SEVEN CLICKS TO….WHAT, EXACTLY? Alex Cooper

Date: Monday May 20, 2019 at 11:00am

Around 12-13,000 people join the Armed Forces each year, most because they want to, and some because there are not many other options, but most are not focussed beyond their immediate future as a soldier/sailor/airperson.  Most recruits and young service people I have spoken to expressed a wish to ‘serve a full career’; some have more specific goals but many had little detailed knowledge of what a life in the Armed Forces entails.  Motivated by the natural inclination of many to ‘go for a soldier’, and fired up by advertising, media coverage, war stories from others and the intensity of initial training many find their routine existence somewhat less fulfilling than they imagined. 

The military is a greedy organisation, demanding a loyalty and identification with the group that is necessary for it to function in the complexity, uncertainty and occasional danger that typifies military operations.  To those outside it may seem surprising that recruiting is at its best during periods of high intensity and high profile fighting, but those who have served know the innate satisfaction of austere living, intense teamwork and heightened senses that comes with it.  But wars don’t last and, especially for those who have ‘seen the elephant’, an organisation not actually doing the role that is its main purpose can be pretty unsatisfying.  Currently the number leaving is greater than those joining and, at any rate, most serve between 4-10 years (slightly longer in the RN & RAF) leaving still young but potentially having missed out on learning much about how wider society works. 

People choose to leave the Forces for a variety of reasons: wanting change; dissatisfaction; family pressure; desire for stability - the list is long.  Once notice has been submitted there is much to think about and little time in which to act (typically seven months) and an initial period of limbo can be replaced very quickly by an overwhelming feeling of ground rush.  Many concentrate on the tactical minutiae of CTP, LinkedIn, job hunting, new house, etc.  This is important activity but, as in the diagram above, just as much thought needs to go on the ‘what next?’ considerations.  No sane person would, let’s say, invade a country and have no real understanding of the cultural environment or a plan for what to do afterwards (wink), so giving detailed thought to what lies beyond the point of transition/landing your first job is essential.

Extracted from FM 100-15 Chapter 8 Other Operations

Civilian life is - different; it’s not necessarily better or worse, but it may take a while to comprehend fully the dissimilarities and to adjust your expectations and, in some cases, patterns of behaviour.  And be under no illusion, it is you who will have to change if you wish to fit in.  Like King Cnut, it is vital to understand that the tide of humanity neither knows nor cares about your experiences and standing in the military; don’t be aggrieved, but do be prepared to get wet. 

Securing a job is central to everything, but try to work out what kind of work environment will be suitable for you.  It’s not enough to work out what role you are a good fit for if the workplace culture and practices are going to get you down.  Like the river crossing, time spent in recce will not be wasted but it will be time consuming.  Reach out to former colleagues (LinkedIn is good) and build a network.  Use this network to ask questions – many will be very happy to advise, pass on the lessons they learned from their own transition and maybe put you in touch with others (don’t ask for or expect job offers though).  Do try and arrange some visits and work placements – get a feel for the attitudes and ethos of a variety of companies; maybe start by looking at the list of those that have signed up to the Corporate Covenant and those that have been recognised by the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/covenant-for-business/).

Consider where you want to live, and how; transport infrastructure, housing, schools, healthcare, and so on.  For good reasons the Services take a lot of the domestic strain and thinking off your hands while you are serving, and it can be a bit of a shock when you realise that it’s now all up to you.  If there are limits on suitable employment/infrastructure in your chosen area then you may have to consider your options – daily vs weekly commute vs relocation; is your spouse fully involved in the planning? (hint – two heads are better than one).  Carry out a detailed financial breakdown of living costs – these may be rather more than you anticipate or are used to (visit https://www.moneyforce.org.uk/ which includes a section on leaving service and other resources). 

Do all of the above before hitting seven clicks on DII and you will de-risk the transition process significantly.  Seven months is really not enough time to plan for transition from a standing start; in an ideal world you should be thinking about life after service once you have got through the initial honeymoon period but, in any case, the sooner the better.  It is a fact – you are going to leave; if you are unlucky it may be at a time or in a manner not of your choosing so carry out a bit of concurrent activity and be as prepared as you can be for any eventuality.

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