In July of 2012 my military career ended. If the person I am today could give advice to the person I was then. This is the letter I would write:
Welcome to the real word, life’s different out here. When you went into the army in 2004 the country was different. People still believed in America, they still believed we were the greatest country in the world, and you were just a boy. Things have changed Dan. The culture you’re coming from will make you feel different than the rest. Civilians will thank you, they will respect you, but they won’t understand you. It is up to you to teach them. First, you need to learn to understand yourself, and where you want to go from here.
Staff Sargent I see! Nice work Dan! Unfortunately for you nobody out here knows what that means. No matter what the DOD’s transition classes told you, you’re not going to land a high paying job just because you made E6. You’re going to have to start from the bottom. That’s ok! But, always know your self worth. You are not a failure because your military career ended.
Two deployments hey? Those experiences will follow you for the rest of your life. They will also play a huge role in how you view civilian life. You’re going to find yourself remembering everything, every detail. As you start to adjust to your new life it is important to remember you’re home now, and your not going back. Because of your experience you’ll find yourself getting frustrated with civilians over little shit. LET IT GO! Remember, you went to war thinking you were fighting for their freedom. So let them be upset that the barista messed up their latte.
Dan, there’s going to come a time where you feel like you don’t belong, you’re going to get depressed, you’re going to try and find your “tribe” a “brotherhood”. BE CAREFUL!! Find YOURSELF first! Do not comprise your integrity or values to impress those that don’t deserve your time. If you do, it will make everything worse. You’ll find yourself pushing away those that love you the most. You’ll turn to unhealthy habits like binge drinking and overeating to make yourself feel better. Find people that will lift you up, find people that encourage you to reach for the stars, find people that clap when you win. Brotherhood is very rare out here. Keep your circle small.
Stay active, continue to do PT! Just because you got out doesn’t mean you need to be an unkept slob. It’s ok to have a drink, but don’t look for the answers to all your problems in the bottom of a bottle. Take care of your body, the military did enough damage to it. Always represent yourself well, and continue to have pride in your appearance. The same pride you have when you walk into a promotion board with a spotless uniform, and boots shinier than a silver dollar.
Dan, I know your struggling with everything you’ve saw and experienced. It’s ok! You’re not alone! PTSD is NOT a death sentence, it does not define you, it will NOT stop you from succeeding in your life. Hell, your military service doesn’t have to be your greatest achievement. There’s so much more out there for you. Be proud of your service, but be humble, nobody owes you anything. Don’t buy into the “dysfunctional veteran” crap! It only feeds the stereotype about our community.
As time goes on you’re going to feel more and more alone, other veterans you meet won’t have the same experiences as you, some will have been through worse. That doesn’t matter out here, out here we are all the same. To the masses we are all PTSD riddled, uneducated, and afraid of fireworks. DO NOT play into the stereotype! Prove them wrong! Transfer your skills and experiences, your 8+ years are incredibly valuable. It is your responsibility to translate that.
Last but not least, I know how hard this transition is, but it’s not worth your life. You have family that love you, an entire life ahead of you, bigger and better opportunities. So go out and take it. Make goals not excuses, when things get tough, keep moving forward!
Veteran, United States Army