After leaving the military a lot of veterans go through an identity crisis. Military life has such a unique culture that it is almost impossible to not associate it with your personal identity.
The main point of boot camp is to break down what makes you an individual and to teach you how to conform with everyone around you. You are told what to wear, how to do your hair, to shave daily, where to live, and even given a whole new language (acronyms overload). Your entire day is planned out for you every day whether you like it or not. There isn’t much thinking required as far as choices go. Most decisions are made for you.
When the service member leaves the service, they are not just leaving a job behind. They are leaving behind a culture, a way of life, and many forms of security.
This blog is only touching on the identity of the veteran and I want to acknowledge that there are more complex issues when transitioning such as mental health and PTSD.
Not every veteran has the same experience, I am very fortunate to have had a fairly smooth transition compared to others. I would just like to highlight every day issues that aren’t talked about but are totally normal when leaving the service. I feel a lot of vets will be able to relate.
I was so excited to get out of the Navy because I would finally have more freedom to do what I want without the military’s restraints. But when the time came it didn’t take long for the novelty feeling of being a civilian to wear off.
I tried to remember who I was without the Navy. I, like most, joined when I was 18. Was I supposed to resort to who I was back then? A pretty much reckless teenager? No, but sometimes it felt like that was the only personal identity I remembered.
Even though I was going to school, I kind of felt like a loser. A lot of my civilian friends had already graduated and were working in real jobs. I was surrounded by kids much younger than me and I was just the weird older person in their class. Also, people put the military on a pedestal and now that I was out, I was just another broke college student not contributing to society.
There were so many choices that I had to make now that were normally made for me while I was in the service. I had anxiety about my appearance. It sounds silly, but I really did have a hard time with clothes. It was frustrating having to decide what to wear and how to look professional. I struggled with talking to people. I would treat my professors very formally, like I would with my higher-ups in the service, when I could’ve been more personal with them. I also was afraid to talk in class because I was used to being a little more crude, when the college environment is more sensitive.
I, like many veterans, started over in a totally unfamiliar environment in a new state with no family or friends around. In the military I was surrounded by tons of friends and people who could relate to me, now I felt isolated.
So who am I?
I am a veteran.
I started to identify myself as a veteran, the one word that can explain what I have been through and why I am where I am today. It took me awhile to embrace this label. When you think of the word veteran, you probably think of an old man who served in Korea or Vietnam, you don’t think of a 23 year old woman. I really had to own this title to show people that there is more than one type of vet. And the more I did that, the more I could make sense of my place in the world.
This holds true for many people who have left the service. They are stripped of their identity when they join and confused about it when they leave.
So, if you know someone who has served, don’t be surprised if they cling to the fact they are a veteran. It is a title that is earned and one that cannot be taken away.
I have recently started a Facebook support group for younger veterans and transitioning service members. If you or anyone you know could benefit from this group the link is here: