Coming out of the closet…or at least out of the fighting hole

Not that closet.  The “I’m getting out of the Marine Corps” closet!

So you’ve made your decision to hit the right turn signal and head for the offramp.  If you are like me, there are really a couple of stages in making the decision — firstly, you make the call to retire or get out, which is great.  Secondly, however, you have to tell people about it.  All kinds of people, like your spouse, your parents, your kids, your peers at work, your boss, your subordinates, pretty much everybody.

Great.  Easier said than done, or easier typed than said, I suppose.

Telling the family is pretty easy, because they were part of the decision to begin with.  With a sigh of relief, they readily embraced the thought of me being home for the holidays, so that was done.  Telling my extended family was likewise pretty easy; an email here, a phonecall there.  Again, easy to do because every single person in my family supported my career and more importantly my decision to move on.  The same with my friends outside the military.  They were very supportive, as they always are!

Not so easy when it comes to work, though.  In my experience, there are generally two types of people in the military:  meat eaters and grazers at the salad bar of martial life.  I have prided myself on being carnivorous, and have worked diligently and aggressively to be the best enlisted Marine and officer that I could possibly be.  However, with my decision to retire, I left the pack and joined the herd.  With such a migration came some startling revelations.

First, how do you tell everyone that you are, in effect, quitting?  In the Marine Corps we revere our veterans and still consider them Marines.  We expect excellence from every Marine in uniform, and invariably get what we expect.  There is a gulf, however, between contributing Marine and valued veteran.  It is really more of a pit than a gulf, though.  Before you get to wear a suit or a tuxedo to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball you have to go through that etherial process known as transition, a process that I am currently undergoing.  And before you start your transition, you have to tell your boss that you quit, and once those words leave your mouth they cannot ever be unsaid.  Just like death and pregnancy, quitting the service is pretty final.

In my case, I did so by email.  My boss was in Afghanistan and I wasn’t, so stopping by her office was a bit unreasonable.  At any rate, once the decision was made my electronic notice of career irrelevance headed out to the other side of the world, and within hours my email inbox received her reply.  I sat at my desk and just stared at the email header, trepidatious to open it for fear of what it might contain.  After all, I had just uttered the unmentionable, and with that email ended my career.  Fortunately, she is a great boss and was very thoughtful in her reply.  She gave me some great mentoring advice and asked how she could help.  Whew!  One down, about a zillion to go……

Once your boss knows, you can be sure that the word will be out at the speed of heat.  That is when I began telling people, or “socializing” it as we like to say in the military.  Interestingly, my pronouncement was invariably met with one of two responses from my military friends, seniors, peers, and subordinates: either a broad smile and “hey, that’s great!  What are you going to do next?” or a disdainful scowl accompanied by “quitter!”

The first response was always followed by a pleasant conversation.  The second response, well, not so much.  It was usually followed by an uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of my ego as it plummeted to the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces.

Another interesting note is that with my announcement to move on the conversations that I had subtly changed- I was no longer a part of the inner circle where decisions were made and deals were done.  I now stood on the fringes, watch the action that I had spent many years in the middle of.  Again, bruising for the ego but part of the process.  After all, it’s nothing personal, but in the words of Tony Soprano, “it’s just business.”  The positive side is that I no longer had to stay late when things got hectic, or tell my family that I was on a short list of people who may have to leave on a moment’s notice to somewhere hot and dangerous, so it all works out.

So, once you hit the blinker and head for the off ramp be ready for the conversations that you will have.  The decision you make is your own and your families, but as with all things in the military everyone else has an opinion…


4 responses to “Coming out of the closet…or at least out of the fighting hole

  1. Sir,
    First…Congratulations…although I’m sorry to see you go! Second…enjoy the salad bar of life…I hear the lettuce is always greener if you aren’t eating at the O’Club. You’ll always be a carnivore to me, and one of the finist influences in my life over the past twelve years. Though we didn’t keep up as much as I would have liked, I do continuously think of the lessons I learned from you as a Lieutenant. Fair winds and following seas. Semper Fidelis,
    Major Ben Harrison

    • Ben,
      Keep doing great things- and thanks for the kind words. I just found my old Battery Commander’s notebook from Echo Battery- hard to believe it has already been 10 years!

  2. Congratulations Sherry! Having experienced a similar struggle just a year ago – I recognize the challenges presented when making THE decision. Hooray for YOU! Embrace the experience!

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