I lost everything I owned three years after leaving the Navy, including my marriage. Then I picked myself up, dusted off, and built a new life outside of my service. It was a tough, lonely, and sometimes scary, road. As we are experiencing one of the largest migrations of combat veterans to civilian life since World War II, it is my goal to share my own transition experience with the hope I can make it a bit easier for others by learning from my mistakes.
It’s tough going from a predictable routine, and a group of people you can trust to an unscripted life on the outside. It must be similar to being in prison for 10 years and getting out with no routine and in a strange world. For me, it was hard because when I left the Navy and the SEAL community, I had just made chief petty officer and many were resentful that I was leaving mid-career. They saw my leaving as wasting an E7 billet. There were more than a few rumbling voices at command. But, I’ve always had a strong opinion about doing 110 percent of something straight to the end, and if that meant putting my all into the job and getting promoted early, only to leave it all behind, then so be it.
I didn’t get too much support when I left, outside of my immediate family. Many veterans do not and that’s unfortunate because I think a lot of vets end up drifting off into bad places because there’s a genuine lack of community outside the military once you leave. If you’re thinking of the known veteran groups, most just aren’t relevant to the modern vet in transition. I keep hearing about the “Brotherhood,” but it really exists in a small part at the unit level only. It is heavily glamorized in film, TV, and social media — mostly by those who never served or worse, veterans who can’t leave their career behind and are clinging to some false narrative.
I’ll summarize my story as quickly as possible below, and then get on to the top 10 transition tips I think will be most helpful to my fellow veterans.