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Kevlar for the Mind: Transition to peacetime by developing new skills

May. 2, 2013 - 04:23PM   |  
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Q. Since I joined the Marines Corps 10 years ago, I have deployed five times to Afghanistan and three times to Iraq. We’re no longer in Iraq, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be going back to Afghanistan. I love deployment. I can’t imagine spending the next 10 years behind a desk. I’m not sure what to do.

A. Service members who joined the military after 9/11 are part of a generation whose frame of reference is war and deployment. For them, unlike troops of the post-Vietnam era, garrison life is nothing more than a brief respite while preparing for the next deployment.

Readjusting to the day-to-day monotony and grind of peacetime can be difficult for some. Deployment provides excitement, adventure and powerful bonds between comrades. By contrast, garrison life is administrative responsibilities, training exercises that pale in comparison to combat, and superiors with lots of time to nitpick about uniforms, grooming and adherence to obscure regulations.

Most troops will readjust to the new “normal” and finish out their careers in a peacetime military — barring any further wars in the near future. Most of those who don’t adjust likely will find rewarding careers on the outside.

Regardless of which group you fall into, these tips will help:

Find a new passion. If you look long and hard enough, it’s likely you’ll find some other aspect of the military that excites you. Maybe it’s going to Ranger, sniper or drill instructor school. Now may be the time to stop talking about applying for special operations or aviation training and actually do it. What do you want to do?

Become the Jedi. Deployment has taught you a lot. Now is the time to share your experiences and knowledge with the troops under you. Don’t let your sacrifices be wasted. Prepare the next generation for our nation’s future conflicts.

Expand your knowledge and skill base. Learn a new skill or trade. If you’ve spent the last 10 years kicking in doors and working checkpoints, maybe it’s time to “reclass.” Are you interested in technology, mechanics, logistics or health care? The military is not forever. Aligning the second half of your military career with your future civilian one is smart.

Join the National Guard or Reserves. Yes, you can keep one foot in and one foot out. The military has drawn heavily on the Guard and Reserves for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This likely will continue for future wars. Another 10 or 20 years in the military could provide you the opportunity to deploy again.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq and is the author of “Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment.” Email Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

Answers by RallyPoint

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