Ex-Professional Military or Professional Ex-Military by Alex Cooper

Date: Thursday March 8, 2018 at 1:13pm

 What kind of Veteran do you want to be?

In my line of work I come across many transitioning and former service people and I am struck by how differently people 'identify' with their former lives.

When I was a lad there were still lots of WW2 veterans around, mostly in their 50s-70s, and the only time you knew who they were was on Remembrance Day when they would pin on their medals and march (smartly) from the church to the war memorial before retiring to the Legion for a few pints. 

For the most part they were invisible; they were bus drivers, office workers, doctors - they were retired or close to it and their military service was firmly in the past.

Now I too am in the post-military phase of my working life; I admit that moving from the certainty and security of the Army made me a bit nervous at the time but now my life in uniform is firmly in context as something historic. There was a period when I Felt naked without the uniform and the ID Card, but that soon passed. Reading this thread on the Army Rumour Service (ARRSE) http://www.arrse.co.uk/community/threads/what-type-of-ex-serviceman-are-you.268001/ prompted me to explore why some people transition emotionally better than others.

On one side you have the former senior rank with 20+ years and several op tours under his/her belt and, apart from a tendency to smartness and good timekeeping, only another ex-service person would be able to pick them out with ease. They prepared thoroughly for their time outside the Forces, came to terms with the change, and have transitioned with minimum fuss into civilian life and work. Maybe they have some choice opinions on their workplace and colleagues, but these are kept to themselves and they are well thought of by their peers and bosses alike.

On the other you have the 'angry Facebook Veteran' who, having left after a few short years, scatters their conversation with military phrases and 'when i' stories, is vocal (and usually outraged) on all matters to do with defence, fills their social media feed with military content and sports military/veteran badges on themselves and their car. Often they left without thinking through and preparing for the challenges ahead and as a result they have not transitioned, emotionally or practically - many of their new colleagues think they are dicks. 

Identity isn't binary of course and most will be somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes above. It is right to be proud of your service, and there is much that former service men and women can bring to civilian life and work, but i think that those who do best in the outside world are those who leave their military self behind and move on completely. I'm not suggesting that you should cut yourself from your friends; catching up for a few beers and reminiscing occasionally is entirely healthy. Decking yourself out in Veteran identifiers (wristbands, MTP daysacks, etc) however, is akin to carrying a comfort blanket and is a sign of insecurity rather than strength. 

Transition from an active and purposeful existence to the uncertainty of civilian life can be tough, and it can be difficult to let go of an identity formed in adversity and comradeship. Identifying as a veteran before your individuality as a person, however, is a mistake. Your new mission is to integrate successfully into the culture that you left years ago and accepting that your life will change significantly is key to your success. It is important to remember that you are moving from a close and pretty supportive environment to one characterised by indifference and diversity. No-one will be interested in who or what you were, and lamenting your new existence and those around you is a sure way to end up depressed and out of sorts.

The Forces don't help much with this mental transition process; you spend years focussing on being a military person, encouraged to identify with your Regiment/Service above all else. While that may be good for the effectiveness of the unit, I don't believe it is healthy in the long term. In peacetime (I refer here to anything short of a proper war) the military is very conservative and focuses on pointless minutiae, but history shows that victory comes from the diversity and initiative of the civilian soldiers, who disdain efforts to be inculcated with anything other than the purely practical skills required for the job. 

Whether or not you feel comfortable leaving, you have gathered many useful skills and traits that make you more resilient and flexible than most who have never served. You are likely to lack some key market-friendly qualifications and experience but these will come with time. It is common for the first couple of years after serving to be characterised by job-hopping and maybe reduced income, but this is unsurprising when you think back to how hard it was to transition into service life and ways of thinking back when you first joined up. This time around, however, you are more mature and capable so with the right mind set you should be able to overcome the challenges ahead.  



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