On a quiet day in the middle of June 2000, I retired from the United States Air Force. I had spent twenty years bouncing around the globe for Uncle Sam and was ready to grow a beard and relax. I had visited at least a dozen countries and experienced many cultures, but in my entire career had spent only eight years in the United States, of which less than one year, scattered over twenty years, in my own hometown. I spent two Christmases and one Thanksgiving at home and was present for one birth of my seven nieces and nephews. My family would mostly get to see me as I transitioned from one overseas base to another, where I would catch up on what had happened in their world since the last time I was home. If I was lucky, I would be home during a birthday, a wedding or even a funeral. I really missed watching my nieces and nephews grow up. I am married now, after 47 years as a bachelor and have a two year old daughter who is the apple of my eye. I am looking forward to being a family man.
One difference between military and civilian life is that in the military, if you don’t like your job or even your boss, you have to suck it up or get out when your enlistment is up. In the civilian world, you just give your two week notice and move on. Another difference is that I looked at my military service as my career. I was proud to come in every day and be there until the work was done. There was no overtime pay, just the satisfaction of making a difference. When I tried to continue this work ethic in the civilian world, I was chastised by my supervisors for working too many hours and laughed at by my fellow employees for what they considered just a job
When I started looking for post-military employment, I found that no matter how much experience you may have gained, it did not trump a college diploma. My civilian supervisors had two to four years in college while I had over sixteen years as a supervisor, yet they would get promoted and I would be unable to advance. I am currently going to college to make up some of that difference and I always tell separating military to do the same.
Saving For Retirement
One aspect of military life is that while your pay is not the greatest, they do provide housing and either pay you eat (basic allowance for subsistence) or provide you with a meal card. In other words, your pay is for paying for entertainment or buying clothes, electronics or cars. After twenty years, I had possessed a truck, some furniture and had less than $5,000 in the bank. The rest was spent on some great times and adventures. Even though I receive retirement pay, I still live paycheck to paycheck, but this is mostly because I have yet to get a job that pays a decent wage.
In the military, if you weren’t feeling well, you went to sick call. Mostly they gave you some drugs or ibuprofen and sent you on your way. It was considered somewhat macho to live with pain, but you always knew that if it got to rough, you could go get free medical care. Of course this also meant that you could physically exert yourself without a thought to the future. In the civilian world you have HMOs and if you are extremely lucky they don’t cost too much of your paycheck. Also all of those physical injuries could be considered pre-existing and that would drive up the costs as well. Lastly, your family was covered for free in the military, but that too drives up the price of healthcare.
So for those who are thinking of getting out of the military, I say get a college education, save some of your military pay, learn to be a team player, think about your future health and stay close to your family.