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  • Andrew Burke

Beyond The Uniform: Are you ready to leave...?

If there is one thing certain about every soldier's military career, is that it must come to an end at some point.

The closing of this chapter may come about in many ways such as personal choice, reaching the end of a service contract or at retirement based on age or medical grounds. Whether you plan to leave in several weeks or you intend to stay a few more years until your retirement age, either way, you should have a transition plan in place.

It is fair to say that not every soldier enjoys their military service; but equally, not every soldier is immediately suited to civilian life.

Retirement for many serving members is a milestone that is both celebrated and enjoyed, but for some, it is not always so pleasant. Whether you retire from the service on completion of your service contract or you have reached the maximum permitted age for your rank, it is necessary to reframe your skills, your experiences and redefine your "Why". Retirement is an opportunity to redirect those fundamental values, strengths, and attributes that you have learned through your time in the military and apply them in a brand-new environment. To be ready to take on this challenge, you must prepare and plan your transition to civilian life.

Aside from retirement, there are a considerable number of reasons that can cause a soldier to move on and to take up a career beyond the uniform. It should also be noted that there are a wide range of positive and negative feelings associated with serving in the military. Every soldiers' expectations and experiences are different, and as such, they often leave for a variety of reasons.

Typical reasons for leaving include excessive challenges on relationships with family and with children in particular. The high incidence of security duties, military training exercises and overseas deployments places a significant strain on these essential relationships.

Many serving members are offered lucrative opportunities in other sectors, and they seem to progress and grow into their roles with apparent ease. Those who remain don't always see the hard graft, the long hours, the initial demotion in position or the stunt to your confidence that is often experienced by veterans. They only see the new car, the nice house and/or the perceived perfect lifestyle. Where it is certainly possible to attain all these things, it does not come about without hard work, and a workable plan to get you there.

For some members, their life plan has always been to serve for several years, build their skills and their CV whilst experiencing high-intensity operational environments that an overseas mission provides. For these soldiers, albeit they may not have served as many years as a retiree, they still feel that same sense of loss and isolation as they depart and leave behind their colleagues. These members also need to plan for this loss and be prepared for a different environment, without the unquestionable support that their fellow troops provided.

Putting retirement aside, departing the military may not always be the right answer. It is not uncommon to speak with veterans who wish that they had thought through their decision more thoroughly, or that they had spoken with someone to help them explore their options. The situations that are promoting their desire to leave the service are, no doubt, real and painful. With some re-framing of their situation and an exploration of possible opportunities, a scenario may exist where they can continue their military career whilst being happy in their broader relationships and intrinsic needs.

Equally, you may find that life outside the military is not what you expect, and it may not give you the answers or the levels of satisfaction that you had hoped for. A real challenge for soldiers, is the inability to return to the military once officially departed. This is a “Fire and Forget” missile!” and the decision to leave should not be made without sufficient thought.

It is beneficial to take some time to think and analyse your reasons for leaving the military and explore them deeply and with honesty so that you can get a real appreciation of your current situation.

"Time Spent on Recce, is seldom wasted."

A useful tool that can be used to help this analysis is Lewin's Force Field Analysis which was created by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s. The model works by imagining that all situations have a steady-state and that they have both "Drivers for Change" (positive factors) and "Drivers that resist Change" (negative factors) acting in a push-pull manner upon the situation.

s you explore whether to leave the military or what's next on retirement, the forces for driving change might be, more time with family, a promotion, an increase in salary or maybe joining a new community group. On the other side of this analysis, the forces that are resisting this change might include factors like, leaving your colleagues, departing a secure job, fear of the unknown or having to make a new circle of friends.

A vital aspect of this tool is that you can apply weightings to each force dependant on its significance to your situation. Typically scored from 1 to 5, with 5 carrying the largest weight, apply a score to each factor and add all the scores on each side to get a combined score for both change and resisting change.

The final score does not make the decision for you, but by applying careful thought and an honest application, it can give you a good overall indication of your next steps.

Whether you are planning to leave very shortly, or you are still several months or years from your departure date, it is always useful to begin to analyse where you are and what options are available to you. Start this today.

Apply the Force Field Analysis tool and use it to explore your thoughts and options. Be honest throughout and try to capture as wide a range of positive and negative factors as you can. Ensure that the weighting that you give each factor is as accurate as you can be. Keep this analysis safe and review it regularly; it will change over time.

During my earliest days of field training, I remember being told: "In the military, we do not have forty shades of green: there is only green!".

This is a relevant analogy to keep in mind as you look to your future and consider what or where you see yourself after leaving the military. We often look over the fence and see perceived 'greener' fields, but what we see is a space where we want to be; a space where our pain points are solved, and where we get to live our best lives.

By taking the time to understand your life, career and relationships as they are now more deeply, you can pinpoint where you currently stand. When you know where you are, you can decide to stay put, or you can move to an alternative, improved position in your life.

Get the full picture, make some adjustments if necessary and then perhaps realise that the field you're in now, is actually the same colour green as it is over the fence!

Whether you shall retire soon or you have a real urgency to leave the military – take the time to self-assess, and remember, there is always someone who can help. Ring them!

Andy Burke is a veteran Army officer of the Irish Defence Forces with over 16 years of service. He is the founder of the "Beyonf The Uniform" program where he actively supports veterans and serving members to navigate and prepare for their life after service - the life beyond.

If you find yourself struggling or need to understand what leaving the military will mean for you, give me a call.

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