Over years of watching war films, hearing grandpa's stories, poring over documentaries, and hanging on the every word of your local veteran bullsh**ters, you built up an expectation of military service that couldn't possibly be met.

So, by the end your enlistment comes to a close, it's safe to say that the time spent in uniform did not go as expected. Honorable service? Yes. High standards of professionalism? Absolutely. Reaching a physical apex never before thought reasonable or possible? Check marks the box. But was it anything like the Space Marines in Aliens? Not even close. Did you single-handedly hold off an entire battalion of enemy soldiers? Probably not.

So, now you want out — but be careful what you wish for, because if you thought life on the inside wasn't all it was cracked up to be, then you're in for a real surprise once you get out.


These are the seven stages of separation that all veterans go through after getting that DD-214. It's the response to the physical, mental, and emotional letdown endured when civilian life doesn't match our high expectations. It's the process of realizing that maybe — just maybe — leaving the finest fighting force this planet has ever known wasn't the best idea. At least not yet.

They are as follows:

1. Excitement!

"You mean I can just... go? Just like that?!"

Terminal leave is approved, you've had your final physicals, so it's time to pack up your sh*t and run! Armed with a DD-214 and a dream, you flee from the nurturing embrace of your second parental institution to pursue all the things you shoulda, woulda, coulda done if it weren't for that pesky contract.

2. Follicle growth.

Growth patterns, colors, and thickness may vary.

("You Were Never Really Here" / Amazon Studios)

When one is held to a military standard for so long, it is only natural to act out. Separation is furry-faced freedom at its finest. This is a time of discovery for any former service member. Personally, I never knew I could grow a blood-red war beard that doesn't quite flourish in specific spots. Now, after having experienced this second stage of separation, I know much more about myself, which is what it's really all about.

3. Delusions of grandeur 

("Captain America" / Marvel)

Time makes the heart grow fonder — and it also makes you exaggerate the impact you had during your time in. Yes, your service is appreciated and you were definitely an essential cog in the machine, but don't worry, the military will do fine in your absence. Most of the branches have been around for well over two-hundred years.

That'll do, warrior. Let the next generation take it from here.

4. Wardrobe change

Star Eagle

There was once a time you didn't want to be easily identified as a service member in civilian attire, but look at you now. Say it loud, friend.

Also, we're not sorry for the shameless plug.

5. Anger

We know, we know. Everything sucks. Civilians are all lazy and have no concept of discipline. Hollywood movies won't stop messing up uniforms and military terms and Brad Pitt's combat tactics are all wrong!

And don't get us started on these crazy posts on Facebook. It's up to you to correct the world and set things right.

6. The fattening 

We call this one, "gettin' back into it."

There's no way around this one: you'll gain weight. You might lose it later, but you'll sure as hell gain it first. You will no longer be forced to PT, but you will swallow the same trash calories you did when you were a teenage warrior. The results may upset you.

7. Acceptance

How veterans celebrate freedom!

(Derek Weida)

Have some fun, my brothers and sisters. Life's too short for your best years to be behind you. Sure, the military was an amazing experience and you earned your memories through by sharing suffering with some of the best friends you could ever have, but now is your time to make an impact on your own terms. Cultivate a strong sense of humor, try not to sweat the small stuff, and remember, it's all small stuff.