Preparing to Depart the Pattern

By By Mike Hangge, mjHangge | November 1, 2015

You’ve planned dozens of missions and sat through hundreds of briefings. But now, as you ready yourself for the transition into civilian-hood, you will likely ignore your years of training and proceed blissfully unprepared into foreign territory.

Whether you’re retiring or simply moving on, you should be proud of the service you’ve given to your nation. That service should pay you back by assisting you in gaining civilian employment. But taking advantage of that experience requires more than simply flashing your DD 214 and telling heroic tales. To fully use it, begin planning early to find a job that suits your needs, meets your desires and requires your talents.

For most transitioning warriors, that planning will be as painful as answering the question from our teen years: “What do you want to do with your life?” That is no easier a question now that we’ve been masquerading as adults.


Getting out of the military is so difficult that some make entire careers just to avoid making that change. But there is life after the military. You should not fear it. Walk boldly toward it.

Being strategically bold requires education and planning. So, as your new life looms, educate yourself on what to expect, and plan on how to make it the best life you could ever live.

Like anything in life, the hardest step is usually the first. Educating yourself seems like a monumental task, but it really doesn’t need to be. Boiled down, the process of planning can begin with three easily digestible bites: What do you want to do? Where do you want to do it? How much do you need to get paid?

It’s as simple as that. Well, except for the small detail that few jobs would fully satisfy all three.

Don’t despair. The next step comes down to simply prioritizing needs based on what your family wants most out of life and then triaging from there. Is it more important to remain in the same house and sustain your checkbook balance, or do you want to follow your dreams of becoming a world-class bubble blower?

If you’ve been stuffing your mattress with gold bullion, the decision is simpler, but few of us have that kind of foresight. So sit down with your family, have an honest discussion, and then focus on positions that fulfill as many of your desires in the order you’ve deemed most important without completely abandoning the others.

No matter what you decide, you’ve got a world of opportunities available to you and the only one limiting your options is you. Rebecca Pierce, a prior career counselor at Soldier For Life–Transition Assistance Program and co-founder of Operation Azimuth (a non-profit dedicated to assisting veterans through the resume and interviewing processes) said, “Many transitioning soldiers box themselves into thinking their only skills lie in what their MOS qualifies them to do. Just because you flew helicopters for the Army, doesn’t mean it is your only qualification.

“You’ve learned a lifetime of valuable lessons from your service, so allow those experiences to dictate your qualifications instead,” added Pierce.

Though it would be a shame to waste the training you’ve gained through some difficult years, there is no reason to limit yourself to flying for pay. You need to take some things into considerations before making that decision: Do you still love to fly? Can you still pass a flight physical and, if so, for how much longer? Can your ego handle starting at the bottom of the flying food chain? Do you have the skills, training and experience for that next step?

We only get to live this life once, and we are trading time shares for dollars. So make the most of those dollars. Find something that fulfills your family’s needs while also challenging and exciting you. Use the discipline, experience and maturity that you’ve developed in the military to find your success. And make your new employers proud that they’ve hired a veteran.

As philosopher Albert Schweitzer once said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”


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