There I was preparing to board the plane at Anchorage International Airport back in 2003, to head back home to New York. My mind was all over the place as I stood there in line, because although I was excited to get back home to my family and friends, I wasn’t really sure what to expect next in life. Leaving behind my military friends, well that was tougher than I had thought and my emotions plagued my mind as I flashed back to the great times I shared with them, but I had made this choice to separate from the military.
This was a day I will never forget, because it was at a pinnacle moment in my life having just completed 4yrs of serving in the Air Force experiencing so much, and then having to fly back home for good as if it was just all a memory. I remember the months leading up to the day I separated, as 12hr shifts turned into 16hr shifts having to run around Elmendorf AFB to get paperwork signed off, turn in gear, sit in briefings and pack away my belongings for the movers. I was so busy in those last couple of months, I literally couldn’t remember everything I had done before I was given my official copy of my DD-214. Add to all that, having to celebrate one last time with all your military friends who became my second family, and you can get an idea of just how emotional these last months were.
Before you know it there we were, my friend Eric and I sitting at a desk talking to the separation counselor, one of the last steps to out-process. We were given a pep talk on what steps to take when we got home, such as collecting unemployment and attending school to use our GI Bill. We were given a book titled “From Air Force Blue to Corporate Grey” , which is still part of my collection of resources today. The book was “Eh”, had some good points, but the last thing I wanted to do when I returned home was to open a book and begin reading 136 pages hoping that once I was done, I would have a job lined up, my own place, and plenty of money to get me off my feet once again.
For some of us it may work out just as good as that, but for the most of us, it will not. We have to take the initiative to prepare to separate from the military, and the sooner we begin, the better the odds are of returning home and having that job ready for us, the home to call our own, and just the right amount money to help us begin our new lives as a civilian.
Some of my Suggestions that helped me throughout my Transition.
– Start planning months before you exit
– Start getting an idea of what interests you in life to work towards making a career change like myself (From Military Police to Guidance Counselor)
– Plan where you will live, if its moving back home with your folks or on your own. If its with your parents, understand they haven’t been around you in so long, so be patient with them getting to know the new you. I’ll talk more about this in another blog entry, cause I have more to talk about, believe me.
– Come home, take a breather, be patient, but at the same time get yourself over to the VA and register (don’t take 4yrs like I did), get over to the Dept. of Labor and start your unemployment benefits (nothing to feel guilty about, you earned it), and connect with any other organizations that are setup to help us veterans in anyway they can.
– Understand when you come home, things will be different, your high school friends may have their lives set (Married, moved, raising a family, still getting into troubled) whatever the case is, understand what once was may not be when you return home.
– Get active while the pieces come together, join sports teams, start a hobby, help around the house, donate your time with one of the many Non-Profit organizations created to help us veterans (I volunteered with The Soldiers Project), DON’T BE STAGNANT (I experienced this and stress and anxiety entered my life)
– Do your research online to find whatever information that could help you in your Transition. Hopefully www.transitioningveteran.com will be a huge help to get you started.
– AND USE YOUR GI BILL BENEFITS, it can be your ticket to gain more knowledge in the career field you were in while in the service, or it can be your ticket to a new career field.
-If your married with kids, look into Adult Education courses, or online courses.
-I like to recommend your State and Community Colleges (Valuable education that won’t bury you knee deep in debt), but there are also some great Private schools that will offer tuition support as well.
– Be sure to still apply for Federal and State Tuition Assistance, and education grants. Your Federal GI BILL does not exempt you from being rewarded these monies. Of course one state may differ from another so be sure to check with your state.
– Also, consider an Internship. This is a great way to learn about your new field of choice, network, and gain the experience so many if not ALL companies want these days. Unfortunately, what you did in the service may still not be enough for many companies out here in the civilian world.
– When you separate, your now part of the Veteran Family, stay in touch with your buddies and be a new friend to Veterans in your community (Support our elderly vets). Veterans helping Veterans needs to continue so we can help those Veterans dealing with so much on their mind and in life.
– Don’t take your Transition for granted, life throws curve balls at us sometimes and plans can change in a flash
– Be Proud of what you have accomplished and achieved during your time in service, NOT MANY DO WHAT YOU JUST DID.
I never thought I’d be sitting here today typing to you all having completed 4yrs in the Air Force, traveled the world, having earned a Master’s Degree and watching an idea come to life. You never know where life will take you, but never think you cannot succeed.
Wanna pick my brain more email me, I’m here to help firstname.lastname@example.org