In August of 1998, I did something that came as a complete shock to my parents and those who knew me. I joined the military. After a failed attempt at college I decided that shrink wrapping windows in northern Minnesota was not the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life. So one warm summer day, I drove 2 hours to the nearest recruiting station to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and enlisted in the Navy.
My transition from Navy life to civilian life was not as smooth as the transition into the Navy. During the last year or so of my contract, my marriage fell apart. I won’t go into specifics, but it was messy. A single life changing event can be hard enough to plan for. I now had two. A divorce and my exit from the only real career I had ever known. The Navy offers a class for the sailors who are about to leave its ranks. It is called the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Unfortunately, I will never know what was taught in that class due to the schedule of the ship I was stationed on and received a waiver. I was heading to the outside world and it seemed the only thing the Navy was giving me was a pat on the back while whispering “Good luck!”
At first, things were going very well. I had the job I thought I wanted almost immediately after getting out of the Navy. I had decided to stay in the area that I had served in and had gotten a job at a local car dealership. Say what you want about car salesmen, but the job can be a whole lot of fun. And the money can be very good. Even with the divorce still looming over me, I felt good about where I had landed in life.
Everything went very bad, very fast. The real estate bubble popped and the market dove. People were definitely not buying cars if they could not afford to pay for their homes. This in turn was making it increasingly difficult for me to pay for my home. Not that it really mattered, because I was being forced to sell the home and split the profit with my ex-wife as a result of the divorce, which meant I would also be homeless soon. I started drinking pretty heavily. It seemed like a fantastic way to deal with the fact that I had serious problems. Not surprisingly it just added to the problems I already had. I even got arrested for a DUI on a night that I actually hadn’t been drinking. I had to use what little money I had left to pay for the attorney to fight the charge. The lawyer I hired easily won the case. That bright spot was offset by the fact that I was now completely broke. With no money coming in I had several banks sending me some very nasty letters. My truck got repossessed and I was being threatened with eviction, even though I was actively trying to sell my home.
I eventually left the struggling dealership to allow me to fully concentrate on finding new work. After a couple of months of being unemployed I finally got work with a temp agency that was able to place me at a local shipyard. That was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. Years later, I am still working for the shipyard, but now as a full time employee. I worked hard to turn around my misfortune and it is paying off. I have a beautiful new fiancé that will be my wife before the year is out. Life is getting good again, and this time I’m going to make it stay that way. At first, it felt like the Navy kicked me out into the world without a care, just because I chose not to retire. I was wrong of course. The Navy had given me everything I needed to survive from the very beginning, by instilling in me its core values of honor, courage, and commitment.