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Five Ways to Make a Military to Civilian Life Transition Easier

By Vivian Banta

The process of transitioning out of the military can present its own unique set of challenges. While the armed services train soldiers well in technical and leadership skills and do provide soldiers with many useful resources as they exit, there are some things that military service does not prepare you for when re-entering civilian life.

Here are five tips to help make the transition a bit easier:

1. How to connect to a new community With its relocation and MWR departments, the military does a lot to help soldiers and their families adjust to a new base, posting and locale. Once out of the service, though, you may find connecting to a new community quite daunting. Apart from become involved with the school your children attend and joining a new religious organization, there are other ways to immediately connect to a new community.

Tapping into your interests, hobbies and sports can reveal others who are like-minded and share your passions. You can also choose to get involved by volunteering with a not-for-profit organization or taking a class at the local community college or at a hobby or home improvement store. Many cities also offer a Newcomer's Group to welcome recent additions to their new home. Check out the meetings and events calendar in your newspaper or ask at the local library to find out when they meet. It's a great way to meet people who may know a lot about the city, who can perhaps point you towards other resources and groups and who want to welcome strangers. Finally, civic organizations and special interest groups offer a further way to involve yourself in a new community and build long-term relationships that can help with your career as well as your social life.

2. How to write a resume Instead of a resume, the military uses a Field Service Record to detail qualifications, training and experience. This poses several challenges to you in civilian life. First, you may never have had to write a resume. Second, the information contained in the service record is dictated by military regulations. It may include things not applicable to a resume while neglecting to mention other useful and marketable skill sets. Finally, they are written in military language that is difficult to translate into civilian speak.

In addition to learning how to write a good resume, you must also learn how to remain marketable in today's business climate. Military planners often look ahead to determine future needs and train soldiers accordingly. Also, few soldiers are concerned about getting laid off in a downsizing. You didn't have to be ready with a current resume and a strong network of contacts. In the competitive civilian world, individuals must keep informed about where their chosen industry is heading and gain or refresh skill sets ahead of when they are needed to ensure their future employability.

Although soldiers pride themselves on being resourceful and self-reliant, this is one area in which it's best to obtain professional help. On many bases, there is a department that provides soldiers with specialized help in creating a good civilian resume and there are numerous outside sources of help as well.

3. How to select your family's support team Medical and dental care and basic life insurance is provided to all active military members and their dependants and soldiers. Similarly, soldiers have access to basic legal services through the Judge Advocate General (JAG) office.

Once out of the military, these support services are no longer available and you may have no idea how to locate, interview and select medical health providers, life insurance, lawyers and financial planners. It's important to learn about these different services, determine what your family's needs are and thoroughly research the providers before choosing your support team. Many resources are available, particularly on the Internet, to help you. Several even list important questions to ask during the interview process as well as the customer service record of various providers.

4. How to succeed in the civilian business world One of the first things that soldiers encounter is the competitive nature of the civilian business environment. Most find the dog-eat-dog mindset of their new civilian co-workers and supervisors bewildering and disappointing. After participating collaboratively in military service where you are trained from boot camp on to look out for and depend on the other members of your team, you may quickly discover that civilian workers are often lone wolves when it comes to careers. Where you might expect camaraderie and support, you might find anything from caution to backstabbing, from poor morale to ruthlessness. While this is not true of every work environment, you need to understand that this behavior grows out of a competitive employment climate marked by downsizing, industry shifts and turnover.

In the military, you are given an assignment for a specific length of time at a standard pay grade with a predictable salary and are provided with the clothing, equipment, and training necessary to carry out the mission objective. Ordinarily, you don't face such issues as researching a company prior to a job interview, negotiating salary and benefits packages, selecting and purchasing a civilian work wardrobe, keeping skills and a resume updated frequently, being ready for downsizing, creating and maintaining a network and giving a resignation notice without burning any bridges.

Working with a transition coach or other similar resource can help to process the experience and ease the pains of necessary change.

5. How to start your own business Perhaps because former military members find the civilian business environment so alien, some decide to become their own bosses and start their own businesses. Unfortunately, many aspiring small business owners do not take the time to fully research and plan how to start and run a business and lose whatever savings they have managed to accumulate. Starting your own business requires a clear vision, full commitment, plenty of work, and realistic planning.

Fortunately, there are many resources available. Start with a local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center (part of the SBA). These organizations can help or point you in the direction of further assistance.

Copyright 2005 Vivian Banta

About The Author
Vivian Banta is a life coach who works with people in transition including those who are relocating, changing careers, shifting from military to civilian life, and dealing with personal relationship changes.

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