One retired airman is making it his mission to ease the stresses of exiting the military.
As the founder of Military Transition (MT), an Ohio-based organization dedicated to those moving from the military to civilian world, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Niswander has become the “go-to guy” for thousands of former (and soon-to-be former) service members.
“My transition was successful, but it took a few years for me to adjust,” he said in an email. “Going from the most regimented environment in the world to limited-or-no structure isn’t easy.”
Niswander’s experiences eventually made their way into MT’s free e-books, “Truths About the Military Transition and Winning the Employment Game.”
Here are six lessons from Niswander and the MT team to know ahead of the transition from military service:
Expect some culture shock
It took a while to adjust to the regimented military lifestyle, right? It works in reverse, too. To that end, Niswander was surprised when his post-military job was not simply “like a new assignment.” There was no instant community, no familiar base buildings, no hierarchy of ranks and well-known rules. “I also assumed that I would walk in and have the same level of authority and responsibility as I did in the military,” he said. So temper expectations, and be prepared for a wakeup call amongst civilians.
Start preparing now
“The earlier you start thinking about what follows military service, the more likely you will address social, financial, emotional, educational and family elements associated with the transition,” Niswander said. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of adequate self-reflection and awareness prior to starting your transition.”
Have a transition plan
Enroll in official transition classes like DOD’s SkillBridge or TAP, crafting a plan for all life areas including finances, family support, medical and more.
Network, network, network!
Niswander attributes part of his after-military struggles to lack of networking. Consider joining a social or service group for veterans like American Legion or Team Rubicon. Create a LinkedIn Take advantage of the many organizations that help veterans transition back to civilian life. Most importantly, don’t isolate.
Learn how to translate your skills into “civilian language”
Don’t feel constrained by what you did in the military; you can choose something different once out. Even so, think about the skills you’ve gained in the military and how they might fit into future goals. Have a plan to get whatever degree or licensing you might need for your dream job (and considering using the GI Bill), but don’t expect your military ranking to land you a high-level position in the civilian world on day one.
Give yourself some grace
Not everyone feels at peace about their choice to leave the military. For some, their exit might have been precipitated by a family situation or problem at work, so they didn’t truly feel ready to go. Some might have felt confident at first but then regretted their decision. This is normal, Niswander said. “The best advice I can share is to ask for help and don’t allow regret to compound transition-related challenges and spiral into depression and suicide,” he wrote. Give yourself some grace, then, and be patient as you process your emotions.