When I Left the Army
Walking through the corridors of Barker Barracks, Paderborn in Germany, on a manhunt to find the final few relevant officers and Sergeant Majors in order to obtain their signatures upon my leaving documents. I was too naive to realise at the time that I would be getting more than just their signatures and it was I that foolishly chose to ignore the sound advice and opportunities that they proposed.
I would be leaving the army in a matter of days. It was already locked in and set in stone, at least in my mind. Still, it didn’t stop certain officers and higher ranks from putting other opportunities on a plate in front of me.
I can recall having a discussion with one particular Sergeant Major who shall remain unnamed for the purpose of privacy and respect. I can remember it as if it was only yesterday, although it was nearly five years ago. When slamming my tabs in and coming to attention at his office door in request of his signature, the look on his face said it all. Here was a man with more than twenty years experience, not only in the army but also in ‘civvy street’. He looked over at me from across the desk and exhaled in frustration and disappointment.
“What are you going to do in civvy street Corporal Kennedy ?”
That was the first words that came out from the Sergeant Major’s mouth. Looking back on it now, my reply was more than comical:
“I don’t know sir, I’ll probably be a stone mason or I might try tree surgery. I haven’t figured that out yet”.
What the f**k did I know about becoming a tree surgeon, let alone stone masonry. It was obviously clear to the Sergeant Major that this young and naive mong didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
(Let’s just be clear, I am still talking about myself here).
He began to throw multiple amounts of advice, opportunities and a number of alternative options out on the table. Nonetheless, I still chose to ignore it all because I was so eager to leave the army and I thought I knew what was best.
From that point, I ignorantly began my unplanned journey into the civilian world having conducted no research at all.
Note to self: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
My dad was able to get me a job within a civil engineering firm that he was also working for at the time and that was only because I had my HGV license (Heavy Goods Vehicle). I was unaware that this would be my first test in transitioning from soldier to civilian and I’m not referring to the lorry driving.
I found myself at the deep end of a lesson in coping with civilians. Before I continue, when I say civilians, I don’t mean to tarnish all civilians with the same brush. Nonetheless, I did come across some certain individuals that put my patience to the test.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the word to spread among my new work colleagues that I had recently returned from Afghanistan. I recognise that many civilians are keen to understand the life of a soldier and especially a soldier who has operated on deployments in Iraq and Afghan. Be that as it may, I struggled to cope with the ignorance of certain individuals who I shall not name.
“So have you ever killed anyone”?
My previous understanding was that this is not a question that you should really ask a veteran out of respect. Albeit, I answered professionally and honestly.
“To be honest, warfare is not exactly how it is portrayed in the movies and it is far from what you experience on the Playstation game, ‘Call of Duty’. I’ve not had any confirmed kills but I can’t be sure that my multiple and I have not injured some Taliban fighters during certain contacts”
I believed this to be a reasonable and fair answer without belittling the guy who asked me the question. He then somehow came to a conclusion which increased my blood pressure to boiling point within seconds.
“You couldn’t have done much out there then”?
Although I had to restrain myself immensely from dragging this guy out of the truck and offering him a chance to stand toe to toe with me, I decided to bite my tongue and ignore him. To this day, I sometimes wonder if I had made the right decision.
It is far better to make an attempt to improve a civilians understanding and educate them or to just walk away. Of course, you do have a third option. You could escalate the situation and end up in a petty confrontation which will result in you being on the wrong side of the law. Believe me, you don’t want to go down that road.
There were certain situations where my pride kicked in and as a result, my blood pressure hit the roof. However, sometimes I wonder if that pride was just a mere chip on my shoulder. This stage of my transition was realisation and reflection. It is ok to be proud but the challenge is to be proud in a healthy proportion.
It wasn’t long before I realised that I didn’t want to be a lorry driver for the rest of my life. Since leaving the army in May 2012, I’ve been bouncing in and out of different jobs whilst subconsciously trying to fulfill certain elements in my life.
1. The value of I – A sense of self-worth.
2. The spring in my step – Satisfaction and Enthusiasm
3. My purpose within this world – My reason to get up and go
4. Belonging – My place within society
One of the greatest challenges I have faced in ‘civvy street’ is being able to realise and come to terms with the fact that I am no longer a section commander of the British Army.
Let me go into this in more detail.
I understand and accept that when I handed in my army ID card, I also effectively handed in all of my infantry qualifications and rank. The moment that I stepped into civvy street, I felt that I instantly became a nobody. Just another statistic within society. I have dished out hundreds of curriculum vitae’s in the past five years and I have had zero replies. As an infanteer, I can advance to contact, close with and engage with the enemy. I can navigate my way around a hostile environment and lead my men into battle but all of this counts for nothing in the civilian jungle.
I feel as though my true capabilities and life experiences are not recognised out here in ‘civvy street’. It’s hard to let go of what we were before; a mean and green fighting machine. Now it feels as if I am a nobody.
More so, what I truly struggled with when transitioning from soldier to civilian was even deeper into the dark pit than what I have already explained to be on the surface. I don’t mean to offend you when I say this and remember it is only a matter of my opinion. This is not a fact, this is just how I feel.
I can’t help but wonder, what was it all for? It seems to me that we achieved very little in both Iraq and Afghanistan. If anything, it would appear that we have made things worse. Weeks after my initial steps into society, everything that my multiple and I had been through in Afghanistan was forgotten about. No one seemed to give a s**t that only a matter of months ago we were fighting the Taliban on the muddy battlefields of Afghan. Further to this, employers certainly don’t recognise my operational abilities and it seems that no one can acknowledge my true capabilities.
I needed to clear that from my mind, so let’s get back on track, together.
Your skills, abilities and experiences are indeed transferable to ‘civilian street’. It is a case of translating these skills and abilities into a clear language and a terminology in which a civilian employer can make sense of.
Here are some qualities of a veteran, just to list a few:
2. Work ethic
7. Working with others (as a team)
8. Receiving and understanding instructions
9. Reliability and dependability
10. The ability and eagerness to learn
I could go on for a while. Please feel free to add to the list in the comment section below or on the ‘Soldier to Civi’ social media pages.
Do you remember having the so-called ‘C-DRILS‘ hammered into you throughout your military career? Well, they are all transferable to ‘civvy street’.
C – Courage
D – Discipline
R – Respect for Others
I – Integrity
L – Loyalty
S – Selfless Commitment
Apply these military principles in ‘civvy street’ and I am sure that you will stand a high chance of being successful.
I have so much more to talk about in regards to my personal transition from soldier to civi, however, I understand your cup of tea must be cold by now. Therefore, I will talk more about my transition in the near future.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog, I really appreciate your continued support.