bathroom is the head. People used to have names and now they have ranks. Civilians become Soldiers or Sailors; Airmen or Marines. After the yelling and screaming, the shaved heads and the uniforms, a group of individuals becomes a unit.

I arrived at OCS believing that I was an intelligent, physically fit young man. I became a “rock ape” of a “candidate”. “Individual” was a dirty word and following orders was the pinnacle of achievement. By graduation the culture no longer felt foreign and I had developed the potential to lead other Marines whose purpose was to “locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.”

After living in a world where everything is done according to military Standard Operating Procedures and where most service members have way more responsibilities than their civilian peers, where sacrificing your life is a real possibility…they go home. For many years after I returned home, I used to joke that I was a “Recovering Marine”. I had made a good transition from civilian to warrior, but not so good a transition back. I was disoriented by the civilian culture I had grown up in. Whatever jobs I got were unappealing and my managers seemed ill-equipped for their work. Nobody cared that I could get a maximum score on my physical fitness test or that I could shoot a target 500 meters away. No one cared that a few months ago I had been responsible for a million dollar budget and sixty Marines. I went from being a respected leader to a “nobody” in the time it took to drive from North Carolina to New England. I suspect that the greater the disparity between the military culture they left and the civilian culture they return to, the greater difficulty for transitioning back. When I got back home I was on my own and I was lost. Imagine what it must be like for young warriors who are returning from combat. It is hard to leave and be changed by your experience and return to people who have stayed the same.

Below are links to veterans’ stories of transitioning back to civilian life: Please take a look at the first, it is the story of a veteran who is also a County Veterans Services Officer:

It will also link you to other You Tube stories of transitioning home. The next link is from the VA web site: