Militarycivilian Social Interactions Civilian Life Transitions

For the combat soldier, the most difficult aspect of transitioning to civilian life is the absence of a very strange phenomena: chaos under conditions of order. The combat soldier, having been subjected to repeated and extreme conditions where complete chaos occurs, but armed with training, a well defined set of rules that govern responses and actions, and a well defined chain of command which gives directions, finds that the peaceful, seemingly unregulated, and regular nature of life at home is disturbing to say the least.

The non combat soldier who operated under extreme conditions where job responsibility is enormous, and where interpersonal and political events carry far more weight, can be stunned by the change is what constitutes an important matter. The spit and polish in personal as well as professional life, while living in a community and work related “fishbowl” is no longer needed. And, in the military, there is nothing truly regular in any schedule. Chaos, whether simulated or real is expected at any time.

Suddenly transitioning to a life where there is no comparable chaos, social, rank, or other well defined structures, can be debilitating. Being able to wear whatever one wants to is one major issue. After years of having to put something as simple as a hat on, with perfect precision, when exiting a building, is an ingrained habit that is suddenly no longer necessary or even acceptable.

The transition includes living in communities where most of the neighbors are never seen, let alone known, and working in environments where the job, the corporate mission, or the supervisory and organizational structures are not as sharply and clearly defined as they are in the military. When the neighbor does not mow the lawn with the comparable frequency and quality that is required in military housing, it is a shocking reminder of the freedoms allowed in civilian life and how those freedoms impact others.

Having a giant block of “can’t talk about it” or “no one would understand or believe it” that sits in the middle of any ability to communicate about one’s recent and major life experiences with the freedom that civilians do, is another adjustment issue. The magnitude of events and issues that civilians bring up in casual conversation can be very disappointing and even boring, especially when casual conversations in military life can involve excitement, travel, transition, living in foreign countries and experiencing major historical events.

Translating one’s job into civilian equivalents can be impossible. Many military fields have no civilian counterpart, so that when someone asks “what did you do in the military?”, answers can be hard to give.

Finally, leaving the cocoon of overall military protection, which ranges from legal and medical care, to having housing, furniture if needed, and a commissary and base exchange, can be daunting, especially after a long term overseas. Reverse cultural shock is a real problem when soldiers find themselves back in their own culture, and out of the military at the same time.

Coming back to a highly industrialized and developed country from overseas where there may have been a small base, and a local economy that consisted of small villages, can result in a seemingly endless choices in products, in places for buying things, in ways to finance and pay for those purchases. Finding out about the latest technologies, and even choosing phone service can require deep research into comparable plans.

Military to civilian life transitions are not a life experience to be taken lightly. While there is wonderful and great freedom from the irritations and annoyances of military life, there is also the loss of structure, community and complete support. Emotionally, the loss of combat and non combat elements of chaos within trustworthy structure, is one of the most difficult aspect of adjustment.