You’re three weeks out of the required transition readiness program to civilian life. You’ve replaced your uniform with a suit (not cheap, at least in your mind) and put it on like you did your service bravos, aligning the gig line and de-linting it with a piece of tape. You walk into the first day of onboarding at work, maybe with a fresh haircut. This is it, you think to yourself, the beginning of my new life. You’ve worked hard, really hard. You endured the pain of training in the mud, climbing over walls and crawling under barbed wire. You’ve even been battle tested in some country you previously couldn’t identify on a map. You have the entire weight of your military time on your shoulders, and even though you don’t wear the rank, you feel it, like a shining beacon of what you stand for, the authority you possess. You walk into the training room, and within the first five minutes it dawns on you that nobody gives a damn.
There are people of all shapes and sizes. Some dressed smartly, others like they pulled their outfit together from a pile of crumpled clothes in the laundromat lost and found. They’re idling about, waiting awkwardly for the class to start. There are no ribbons on their chests to tell you if they’re combat vets, or if they’ve just done the glorified international cruises, because that’s how you usually sized someone up who showed up to a new unit.
The new hire class goes around, introducing themselves. “Hi, I’m _____. I went to ____, studied finance and economics, I was previously an associate at ____. I’m currently studying for my level 2 CFA and I like hiking and hanging out with my friends”. These are similar to the summaries on the Tinder profiles you’ll peruse weeks later, out of loneliness or boredom or both. They go around, hitting the wickets of accomplishments, goals, and hobbies. It’s your turn and you awkwardly attempt the same. “Hi, I went to ____, majored in political science, then served 5 years in the Marine Corps as an artillery officer. I like Crossfit.” The guy next to you shifts a little, uneasy and curious. They seem to be recalling everything they know about the military, and trying to size you up to see if you’re a PTSD riddled defected person or, as if it is the only other option, a bona fide war hero whose life was Call of Duty IRL.
During the break someone comes up to you and introduces themselves. They tell you that they thought of joining the military after 9/11. Or maybe they say their cousin went to Iraqistan and came back a mess. Or maybe they say "I just wanted to thank you for your service." Then they ask you if you’ve "seen" combat. Because to them that is the ultimate fantasy. If they’re especially bold, they might ask if you’ve actually killed someone. They don’t take it as morbid curiosity and you don’t really know how to answer, so you brush it off and try to make small talk. You realize that these are not your people, this is not your home. You’re once again somewhere unknown, but this time without the sweat-crusted body armor and an M4 slung with a dirt-ridden sling. The orientation program addresses all the company's affinity groups, including the one for veterans. You make a mental note to check it out.
Once you're home and neatly organizing all the pamphlets and PowerPoint slide handouts, you walk to the fridge to grab an IPA that you bought purely based on the alcohol percentage and pop it open. This is the beginning…again. Sh*t.
About the Author: Miko is an LA / NYC based writer who deployed thrice to Afghanistan with the Marines and worked in financial services in New York. He sometimes enjoys reading, running, rock climbing, and alliteration. Miko is also a contributor to the Veterans Writing Workshop (http://veteranswritingworkshop.org/books.html).