All good things, inevitably, come to an end. Whether you were counting down the days until you had your DD-214 in your hands or you stubbornly got your retirement paperwork after giving everything you had to Uncle Sam, there eventually comes a time for you to lace up your boots for the very last time.
That's neither a good thing nor a bad thing — it's just a thing. But your time in uniform has forever changed you. What life has in store for you after service is no one's guess, but wherever you find yourself, know that you've still got a fire inside of you that will never die.
1. You'll still conduct yourself like the troops
The Marines have a saying: "Once a Marine, always a Marine." There's a lot to that statement, but in one sense, it can be applied to everyone who served in the Armed Forces. There are a lot of things that you pick up in whichever branch you served that just won't ever fully go away.
You'd be amazed at how far punctuality, polite greetings of the day, and standing up straight will take you. Shy of your ability to do whatever job, employers want someone who's going to work well with a team, communicate effectively with others, be willing to take charge, and have the guts to make impromptu decisions that will benefit others and the company.
Being in the military really teaches you that motivating others isn't always a matter of throwing a flashy office party. It can be something as small as a well-timed "good job" or expressing interest in someone's well-being.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)
2. Your passion and drive comes from within
It really doesn't matter what you end up doing for a living after you've transitioned back to civilian life. You could get a job doing pretty much the same thing you were doing on the green side, you could use the GI Bill to learn a trade you always wanted to pick up, you could even try your hand at something artistic. It's your life, and you've earned the right to pursue whatever you're passionate about.
Want to open up an auto shop in your old hometown? Open it and give it your all every single day. Are you gifted in computer work after being a computer guy in the Army? It's a damn fine job, and you'll be great at it. Heard the jokes about the LT getting a degree in underwater basket-weaving and want to give it a shot? You will be the best damn underwater basket-weaver the world has ever seen.
Why? Because your leaders instilled in you a mission-oriented mindset. That's what separates you from the "I might" or the "I could" people of the world. Your NCO made you into an "I will" kinda person.
No pressure, but your guys are all crossing their fingers for your success. Don't let them down.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Villarreal)
3. You'll never lose that will to help others
Where life takes you still doesn't really matter. Wherever you find yourself, you're still going to go out of your way to selflessly impact the life of another person. It doesn't matter if you open a veteran-owned nonprofit to help the troops or you're just taking care of the grandkids in your cabin hidden in the woods. You're always going to strive for something bigger than yourself.
This is because veterans have always been taught to think of "one team, one fight." Everyone may be fighting to reach the top, but you've got to help out your squad if they're not able to reach the goal.
Whether your metaphorical squad in the outside becomes your coworkers, your family, or the entire veteran community as a whole, you're always going to fight to help bring them up.
What seems like simply reaching out your hand to someone will make a world of difference to everyone else.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Parks)
4. Your brotherhood with your fellow troops will last forever
Everyone you've ever met, from your squad mates to that admin clerk you occasionally bumped into before formation, will stay with you always. Even if they are no longer with us, the good times you had together will keep bringing a smile to your face whenever you're alone in the sometimes-unforgiving civilian world.
When times got rough in the military, your brothers and sisters were always just a knock on a barrack's room door away. Now they're on, what seems like, the other side of the world. But are they really? It doesn't matter if it's been years, we all have someone we served with that we can call at a moment's notice to talk to. We all swore to give our lives to protect our brothers and sisters in arms — answering a phone call is leagues easier.
Nearly every other veteran will embrace you as their own if you're in need of a hand. Even civilians can occasionally earn that level of trust and respect if you let them into your new "squad."
You'll always find someone new to share a laugh with. Hell, even just telling civilians about some of the funny stuff we did is a great way to break the ice.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
5. You're always going to be the flag bearer for the Armed Forces
Fewer people are enlisting in the Armed Forces than ever before. Fewer people have relatives that served, and it's astounding how many people have never interacted with a veteran. That sucks for Uncle Sam trying to fill out the formations, but that gives you the advantage.
There's no denying it. Finding your place in the civilian world will be hard, and there's no road-map to follow. It will get lonely at times. Just keep holding onto that flag and others will see you for your true worth. Just as the flag-bearer in wars of old inspired the troops, you will, too. It will also help other vets find you in hopes of rekindling the camaraderie we all once had in the barracks.
You're not the first person to ever leave military service, and you're not going to be the last. Let it be your guide, even if you don't know where you're going.
Stay the course, my friends.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)
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