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5 Tips to Help Your Service Member Transition Out


Last September, we learned my husband would be out of the Marine Corps on Dec. 1. I should add that my husband was newly home from Afghanistan and we had a newborn. It wasn't exactly great timing.

Hubs had never had a civilian job before, and it wasn't the best time for us to think about me going back to work full time either. However inconvenient and not ideal that prospect was, moving into our parents' attic was way worse. Way worse.

There is no way around it: Transition is hard.

But no matter how challenging the road ahead, there are a few things you can do during transition to make it easier. These are the five things that helped us -- and they can help you too.

1. Lead by example

As soon as we had that military pink slip, I did the most logical thing I could think of: I ramped up my own job search. I'd hoped to work just part time with our baby -- a little time for me to be me and most of my time just being mommy. With unemployment on the horizon, I let go of that dream and did everything I could to secure full-time employment. If I managed to get a full-time job and he didn't, at least we'd have one income for sure.

The really genius part of it that I didn't count on was that in pursuing my own job search and career development, I was showing my husband how to do it, too. And since looking for a civilian job is a world away from enlisting or commissioning, that was a godsend for him.

The very first thing I did was get my online profiles up to date and professional. Gone were the pictures of me in a swimsuit pre-baby or holding a jug of sangria; replacing them were wholesome pictures of my family and profile descriptions that matched exactly what my resume promised me to be: a reliable freelancer you wanted on your team.

My husband had a LinkedIn profile, but all it really was was a picture of him holding a big gun somewhere in the wilds of Afghanistan. As I worked to make my profiles job search ready, so did he. I did all of my job work at the kitchen table after we got our baby down for the night, so as I worked, he asked what I was doing and did the same.

I turned to a lot of's spouse employment pieces for advice, and he happily read and applied them too. This was also helpful for our resumes -- especially his. He didn't want to admit he had no idea what to put down, but as I turned to our resources for help, so did he. The job skills translator was particularly helpful.

After I got my resume and profile ready, I emailed old bosses, professors and deans who I thought might be able to help -- anybody who might know people who had jobs available or make connections that could land me an interview somewhere.

Watching and learning, Bill did the same. 

Every email I wrote explained the transition and included a paragraph talking about Bill and what he had done, what his strengths were, and what he was looking for next -- just in case they might have a lead. When we talk about networking, this is what we mean when we say "leverage your network." While I specifically asked about help for me, I also leveraged my network for him -- something that actually served us well later on.

2. Revisit your roles

One of the more difficult conversations we had leading up to transition was about our roles in the family. We openly discussed whether he should become a stay-at-home dad for a while and me go back to traditional, full-time office work.

I hated this conversation and so did he. He wanted to be a full-time Marine, obviously. And I wanted to be a most-of-the-time mom. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and that meant us really talking about what made the most financial sense for us.

Despite how hard this talk was, it helped us spring forward. We knew what possibilities existed and what each other's limits were more honestly than we had before, and this enabled us to pursue our next steps more honestly.

3. Dream big

There was fun in our transition, which surprised me the most. Without the Corps telling us where to move next, we had an opportunity we never had before: the opportunity to move anywhere. This is the most awesome thing you can imagine after years of orders. We talked about Boston, where our closest friends are. Northern California, where we had fallen in love with the terrain. New York, where I'd worked full time for a decade.

For once, these conversations weren't pipe dreams, either. A lot of people confuse the terminal move rules, so this is a good clarification: It's not that the military will only pay to move you to your home of record, it's that it will pay for you to move the distance of your home of record. Even more technically, it will pay to move you the distance from where you are right now to the office out of which you were recruited.

The military will pay for the whole move, and you will owe any mileage on top of that -- but at a much discounted rate negotiated by the government. After you've completed the move, they'll send you a bill (about a month later), but you can get an estimate of that cost for planning purposes before you're packed up.

I call this the "big dreams" part of transition because it's like living a daydream. It's fun, amazing and good for your marriage. Planning a happy future together will help you do better then and now. It's the power of positive thinking and the excitement of a new leaf all in one.

4. Embrace the suck

But while you're busy day dreaming, celebrate the military like you're a young girlfriend beside herself with her hot, handsome soldier. Wear the branch sweatshirt. Fly the flag, go to activities on base, be gung-ho, and really soak it up.

In this way, you are supporting your service member in his or her last few moments of active duty service without neglecting reality, and you're also paving the way for a conversation about the reserves.

5. Consider the Reserves

I can't stress this enough. A Marine is a Marine all of his life, and transitioning back into civilian life can be a lot easier if yours still gets to don that uniform every month. Unless you accept a financial payment package in direct transition, you can transfer to the reserves without a commitment that might interfere with a future, unknown job schedule. Conversely, accepting any money offered to sign a several-year contract might give you enough padding to cover expenses for a several-month job search.

A word of warning for you, though: The reserves aren't exactly as advertised. Six months in, and we're still waiting for it to be the one weekend commitment we were told it would be. On the one hand, that's in no way surprising; on the other, it's really annoying. Thanks to several day drills and training trips, our entire family life is still revolving around the Marine Corps, but if my husband were being honest, I think he would say that's probably a good thing. It's certainly easing the transition -- and the bank account.

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