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.
This is very much on my mind. One of the troops I support is apprehensive about his upcoming transition. His is made more difficult by the fact that it is not his choice (he is being forced to medically retire due to combat injuries.) I will share your post with him. Thank you for this.
Thank you for the great work that you are doing! I reblogged that particular post- there are a lot of people in uniform who feel exactly the same way.
Mike, thank you for reblogging and thank you again for the words of wisdom you left for RD (and all of us) ! I think your line, “Leaving the military before you are ready is like divorcing a spouse you are still in love with” really captures how he feels and truly gives us civilian folks a clear picture. He has a challenge in front of him. But hopefully this post helps RD see that he need not face it alone. Thank you again!!
Mike, you’ve heard from me before. In our area breakfast clubs have been started and sustained for about five years now. One grew into two etc. all ages and services are welcome and the wealth of knowledge and experience is overwhelming. Now the groups are starting their own outreach and civic volunteering. And it all started with scrambled eggs and bacon. Keep up the good work.
That’s great to hear! Good for you and all of the folks in your club. I see our group growing in the future…
In 2008 I left the Marine Corps less than a year after returning from my 3rd tour in Iraq. For whatever reason I don’t seek out other veterans. At one point, a couple years ago, I looked for a veterans support group. I got the address, and was all ready to go but I failed to show up. I’m not sure really why.
Around the same time I started to get into triathlons. I started out with the little sprint tri’s then went to the Olympic distance, then half-iron distance and in May I finished my first full Ironman triathlon in Texas. It’s very therapeutic for me. One of the guys that I race with is a former recon Marine, but he never experienced combat nor served in a combat zone. The link that should be there isn’t. It is considerably easy, and more relaxing talking to fellow vets that have been to combat.
One a side note Mike, I sent you an email on your old xo0802 email account. I’m not sure if you still use it or not.