Deciding to leave the military can be hard. Extremely hard. Gut-wrenchingly hard.
Being a soldier quickly becomes your identity. It shapes how you dress, who you hang out with, and what you like to do in your free time. I always joked with my family that being a soldier wasn’t a job, “it was a lifestyle choice.”
Military life can be deceptively easy in many ways. Health care is free, you typically don’t have to worry about losing your job, and you can get by wearing the same thing to work every day.
But there can come a time in your career as a soldier where you start thinking about leaving. Maybe the deployments, field exercises, and weekend staff duties are just testing your family too much. You could personally be feeling the stress of the military grind and feel that for your own personal well-being you need to move onto something else. Or it could simply be that you feel complete in your military service and you are ready to pursue a new opportunity.
The decision can be stressful. What will you do for work? Do you need to go get more education? How do you translate your military experience, which involved jumping out of planes and shooting guns, to something that a hiring manager in the civilian world will understand?
And most importantly, what will be your purpose? Who will be your next brotherhood and sisterhood? How will you find meaning after wearing the uniform and serving your country?
These are not easy questions to answer, but there are resources to help. Groups like American Corporate Partners and Veterati can connect you with mentors in the corporate world to help you understand your skills and how to communicate them to civilian employers. Organizations like Team Rubicon, Team Red, White, and Blue, and The Mission Continues can connect you with other veterans and find meaning in serving your community. And if you aspire to start your own company, Bunker Labs and Patriot Boot Camp are there to help.
The decision is not easy, and it can be greatly intimidating. But it is one you can make. And should you find yourself deciding to end your time in uniform, you can find a way to succeed and thrive on the outside.
Every time you jump out of a plane, the decision is ultimately on you. Yes, there will be serious repercussions if you don’t exit that aircraft because you just aren’t feeling it that day. But it is only you who will hand the static line off to the safety, turn into the door, and jump into the sky. Only you will have to trust the chute to take you safely to the ground. And only you can make a safe landing.
Jumping out of an airplane is like being in a herd. The green light comes on and you start following the guy in front of you, even when that means jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. At some point it feels as if you are on autopilot and you are just reacting to the situation like you’ve been trained
The Jumpmaster will give the command of “Go!” and everyone starts their walk to the door. After a few jumps, the process becomes ingrained in you. You start to react less than you necessarily think about it.
You all jump out of that plane together. Following the same path and procedures, everyone exits in the same way to get to the same place (hopefully).
That jump is meant to accomplish something. The jump is meant to get you to the ground to accomplish a mission. Even if the jump was just for currency, you did it to maintain your proficiency as paratrooper.
Your decision on whether to stay or leave the military is a lot like that jump.
Just like that jump, your decision to stay or go is ultimately yours. You will follow the procedures and get to the door, but only you will have the decision to jump out of that plane.
If you keep following the crowd, you will end up at the door. Everyone will follow along the same path and follow the same procedures. But when you get to that threshold, you have to personally commit to the jump.
And what is that jump? That jump is there to get you to your next mission.
If you can make the decision to jump out of the plane, you can make the decision on what your life will be like when you hit the ground.
You may decide to stay in the military. As you are aware, there are a lot of rewards in service. Unmatched camaraderie, a feeling of purpose, and getting to do some pretty fun stuff (.50 cal night fire anyone???). Staying in is admirable.
The lifestyle, however, may be something you feel the need to leave behind. You may be feeling the call to leave and the urge to go elsewhere in your life.
Whatever you decide, own it. In your own life, only you can see the green light and decide how your jump will go. Only you can decide what your next mission will be and where it will take you.
But you have all the tools to do it. You have the skills and the know-how and the determination to succeed.
Own your jump.
Mark is a part-time writer for WETSU. He served in 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division, and then in the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. Before starting his MBA in Fall 2020, he will be traveling the world and writing about his own experience leaving the military. More of his work can be found at www.theveteranpro.com