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Kevlar for the Mind: Prepare for transition to civilian life

Mar. 8, 2012 - 12:48PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 8, 2012 - 12:48PM  |  
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As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the Pentagon begins to carry out its plans to reduce the size of the military, tens of thousands of service members will leave active duty over the next few years.

Entering the civilian world after spending years in the regimented and often quirky military culture poses a variety of challenges. If unprepared, veterans will have a more difficult time adjusting to their new lives, leading to psychological and social distress.

If you will soon make the transition from 0600 formations and hours of standing in lines that go nowhere to the world of snooze buttons and express checkout lanes, here are 10 things you can do to ease your adjustment:

Manage your expectations. If you expect civilians to follow the rules or exhibit unconditional respect as you are used to, you will certainly be disappointed.

Be flexible. Not everything will be done to the high standards you have grown accustomed to. If someone doesn't meet a deadline or did not reach perfection on a task, cut them some slack.

Monitor how you interact with others. Remember, you have taken off the rank. Don't shout at, get in the face of or "drop" the 7-Eleven clerk because he didn't give you a receipt for your Red Bull.

Update your wardrobe. This applies more so to those of you who have been in the military for decades. If you are still wearing Birkenstocks, acid washed jeans, or inch-thick gold chains, it's time to make a trip to Sears.

Practice your smile. Stoicism is a valued and adaptive trait in the military. In the civilian world, it can come off as detached, intimidating and a tad unstable.

Be prepared to pay a little more for things. Unless you have forever access to your local PX or BX, get ready to pay the government its fair share of your money in the form of sales tax.

Prepare a budget. Related to the recommendation above, create a budget that details your income and outgoing cash. Food is no longer free, everything is taxed and electricity costs a small fortune.

Practice your job interviewing skills. Although going before a promotion board is good preparation for interviewing for jobs, you likely won't be standing at attention during your civilian job interview.

Get a hobby, if you don't already have one. Once you leave service, you'll need to find ways to fill your free time that don't involve assembling an assault rifle or completing a training schedule.

Figure out a way to stay connected to the military. You don't have to quit the military cold turkey. Stay connected to military current events by maintaining relationships with friends in the military or reading publications such as this one.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq and is the author of "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment."">Click here to send an 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.

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