When Uncle Sam Breaks Up With You

Here is a tremendously important story from a great blog about the challenges of taking off the uniform before you feel that you are ready…

Gina left the mall

A while back I told you about my soldier who was fighting to stay in the Army despite his many injuries. The post was called Beating The Odds. I shared our unlikely friendship (we don’t have much in common) and how our paths would never cross except in a cafe in Iraq over a $2 donated cup of coffee (Cup of Joe.) I also asked for some supportive comments he could share with the Medical Evaluation Board. Readers responded and he and his family were very touched. This post is the update to that story.

It worked before

Staff Sergeant RD had been injured before and forced to medically retire before. He fought his way back by getting stronger and getting waivers. That was a good thing because when it came to being a civilian, his transition was like something out of a movie. Specifically, the second act…

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Coffee klatch or support group?

Yesterday I linked up with a couple of friends that I was lucky to serve with while we were all still in uniform.  None of us still lace our combat boots up every day, but that part of our lives is still inextricably linked with the lives we live today.  Each of us retired as a senior officer with over two decades of service, complete with piles of shiny trinkets and ribbons and medals festooned across the uniforms we wore as a part of our military careers.

That was then.  This is now.

Now, we are just three guys sitting in the local diner having breakfast and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

The conversations we have now are very different from those we had when we were still serving; we talk of job opportunities, kids, school, and the many other things that are part and parcel of any normal yakfest.  What is a little different, though, is the impact that meeting for breakfast has on each of us.  Each of us chose to serve the nation as a career Marine, and each of us chose the time when we would hang up the cloth of the nation and move on with our different lives.  What we didn’t expect, though, was the turbulence and confusion that immerses the shift from one life to another.

The transition is not an easy one, but being around others whom you know and respect that have walked the same path helps smooth out the rocks and ruts along the way.

We meet not only because we knew each other way back when, but also because meeting serves as a lifeboat in the churning sea of transition.  We can each take a break from our lives and just be ourselves around others who need to do the same.  We share ideas and thoughts and experiences along with reminiscences and hopes and dreams.

It is very therapeutic, really.  And really quite helpful on the journey from one life to another because even though we don’t have an agenda or a real reason to get together, just doing so serves as a recalibration point that helps allay our concerns and reset our perspectives by listening to the perspectives of others.

So my point to this is that every man and woman who hangs up the uniform and heads back to civilian life will go through a real and significant change, and that change can be overwhelming if you try to do it completely on your own.  Wherever you are, I am positively certain that there are other veterans who are nearby and who are going through the same emotional rollercoaster that you are.

Look around.  If you don’t know another veteran, then stop by the local VFW or American Legion.  Ask around at the VA.  Check out the paper for events that veterans are likely to attend, and go yourself to meet and network with other vets.  And when you meet them, invite them out for a cup of coffee somewhere.

You will be surprised at how readily another veteran will be to meet you at Starbucks or Peet’s or whatever the local coffee shop in your town may be called.  One veteran will turn into two, then three, and before you know it you will have your own coffee klatch that you can meet with to share your hopes and dreams and challenges and frustrations with.  You will have created a little group of people who not only share the trials and tribulations of transition, but also need the outlet that your coffee klatch becomes.

You can call it a coffee klatch or a support group or whatever you want, but in the end it is a way that you and people like you can make a little better sense of their changing lives.

So get out and find a vet to share a cup of coffee with.  You’ll be glad that you did.