The Occupational Disease of the Soldier

transition from servicemember to civilian

Anton Myrer, in his classic novel "Once an Eagle," described what he called the occupational disease of the soldier.

Anyone that has served on active-duty has experienced the symptoms of this disease. It's that self-righteous feeling that higher-ups are always messed up and subordinate units are never doing their jobs.

This feeling is pervasive throughout every level of the military, and is the source of indignant pride that says, "I'm not the one that's messed up! It's battalion!"

Self-righteousness inhibits progress, improvement, and damages the relationships needed to accomplish the mission. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Like alcoholism, service members must battle every single day to not give in to the urge of blaming others in the face of the consistent, ordinary problems that arise from conducting military operations.

When I felt this urge while on active duty, usually several times a day, I would force myself to pause, take a deep breath, and then ask myself these three questions:

  • What did I do to contribute to this problem?
  • What can I do to solve this problem?
  • Who do I need to speak with to prevent this problem from happening again?

After taking a few seconds to relax and think about these questions, I usually came to the conclusion that I contributed to the problem in some way and it was typically within my power to solve it. This approach significantly improved relationships with higher, adjacent, and subordinate units and usually, and most importantly, improved the training or operational experience for the Marines.

However, I see a lot of transitioning veterans still suffering from this disease.

It is incredibly difficult transitioning from active service to a civilian career. There are so many cultural differences between the military and corporate worlds and veterans have to learn them quickly in order to succeed. Some veterans don't adjust very well, and as a result seem to trip and struggle even more with finding their place back at home.

The natural reaction for veterans is to blame others: "the military didn't prepare me to be successful in the corporate world, the Transition Assistance Program is horrible, no one back home cares or understands what I did, no one at the V.A. is helping me, the interviewer didn't like military veterans." 

In some cases, the above-mentioned claims may be valid. In most, they are not. And even if they were true, you would be much better off taking corrective actions than sitting back and whining about other people or poor programs.

If you are struggling to find your place at home, if you are hitting a wall with gaining employment, take a hard look at yourself. What are you doing wrong? What can you be doing better? What information do you need? Who should you be connecting and building relationships with?

They key to your successful transition lies solely with you. You're going to make a lot of mistakes. You're going to fail. It's no one's fault but your own. The sooner you realize this and take corrective action, the sooner you will find your way back here at home.

 Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York.  He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.

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