This is the true story of how I went from a Soldier to Civilian. I hope you enjoy it.
Soldier to Civilian (Part 1) – The Decision
Hello, readers of Clay’s Corner. My wife (a.k.a. The Wiffffff, a.k.a. Laura, a.k.a. The Official Blogger of the Family) asked me to share my transition story. I’m not a guy who shares his feelings. I’m just not a touchy-feely type of dude who is open with his innermost fears and desires. However, the wife asked me to share and here I am.
When I was first approached to write this story, I thought to myself, “Too easy. I can sum it up in three words….Transition Is Scary.” Of course, the wife wasn’t too keen on the idea of a blog post containing three words. I kicked around a few ideas in my head and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why not split the story into separate posts, beginning with the decision and ending with the touchy-feely emotions I’m incapable of having? Anyway, welcome to Part 1 of my transition story.
As a former Army Recruiter, let me be the first to tell you that your son or daughter was not safe from me. If you were living in my recruiting footprint during my recruiting days, I guarantee I talked to either you or your son or daughter. I can’t speak for every recruiter, but I’m pretty sure your son or daughter has had a run-in with at least one recruiter.
There is a line in the movie “Glengary Glen Ross” where Alec Baldwin tells a salesman, “Coffee is for closers.” I was definitely closer. I could sell a tic-tac to a whale. Apparently, my recruiter was closed as well. I signed my enlistment contract on March 24, 1995. A few of my family members knew I was looking into military service, but they didn’t know to what extent.
My mom even went with me to check out the Navy and the Marine Corp. At the time of my enlistment, I was attending college at ITT Technical Institute in Dayton, Ohio. Although I had graduated from high school in 1994, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Basically, I was lost, in over my head, unsure of the path I was traveling, felt alone, and the list goes on. I had a sense of wanting to belong to something bigger than myself and college just wasn’t doing it for me.
When my mom found out I had enlisted, she was heartbroken, to say the least. I remember the crocodile tears she had as she stared out the front door as I was driving away with my recruiter to ship out for Basic Training. I won’t share too many stories of my Basic Training experiences, but I will share one. I remember calling my mom and telling her I thought I had made a mistake by enlisting. To this day, she says that was the hardest thing for her to deal with knowing she could not do anything about it. But, I got through Basic Training and continued on my military path.
The Army has been good to me. I often tell people that my experiences have been fun and they have been real. Those experiences were not always really fun, though. That goes with any experiences. Everyone goes through a “buyer’s remorse” over at least one decision in their life. That decision could be accepting a job, purchasing a vehicle, purchasing a house, deciding what subject to major in, choosing a college, and the list seems to be endless.
As I had mentioned, the Army has been good to me. I was able to travel the world. I tried foods from different countries that I would have never tried if I would have remained in my home town. I was able to travel across the United States. I met people from around the world and many of them remain friends. I was afforded the opportunity to experience things many people have not. However, all these experiences carried huge sacrifices. War. PTSD. Anxiety Disorder. Insomnia. Nightmares. Funerals. All the “what-ifs” that come from the decisions I made that affected families. Long nights at work. 80 hour work weeks. Lost family time. Constant moves. Multiple deployments. Training exercises that lasted anywhere from a few days to a few months. I think you get the picture.
Would I do it all over again? That’s a question, if asked, I would immediately answer with a resounding YES! I’ve never had a fear of death. When God says it’s my time to go, well, it’s my time to go. There is nothing I can do about it. Whether I’m in the streets of Baghdad or walking down aisle 4 of a home-improvement store, it’s my time to go. Would I do anything differently? Again, a resounding YES. I think if given the opportunity for a do-over, we would all do something different in our lives. I don’t live with regrets. There is nothing I have done that I have regretted.
I am often reminded of a quote by Max Lucado. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Think about that for a moment. There are a plethora of other quotes I could recite, but I need to get back to the subject of this post.
Fast-forward to 2008. My wife was pregnant with our youngest son. I was in my fourth year of recruiting (YES! Four loooooooong years! I was one of the “lucky” ones who were involuntarily extended for another year!). I was mentally and physically exhausted. I was done. You could stick a fork in me because that’s how done I was.
My current enlistment contract was due to expire in 2009. I told my wife I was going to ETS (Expiration Term of Service). Basically, my ETS date was the date I was due to get out of the Army. Again, I was mentally finished. I wanted to get out and I wanted to get out now. If I would have got out, my career would have expanded 14 years. Yes, I know, another six years and I could retire. But I didn’t care. I was finished.
I couldn’t explain my decision to anyone because they couldn’t understand how I could throw away 14 years without finishing out the remaining six for retirement. No one understood except for my military friends. Almost all of them understood because they were mentally drained, too. The biggest opponent to this decision was my wife.
When I told her my plans, she, uhm, hmmmm, how can I put this? She freaked out. She was pregnant with our youngest. She was labeled a high-risk pregnancy. She worried about jobs and money and jobs and money and jobs and money. She allowed her fears to consume her rather than trust in me as the head of the house and God as the Ultimate Provider.
Here I am with over 20 years of military service so you already know the decision we made. However, that decision did not come easy. There were talks that turned into arguments that turned into tears (her tears, not mine) that turned into more talks. The cycle continued for months. Finally, I gave in and re-enlisted to remain in the Army.
In 2008, that was when I decided to end my career. That was the warm-up to the actual decision.
Fast-forward to 2013. I told Laura I was going to begin my transition classes. These are classes offered by the transition assistance office (known as Soldier For Life; formerly known as ACAP) to assist with Soldiers returning to Civilian life. The classes involve resume writing, how to balance a checkbook, financial classes, Veterans Affairs classes, and many more. These good people assist with finding a job after the military.
At first, Laura wasn’t too keen on the idea of retirement. Once I effectively described my feelings and my concerns about remaining in the Army past 20 years, she began to accept the retirement decision. Of course, this decision came only after I sought God through prayer. In 2008, there was no prayer involved.
In 2014, I received orders for another reassignment sending me to South Korea. Another year away from the family. Another year of missing out on birthdays, holidays, family events, memories. I was growing tired of the separations. I was growing tired of watching my boys grow up on Skype, FaceTime, emails, and letters. I was tired of being tired.
While in South Korea, I told Laura I was submitting my retirement paperwork and it was time to say goodbye to military life. She was finally okay with the decision and we rolled with it.
The decision never came easy. I had two goals throughout my career. Goal #1 – Promoted to Enlistment Grade 8 (E8) and serve as a First Sergeant of a company. Goal #2 – Never serve as an Army Recruiter. Although Goal #2 was derailed in 2005, Goal #1 became a reality, sort of. I did serve as the First Sergeant, just never obtained the rank. I also served in higher positions than that, but that’s neither here nor there. Luke 12:48 says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I wholeheartedly agree with this.
Unfortunately, the Army was requiring too much. It was time to get off the fence and stand on one side or the other. Retire or Remain. Retire it is.
I hope I didn’t bore you with the first part of this series. There is so much more I want to share, but I would guide you down one rabbit hole after another. I hope you join me for Part 2 of Soldier to Civilian next week.
Continue making your decisions after steadfast prayer. I hope you enjoyed this story of how I went from soldier to civilian.
Making the decision to go from a soldier to civilian is one that we were able to make together as a family.