Is it different not being in the military community? How’s the financial adjustment? How will things be for us as a couple?
These are just a few of the questions asked by people who are soon to separate or retire from the military, and want to know how they should expect life to look. But one of the most common struggles is answering the question that many veterans and their spouses may be hesitant to voice: Who am I now?
While the average military career lasts five to eight years, the Department of Defense reports that between 2014 and 2016, over 32,000 veterans retired from the armed forces. These veterans spent two plus decades serving their country while walking side by side with others who shared the same mission, culture and experiences.
On April 30, 2015, Staff Sgt. Karl Magwood became one of those veterans. He retired after serving in the Marine Corps for 20 years.
But the positive expectation he held of his transition dissolved as reality set in.
Now four years after retirement, he said, “I’m still looking for a purpose. The Marine Corps gives you a purpose. You don’t have to wonder. They tell you what you’re here for.”
Before leaving the Marines, Magwood was advised by a senior officer to take time off to discover who he was beyond the military as a person, husband and father. Titles, he says, that he may have neglected because of his devotion to service.
“After you’ve been doing something for so long, it’s hard to shake it,” Magwood said.
Two months after retirement, he started a full-time job.
For this Marine, who served two tours in Iraq and took pride in accomplishing his everyday tasks as an information security technician, Magwood found it hard to have idle time. His wife of seven years, Denise Magwood, recalls her husband’s experience on his new, civilian job.
“Karl was still in military mode of getting the job done,” she said. “The supervisor told him to ‘Just relax and enjoy getting paid to do nothing.’ That’s not how my military minded husband rolls.”
After 54 days before his probation period was up, Karl Magwood was released from that position, being told he wasn’t a good fit.
He was hired for another federal position and was released from that one after only three months. Karl Magwood went from being a devoted Marine for 20 years, to losing two jobs within five months.
The former Marine then went through what he refers to as “the great gain.” He put on a significant amount of weight and was diagnosed with diabetes.
“I checked out mentally, and depression tried to get a hold of me. I started to question my self worth,” Karl Magwood said. And although he was now able to be a husband and father, he didn’t feel useful.
He admits that about 80% of his identity was tied to being a Marine.
Karl Magwood’s saving grace came through his wife. His wife started a business, called Diva Style Accessories, where she’s been successfully selling jewelry for the past two and a half years.
“I noticed he started wanting to help. I would do shows and he’d say, ‘Babe I’ll do the invoices and the shipping.’ I just wanted him to be happy and I knew he needed to be doing something to feel good, so he basically became the labor for my business,” she said.
Denise Magwood continued, “He’d become distant and standoffish and I could see the stress of not working was triggering some PTSD that he’d previously dealt with. He started to question his purpose and his place. I wanted him to understand that because of his time in the service, he was still able to provide for us now through his retirement pay and disability.”
Karl Magwood acknowledges that there are organizations that he can go to for help. Organizations like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one of the largest organizations for veterans and their families that was founded in 2004. But he says that in the past couple years he has grown and been supported by the relationships in his local church.
“It’s a loving church and there’s always someone I can reach out to for help,” Karl Magwood said. “There’s no need for me to wear a Superman cape.”
In May, Karl Magwood started a new job after being a stay-at-home dad since 2016.
He said, “I need something that is fulfilling personally, so I can be a whole person for my wife and kids.”
Of the many service members who will be making their transition to civilian life soon, and may struggle with identity and purpose, Karl Magwood shares some advice:
“Take at least three months off to adjust your mind and recoup. You don’t have to get back in grind mode. Take the extended vacation and get to know yourself,” he said.Read comments