Was it ever going to be normal. Can you ever replace the buzz that is the best job in the world? Can you ever fit into Civvy street outright or will you always have one foot in the forces? A small piece on how I felt once I left the regiment.
It was a day which came a bit early for me, but having made my decision to leave the military based on a few personal events I was signing my paperwork, handing over my money and handing my kit in. Mixed emotion but with everything I’ve ever done, once I decide what I’m doing, I hit it full on. No time for regret just focus on forging ahead. I would be lying if I said I was not upset driving out of camp for the last time as a trooper but as I said to my squadron commander “Sometimes if you’re dealt a shit sandwich you gotta get some ketchup on it and choke it down.” I’d felt like this before as a kid when I was expelled from the public school so I knew the feeling.
My first reality check came very early on. I literally left with only a couple of grand in the bank and I was now renting accommodations, paying bills, running a car but there was now a difference. There was no money coming in. The whole time I was in the army at the end of every month, come rain or shine, there is money going in your bank. Now all of a sudden NOTHING. I ran out of money in the first four weeks and there was nothing coming in and nobody to even borrow off of. I literally couldn’t afford a cup of tea. I had to make an emergency decision. I had to go down to the job centre and try to get a what they call a ‘crisis loan.’ I was immediately informed that as I had left the army of my own accord, it was my problem not theirs. Things were not looking good and I had to have an interview with one of the agents there to see if there was anything they could do for me. The fact I had been in the SAS meant nothing in there. I was just the next number in the queue. Not that I had expected any favours just because I had served, but looking around at some of the other people in there, I had put more into the system than some, and it was not being reflected here. They all seemed to known how the system worked and were all walking out with cheques.
After a whole heap of questions and a lot of forms filled out, I was granted a loan of fifty pounds on the condition that I attend a job interview. “No drama,” I thought, but what job were they going to send me to try out for. I had no qualifications outside of the military and they went over the woman’s head. Who wants a demolitionist or a saboteur in civvy street. She didn’t give a damn that I’d been on ops. In fact it wasn’t even worth pointing out she would have just stared at me with the same blank look she gave me when I tried to explain I was ex special forces. “Security,” she said and went into her computer. Her head came back up and she said “Here have a look at this, you can apply today and arrange an interview.” I looked at the screen as she turned it round. It said, LOLLIPOP MAN REQUIRED. Basically after a good term with special forces all I was qualified to do on civvy street was to marshal school kids across the street. I arranged an interview, took my cheque and left. To say I was deflated is an understatement. I felt so low I could have gotten under a snake’s belly with a top hat on.
Anyway shit sandwich time, off I went with my fifty quid cheque which had to be cashed in the post office, which was now shut. “Welcome to civvy street,” I thought. Harsh lessons are good lessons in my book, and this one incident got me straight off my arse in the realisation that being ex-SAS was not enough to pay the bills. Hard work and effort was going to be the only way ahead. That night as my son had the last of the beans on toast washed down with tap water, I knew that it was not going to be easy. I had never been without work since the age of fifteen, when I worked at a wine bar washing up and bluffed my way into a factory as a labourer. I had not given myself the best chance by throwing away my schooling. But I had, at least even before I joined the army, managed to keep myself in employment.
I cashed up my fifty pounds, bought some food, and then some stamps and paper to start applying for work. I kept three pounds, changed it up into ten pence pieces so I could make some calls, and started to scour my friends list to see what was going on. Within a week, a friend of my old Troop staff sergeant had given me some temporary stuff protecting journalists; and within two months I was signing a contract to go to Afghanistan for a couple of years on a proper contract.
Civvy street was not going to take care of me. My army friends and colleagues still had my six. I have had highs and lows and this is not the last time you will see me write about this subject. I am hoping I can pass some of the lessons I learned on to those getting out or who are struggling with being out. Every ex-serviceman or woman is trainable and has proved it by serving.
Featured image courtesy of PhilCampion.com