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This month I’ve been out of the navy for 2 years now.  It’s been an interesting transition.  I’m currently working part-time while attending Northeastern University full-time to get a BSMS in Computer Science.

The thing I notice about articles written for vets about their transition is… none of them are for me.  My time in the military, and my time transitioning, is probably MUCH different than most… but I know there are some people out there like me.  That said, I tried to write this opinion piece for everyone.

My Transition

Lets be clear about something, first and foremost. Everyone’s experience in the military is different. Sailors will tell different stories than soldiers will tell different stories than airmen will tell different stories than marines will tell different stories than coasties (<3 you puddle pirates).

And, as an extension of this, everyone’s transition will be different. Those with combat experience will see things differently than those who spent 6+ months out at sea, and those people will see things differently than the airmen/sailors/soldiers/marines who never step foot off of solid ground or in the sandbox.  Retirees will be dealing with different problems than 1-2 enlistment separators.

I, myself, spent 6 years in the navy without ever stepping foot on a commissioned vessel or aircraft.  I sailed a desk, and I made a difference doing it.  I don’t hide this fact, and I’m not ashamed of it (like some vets have tried to make me feel for never being in the “real military”).  However, I also picked up a few things about civilian life along them way, which has helped my transition immensely.

Even today, I struggle with things.  I fall victim to looking at my student-peers and judging them for their poor decisions… but then I remember I was stupid once.  Sometimes I browse /r/veterans looking for others going through similar struggles, or browsing duffelblog because it’s fucking hilarious.

Most of the articles I see posted about transitioning to civilian life aren’t for me.  They usually deal with things like: life-and-death vs. monotonous day jobs, 18-19-20 year olds who want to ask if you’ve ever killed anyone (and all the other questions that come from ignorance), boot camp stories, dealing with countless people telling you about brothers/sisters/cousins who were in, or how they wanted to join but decided not to… etc.  It all tends to come off as a parody, even if it’s not.

But, I can’t help but notice consistent “Us Vs. Them” attitude from vets – especially from veterans using their GI Bill.

This is a problem I think I can help with.  Here is something I’ve used to help me in the past 2 years.

I AM A CIVILIAN

Yes.  You are.  You are a Veteran… but, you are also a civilian.  You are not a service member, you are not a war fighter, YOU ARE A CIVILIAN.  When you talk about civilians in an “us vs. them” manner, try to remember that you are now part of both the “us” AND the “them”.

Most of us will never be rid of this way of speaking/writing.  I know vets who have been out for decades, and when we chat, it’s the same.  There is nothing wrong with it, but being aware of it is important because everyone else is.

MY PEERS ARE CIVILIANS.

What does it mean to “be a civilian”?  Generally speaking, it means you have to make your own way.  Most of your peers have had to make their own way.  For school-aged peers, maybe mommy and daddy have helped out along the way, and they had financial support, or whatever you think of today’s “millennial generation”, but try to understand that most of your peers have made their own way.

Civilians don’t have have a built-in support group of 1.5 million brothers and sisters, a UCMJ-like document telling them “right vs. wrong”, standardized instructions for how to wipe their ass, a highly structured routine, or the knowledge that “I’ll get my next paycheck in 2 weeks, no worries”.  These people have struggled, albeit in different ways than you have.   You can learn from them.

CIVILIANS CAN QUIT THINGS

Civilians do not have the built-in requirement of “learning to fucking deal with it” the same way service-members do.  We couldn’t quit our jobs, change our posts, choose what to wear, and sometimes we couldn’t even decide when/where we were allowed to take a shit.  Why would you expect someone who has never been put through that to understand (let alone respect) why their misconceptions place artificial barriers between you and them?  Why?  You’ve had that chief, or that sergeant, who “just doesn’t get it” before.  This isn’t any different.

The difference is, you are no longer required to “just fucking deal” with anything, everything is a choice.

Although, knowing how to hunker down and “dealing with it” is a serious asset.  It really does come in handy… often.

I WAS A CIVILIAN BEFORE BEING A SERVICE-MEMBER

Do you remember going to boot camp, at 17-18-19 years old (for most us, there are exceptions), and having all those grandiose misconceptions about the military?  You know, the same ones that cause you to grimace when fellow students, coworkers, family, friends show how little they understand what your 4+ years in the service meant?  Probably not.  Most of us have a difficult time considering that we were also like that at some point in time.   You probably even said things to some veterans that were cringe-worthy.  I know I did.

And then someone, somewhere along the line, un-fucked you (like they did me).  Maybe it was boot camp.  Maybe it was your tech/MOS school.  Maybe it was your first/second/third command… or maybe it never happened (we all know “that guy”, and if you don’t, it’s probably you).  I often consider it the point at which you can appreciate someone telling you to “un-fuck yourself, shipmate”, but it can mean different things to different people.

Pass it on.  Try to un-fuck people who you think are fucked up.  Which leads to…

I AM A CIVILIAN WITH LEADERSHIP TRAINING

Much of the difficulties I see for transitioning vets, like in this article, are a result of moving from a place where everyone “understands you”, to a place where no one “understands you”.

You have leadership training.  Up until now, that training and expertise has been focused toward people like you & I, with some basic level of understanding/operations.  We are now facing a situation in which we are the un-trained person.  Our skills are applicable, but only after learning to understand peers.   This is a very basic leadership trait – learn about your people/peers, understand their shortcomings, and understand your own shortcomings in reference to their personalities.

If you’re sick of the snake people telling you how and what you are, because Hollywood already taught them, then it’s your job to help change that perception.  Being condescending and spiteful ensures you’re just going to piss of whomever is pissing you off, and nothing will ever change.

I AM ALSO A VETERAN

You don’t have to shun your background.  I see plenty of comments along the lines of “i don’t tell anyone i served until i have to”, or “don’t be that person who makes everything about their time in prison the service.”  You have experiences from which you can garner understanding and respect, and training which you can fall back on for strength in the hard times.  You have millions of brothers and sisters who depend on you to help make the perception of veterans a good one.

Is that fair?  No.  But it wasn’t fair when you were in, being told your actions on leave/liberty reflect upon your branch of service.  You’re on permanent leave, and your actions still matter.

That said, you also have millions of brothers and sisters who can be there for you when times get hard.  But try to remember… I am also a civilian.

1 short piano.

Quick soundcheck!  Better video next time.

I kinda made this strange decision a long while ago, that I wouldn’t be able to learn proper rhythm and learn to stay in-time on the piano without learning the drums.  Also it sounds fun, and I like making music, so I figure, hey, another tool in the toolbox.

So I started asking a few friends what a good electronic drum kit costs (because apartments are not conducive to regular drum kits) and looked up what it would cost to take lessons.  Price-point is right where I expected on both accounts, so I think i’ll be moving forward here in the next month or two.

School’s a bitch, but it’s no different than work in my opinion.  The fact of the matter is, you have work to do and you need to get it done.  School is actually HARDER because there is an unstructured schedule of when you can do work.  So you tend to put things off or work at really strange hours (which ultimately makes the entire semester feel like one really long grind).

But, we all have to remember to schedule in time for the things we really want to do.  So today, I took my first step.  Now to take the next one…

This is what I’m doing with my love in Vermont today.

utopes

It’s strange, I chose to attend this University, and I chose to study a specific program.  I did not however get to choose which classes I got to take (sort of… I convinced them to let me take another required course instead of a gen-ed requirement, in order to get some of the lower-level CS stuff out of the way).

So there is a mixture of choice, and non-choice.  While the topics I’m studying are certainly not my choice… the overall field is.  For some people, this would probably prove to be frustrating.  Likewise, there is a 1 credit seminar they are making me take (well, I could petition out of it… the process would be painstaking, though), and that class looks to be nothing more than me reviewing presentation and living techniques that the military condensed into me over the past 6 years.  The likelihood of actually learning anything other than how to teach people what I already know is very slim.

So other than that… I find myself happy to get up and go to class.  Ok, happy is a bit strong, but it certainly isn’t PAINFUL to go to classes, and I often enjoy the conjecture the professors have to share.  The topics are interesting, even though they’re not necessarily something novel to me.

This is a huge change from how I worked in the navy however.  It was drudgery, day-in and day-out.  I remember one specific time in my career when I was actually HAPPY to go to work, and that was when I was a developer in hawaii, working 6am-2pm, in charge of managing a system I built, and now allowed to work on my own pet projects.  I had other responsibilities, like training people and essentially “selling” our “product” to admirals and stuff (i did tons of briefings for visiting VIPs), but it was just the cost of being given a little autonomy in my work.

Now… even the drudgery seems negligible compared to what i’m getting out of it.  I don’t know where the drive to work is coming from, because I always considered myself a slacker.  Now I find myself working at a pace I’ve never done before.  Maybe it’s out of requirement, maybe it’s out of necessity, or maybe the military did manage to instill some level of work ethic in me.  Who knows.

But somehow, even with all the work I’m doing… this work is enjoyable… my mind is blown!