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So You're Moving On - Advice From Ex-Military



August 22, 2012 – Comments (15)

You can learn the hard way, or you can learn from those that have already walked the walk.  It is your choice. I can be stubborn as a mule, so I don't hold out any hope you'll listen to my advice.  Yet, to my surprise, a few fools do occasionally listen.  This blog is for them.

Get Out of the Military

Getting out?  Better yet, don't join in the first place.  Some of us made that choice long ago.  Now is the time of reckoning.  The longer you stay in - the longer you wait to make the right choice - the worse that day of reckoning will be.

Rather than boring you with a sermon on why you shouldn't be a part of the military (really, any military, but most definitely the United States military), let's have a frank honest discussion about the obstacles you face if you decide to follow my advice. 

But this isn't all about me.  I wrote to several ex-military friends, asking for their own experiences as well.  Their thoughts helped shape this blog as much as mine.  A couple of their comments are included.  

Count Yourself as a Dependent

Military service fosters dependency.  It creates it.  From the moment you join, your possessions are replaced with theirs, your food with theirs, and your free time with theirs.  They take what you have and give you back what they provide.  This is a simple reality you must learn to absorb.  When you sever that tie, your old possessions are no longer available.  You may find some of your old clothes (although now you probably dress in ridiculous tucked-in polo shirts and khaki pants) and you may have your old home.  Some of us left the military with absolutely nothing.  Everything we brought in was worn out or worthless by the time we left: cars, clothes, furniture, you name it.

Particularly as an enlisted man - and I will write mostly from the enlisted perspective, although I know the officer corps well - you learn to depend on what the system provides.  It gives you a job,  a paycheck, food, shelter, etc.  

If you fail to recognize how dependent you have become for your own well being, you risk making a drastic error.  Take the time to make a list of every thing you are currently provided (even things you have to pay for - after all, you are most likely getting those things at a discount too, e.g. the subsidized groceries from the Commisary.)

"[Young married Marines] didn't have the financial capability to try to start a new career.  It seemed a lot of this was driven by the obscene benefits given to married enlistees..." - Kyle, ex-USMC 

How wil you provide for your family?

What will you do for food?  Will you cook? Eat fast food? 

What will you do for housing?  

What will you do for work? (We'll talk more about this)

How will you dress, walk, and talk?  

This last one is much more important than you think.

If you cannot answer these questions realistically, you will suffer some serious trauma when you get out.  If you're married with children, you could lose your family.  


Your first task is deprogramming. It's way more difficult than you would expect.  I strongly recommend you take 30-60 days where you do nothing but try to forget how you acted, talked, and dressed as a soldier.  Grow out your hair.  Stop shaving.  Grow a full beard.  Stop tucking in your stupid polo shirt.  Stop wearing collared shirts altogether.  Don't watch TV.  Just listen to music, talk to friends and family, and roam the country if you can.  (Hey, you have Terminal Leave. Use it.)

"They convince you that you can't do anything without the military "support" infrastructure. I took a 3 month hiatus and drove across county to see how the rest of the civilzation lived day to day."  -Jesse, ex-Air Force

You've been on another planet during your time.  The outside world does not live like you, does not act like you, does not walk and talk like you.  And guess what?  They're not going to adjust to you.  You need to adjust to them.

You're Nothing Special

Particularly among Marines, there is a cultural mindset that you're special simply because you wear that uniform.  But to some extent, every service promotes this idea.  The Marines simply extend it to every knucklehead they can enlist.  Additionally, you get constant Thank You's and Congratulations from everyone under the sun: professional athletes, entertainers, politicians, business leaders, and on and on, to include the old lady down the street and the little kids at the playground.  It's very hard for those who have been pumped up and coddled for years to understand what I'm about to say:


When you get out, you will quickly learn that all the platitudes you received were just talk. No one actually cares (outside of your very close friends and family - and few of them will understand the problems you are about to face anyway.)  No one cares who you are, what you've done, or where you've been (unless it makes for a good drinking story.) On top of that, your so-called "skills" have little value.  Leadership?  Please.... plenty of private sector jokers pretend to have that too.  Discipline?  Yeah that really narrows you down from the 6 billion other people on this planet that have varying amounts of discipline.  

Unless you learned a highly technical skill during your time in the military that is widely used in the private sector, you are in for a rude awakening.  

Trust me, the more humility you can tap into in those first couple of years outside of the military, the better off you will be.  

The Market Is....

If you cannot finish this sentence, stay in the military.  The military is as close to socialism as we'll hopefully ever come in America.  No matter your job, all of the same rank make the same base pay.  As you progress, promotions depend more on seniority and less on merit.  Everything is collectivized.  There is no "market" in the military (except the spontaneous ones that arise when you're in the field.)

The market is a group of individuals exchanging goods and services to fulfill each other's wants.  

Your task - preferably before you walk out that door - is two-fold:

1. Make a list of the things you can do

2. Study the market and find out if anyone actually wants those skills, and how much they're willing to pay

Study the market. I cannot stress how important that is.  You will flounder from job to job, from frustration to frustration, if you don't understand how a market works.

Find a skill for which employers are looking.  Research the salary.  Research the requirements.  If you think you can become "that guy" with a little study and some late nights, then go for it.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

The key to success in the market is very simple. Find out what people want, and then find out how to give it to them.  Unselfishness is the key to a big salary.

(This advice also works if you wish to take the ultimate plunge and become an entrepreneur.  If you do, I applaud you.  I chose to learn a skill first.)

And I have very good news for you.  All those kids in college - the ones you will be competing against - are learning that the market is a selfish place where only the greedy can survive.  Few, if any, will ever take the time to atually study the market before they graduate.  They expect to be fawned over, to be handed work, and if they don't get it they will b*tch and whine.  The important thing is that they won't be able to compete with someone who actually does understand how markets work.

Just don't expect anyone in the miltary to help you learn what you need to know before you leave:

"Transition Assistance Program:  A complete joke.  The instructor was a recently retired officer who made us sit in a class for a week so he could tell us how awesome he was.  He briefly touched on some administrative points, but nothing really useful as far as searching for a job or how our military experience translated to civilian life." - Tim, ex-USMC 

Get on the Internet and start doing your homework.  You should know the salary range for every position you are interested in.  You should know the requirements. You should know what employers are looking for.

I'll give you a hint. They're looking for someone who really wants it.  If you do find a good opportunity, let them know how badly you want it. It's what they want to hear (usually).

The Greatest Challenge

Do you like to be challenged? Most active duty military I have encountered (and I spent the better part of 15 years around them) think they like to be challenged.  They really don't, though.  If they truly loved a challenge, they'd be getting their discharge paperwork ready, because there is no bigger challenge they can face in the military.

I knew several people who went in the military because of the challenge.  You might be one of those.  You might have wanted to be challegened at that point in your life.  It was part of my motivation in joining, as well.  But as time goes along, the military can get very easy.  You can learn to skate and stay under the radar.  Military challenges lose their appeal after a while.  Your reward is usually tougher duty, worse living conditions, and more danger.  In the private sector, challenges reward you with a better life, not a worse one.

It's been my experience that fear of separation - fear of the challenge of going on your own - is the most difficult thing for a soldier to deal with as he contemplates getting out.  

It isn't going to be easy.  Almost every person I know, most definitely including myself, has hit rock bottom or close to it since leaving the military.  We've all pretty much done a year or two (or more) of personal, professional, and financial disappointment.  

"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly the first time." - Joel Salatin

If it was easy, everyone would have instant success.  The great thing about challenges is that only those who take them on can reap the rewards.  These are not only monetary rewards.  You will never be more confident, more secure in who you are and what you can do in this world, then you will after you separate from the military.  

I've Been There

If this sounds like I'm talking down to you, trying to make you feel small, let me just say that I wish I could have listened to this when I was getting out. It would have saved me many years of heartache.

I've made it pretty far, but the most important thing I've learned is how quickly you can get wiped out.  I've been down in the dumps too.  I try not to be too high on myself and what I've achieved because it can be gone tomorrow with a bad break.  That's the way the outside world goes.

But I wouldn't have listened anyway.  I was way too proud and way too stupid to take anyone's advice.  In a way, this blog is for the 25 yr old man I wish I was.  

Oh well.

Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly the first time. Darn right, Joel.

David in Liberty

15 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 22, 2012 at 1:28 AM, NOTvuffett (< 20) wrote:

I always enjoy your 2cents David.  Don't we all wish we were the 25 yr. old man that we were then? lol

What do you want to do with your life now?

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#2) On August 22, 2012 at 3:30 AM, Starfirenv (< 20) wrote:

Nothin' better than Gospel truth.  " But I wouldn't have listened anyway.  I was way too proud and way too stupid to take anyone's advice.  In a way, this blog is for the 25 yr old man I wish I was". Yup, the old saying "you can tell 'em, but you can't make 'em listen".  They'll figure it out.
  And if just one of those 20 somethings hears you, you will forever be a rock star at the Bank O Karma.  a rare +1

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#3) On August 22, 2012 at 9:50 AM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:



What do you want to do with your life now?

Personally, I party and enjoy the beach :)  Professionally, I work from home providing network security services to a large financial institution.


Thank you.

David in Liberty

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#4) On August 22, 2012 at 10:53 AM, ryanalexanderson (< 20) wrote:

Great entry. To a much lesser extent, I would say it applies to anyone who had worked in government or possibly even a large corporation. 

And in defence of proud young 25 year olds (which I am not): well, you may only be able to convince 1 in 10 to change their viewpoints. But that ratio drops to 1 in 20 for 50 year olds! 

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#5) On August 22, 2012 at 11:41 AM, kdakota630 (29.12) wrote:

Another great blog, David.

As someone who runs a small business, the line that made the most sense to me (regarding looking for work) was:

"They're looking for someone who really wants it.  If you do find a good opportunity, let them know how badly you want it. It's what they want to hear (usually)."

It's usually not too hard to figure out which perspective employee really wants to work for you and the ones who are just looking for something to tide them over until they can find something better, and I simply can't afford to train someone who is going to bail ASAP and have to be in a position to hire and train someone new.

On top of that I would add to be persistent.  I don't think anything shows a desire to work someplace than being told you're not needed, only to show up 2-4 weeks later asking, "Do you need me now?" That's exactly how my first employee got hired.

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#6) On August 22, 2012 at 1:30 PM, smartmuffin (< 20) wrote:


Thanks for this.  I'm going to go ahead and believe it was written specifically for me ;)

 Anyway, I have some comments and some thoughts from my own perspective, as someone who is currently still in, but preparing to get out.  I don't have time to post them now, as I have to go get a ridiculous haircut on my first day off in two weeks (technically it's only a half day off, but surprise surprise, they're counting it!),

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#7) On August 23, 2012 at 12:18 AM, awallejr (38.34) wrote:

One of the hardest transitions one could ever make is leaving a military combat stretch into civilian life.  We don't give enough support to aid those making that transition.  War is hell.  End of story.  What one sees during war will always be with them.  How one ultimately copes is key.

I've employed marines in the past.  I always appreciated their work ethic.

David is right with this comment:  Find a skill for which employers are looking.  Research the salary.  Research the requirements.  If you think you can become "that guy" with a little study and some late nights, then go for it.

I do disagree with him (which is always inevitable between us) about showing appreciation for a person's "service."  I thank anyone who puts his/her life on the line in my defense/protection.  That includes the military, firemen, police (well at least the ones that don't give me tickets ;p), emergency services, and your plain old good samaritan.

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#8) On August 23, 2012 at 1:33 AM, AirForceFool (99.88) wrote:

Getting out?  Better yet, don't join in the first place.  Some of us made that choice long ago.  Now is the time of reckoning.  The longer you stay in - the longer you wait to make the right choice - the worse that day of reckoning will be.

Respectfully disagree… while I can’t speak for all, there are many that enjoy the military… enjoy traveling the world, defending the greatest country in the history of the planet (MHO). For many others, the military isn’t a good fit… makes relationships difficult, splits up families. I would hope that for those that do decide to separate, that they do it early… start their new life, use the GI Bill to pay for college etc…

Count Yourself as a Dependent Military service fosters dependency. 

Well, so does buying a house… or having a family member that gets sick and needs you to take care of them… lots of things in life tie you down, force you to do things like work and travel that aren’t necessarily fun…You’ll get no argument from me that the military pays the brand new enlisted guys a paltry amount… $1403 (2013 charts) to start… of course they give you eleven pay raises the first 4 years… which takes an individual up to $2305… certainly not enough to retire early on… but if you’re married living off base, you’d be sitting just north of $40K a year.

"[Young married Marines] didn't have the financial capability to try to start a new career.  It seemed a lot of this was driven by the obscene benefits given to married enlistees..." - Kyle, ex-USMC  Semper FidelisAbsolutely agree with (-Kyle, ex-USMC). I wouldn’t use the words “obscene benefits”, but the military does in my opinion prejudice against single members. As a young Air Force E-5, I had to live in the barracks, and made less money than the E-4 that was married (and given a 1400sf house and food allowance). As an E-1 in Jersey when it snowed, all the dorm residents got to go to work for the married folks because they lived off base and couldn’t drive in… that smarted.

How will you dress, walk, and talk?  Me… I’ll dress the same as I do now… jeans and a t-shirt most days… shorts if the weather’s nice… walk with my shoulders squared back, not slouching… ‘cause mom would give me grief… talk the same… 24 years of saying sir and ma’am tend to grow on you… I call all guys sir, and most ladies ma’am… unless they appear to be older than 35… those ladies I call “young lady”… seems that there are lot of ladies out there that take offense to being called ma’am… makes them feel old.


Is deprogramming really necessary for a military guy or gal to be integrated back into society. Are there really folks out there that will take offense at those individuals that have tucked in shirts… pretty sure the polo shirt market isn’t just limited to military members… thought about growing a beard when I retire… probably will for a couple of months, and then start shaving again… prefer a clean look… but that’s just me… won’t be growing my hair out though… to much hassle…Absolutely agree that the rest of the world won’t adapt to an individual… I happen to think that most ex-military members have characteristics businesses are looking for. Someone that can show up on time… doesn’t mind being part of a team effort etc…

I believe the men and women that take up the defense of our nation are special. Freedom isn’t free… and the brunt of the hardships that come with living in a free country are taken up by the young soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines… and I think most Americans appreciate that… do they appreciate it enough to change their lives to help someone transitioning out of the service… of course not… because for most, life is hard… it’s difficult enough just to get by, pay the bills and try to save for a rainy day.With regards to discipline… have you ever worked in a fast food restaurant? I’ve seen people willing to quit working because they were requested to work on a Saturday where they had a date… Absolutely agree on the need for humility… being happy with yourself is fine… but if you line up a 100 people and ask them all if they think they’re “cool”, probably 75 will say yes… but one would think that by definition the term “cool” would be above normal, and thus represent less than 50% of the people… just because you (or your mom) think you’re cool doesn’t make it so…

Don’t really buy into the military as a socialist program… there are certainly some flaws in the systems used for promotions… but there are some merit based outs… I spent 12 years on the enlisted side before switching over to the dark side (officer) where I have managed to remain for the last 12 years (I keep waiting for them to come tell me I have to go back to being a TSgt). I’ve got buddies working IT tech jobs in the civilian sector, and many of the promotions they’ve seen are based less on merit and more on who someone knows… not convinced the civilian sector has any better handle on merit based compensation (hello bankers).

Agree that people need to do their homework, and determine what they’re good at, and what that’s actually worth. Hopefully people realize that the world doesn’t owe you anything… regardless of service… I’ve heard countless people complain about how the military or their job screwed them over… my reply is take advantage of everything the job has to offer, and if it’s not enough, move on.

Haven’t sat through Transition Assistance Program yet… have heard that the benefits portion (medical/SGLI/etc. was decent), mixed reactions on the resume writing portion.

Challenges: I tend to believe that people create their own challenges… everywhere I’ve ever worked, I’ve worked along someone that has been content to just to coast and not worry about much… which always gives someone the chance to step up and take on the big projects… doesn’t really change in or out of the service from what I’ve seen. Fear of change is a general human trait. Some are better able to adapt… I have seen people that are afraid to get out of the service… even though they’re miserable… worried about the spouse leaving them (which usually happens anyway). Sad in a way, but not unique to the military… how many folks are stuck in dead end jobs they hate, but are too afraid to quit and try something new?One would hope that all folks contemplating leaving the service do enough homework so that they don’t have to hit rock bottom before figuring it out. I’ll be retiring in 22 months, and I’m not too worried about transitioning to civilian life since I won’t be looking for a job. I’ve managed to scrimp and save, and with the wife retiring 48 months after I do, we’ll be a position that neither of us has to work… lots of travel, and charity work. Some of that charity work will be with prior vets… so perhaps I can pick up some of the slack… financial planning or something I enjoy.

In the end I respect your opinion, but on the benefits of the military we may just have to agree to disagree. I for one, will be picking up restaurant tabs at the airport for the military guys and gal about to go down range… hopefully there won’t be as many of them going out the door as there are now…

Chris (AirForceFool)

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#9) On August 23, 2012 at 12:53 PM, Melaschasm (70.45) wrote:

Most of your career advice is good for high school students who should be thinking about their future career.  Unfortunately it is also valid for a large number of college grads who have not yet figured out what they want to do for a living.  Even people in their 30's and 40's can often benefit from spending more time thinking about and planning for a career they would actually want to have.

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#10) On August 23, 2012 at 1:11 PM, JohnCLeven (32.36) wrote:

This is real talk. Thanks for a great piece of writing. 

I was never in the military, but i'm close with some that have, and it seems that you've hit the nail on the head. I'll be forwarding this to some of them. The idea of servicemen often being more dependent that civilians will be viewed by many as controversial, but I couldn't agree more with your logic. The harsh but true analysis of the job market was right on the money as well.

["All those kids in college - the ones you will be competing against - are learning that the market is a selfish place where only the greedy can survive.  Few, if any, will ever take the time to actually study the market before they graduate.  They expect to be fawned over, to be handed work, and if they don't get it they will b*tch and whine.  The important thing is that they won't be able to compete with someone who actually does understand how markets work. "]

That paragraph rings so true. I wasn't in the military. But I was/am one of those graduates who didn't understand the market and had unrealistic job expectations. Despite above average intelligence, I partied hard and majored in history (aka digging myself in a gigantic financial hole.) I'm now underemployed, working two jobs that don't require degrees, bogged down w/65k in student loans, and spending most of my free time trying to learn about both the job market and (stock market.) It will take time, but with a proper market mindset and well designed plan, i'll be successful in the long run.

As you put it, it's all about REALLY understanding the job market, and acting accordingly. The quicker you learn how it works, the better off you will be. Unfortunately, some never learn.

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#11) On August 23, 2012 at 2:19 PM, whereaminow (< 20) wrote:


Thanks so much for the compliment. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!

David in Liberty 

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#12) On August 25, 2012 at 9:23 PM, Louebsch (< 20) wrote:

@ AirForceFool

"many that enjoy the military… enjoy traveling the world, defending the greatest country in the history of the planet (MHO)"

Lol as if its a luxurious vacation on a tropical island. Also, last time I checked, defense stops at our borders with the exception of a few instances. Attacking foreign countries under the premise of fake nuclear weapons does not qualify as defense.

Do ex military need deprogramming? Do fat kids love cake? Absolutely! Jobs aren't handed out. There are millions of people that ex-military needs to compete with. Last time I checked, the military does not provide college degrees, so this would be step one for any personnel coming out of the military. I don't know if there are too many jobs in demand for bradley fighting vehicle operators or ordnance handlers. Most businesses require some sort of degree or certification in order to hire anyone. The good old days of showing up on time and being a hard worker are long gone. Today you need specialized skills and justify your job on a regular basis before some CEO decides your department is no longer needed or that someone in China can be forced do it for pennies.

I think you missed the point about "obscene benefits". A 1400sf home inside a military base is prime property and a similar house in a similar neighborhood would cost well into the 160k+ range. Well outside the reach of someone with a 40k salary.

Don't forget about car payments, gas, and groceries. My wife and I spend about $150 every ten days on groceries. On 40k you aren't buying a new car, and gas is $3.75 a gallon for the time being. I expect this to rise significantly after the election, no matter who wins.

Let's not forget that there are no more pensions in the private sector. So now you need to put your retirement into a 401k or IRA and you better understand what you are invested in or the traders and bankers will steal it from you one way or another.

What ex-military needs are life skills and experiences that you can't get in the military. Going into the military is like freezing your life at 18 since everything is handed to you or decided for you. Once you get out, you may be physically older but mentally behind the curve. I don't mean stupid, but lacking experience.

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#13) On August 28, 2012 at 11:48 PM, Strungman (< 20) wrote:

Not everyone got the brains; this goes for the military as well as civilian. If I followed this advice, I'd give up on my clearance (looks really great on my resume), the extra pay I get with rank + hazard pay + seeing the whole world + brotherhood + training + various benefits such as housing + college credits); 

 The military can be a solid foundation if you use your mind, constantly learning and training. It takes effort, intelligence, etcetera; and now I'm getting into the understanding the market, and like the military, I can clearly see the risks; but also the benefits, and it's just plain not being lazy and read to educate youself about the services offered and tools available. 

I guess, the best advice I can give, is to never forget your training, and always keep on training, whether in the military, or in the market. I wouldn't jump into options if I constantly didnt read about it and learn about it would I? I wouldn't jump out of a plane unless I know how to use a parachute :D 

 The military isn't for everyone, and the market is not for everyone; though everyone should educate themselves. Everyone is just plain different...


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#14) On August 29, 2012 at 4:15 AM, AirForceFool (99.88) wrote:


You'll have to get with your politicians on where we fight wars and why. Your view of how the planet works is pretty limited if you believe that we can defend our borders without an overseas presence. I do agree that the cost of maintaining large numbers of personnel overseas is costly... and that perhaps we might be better served by securing our own borders as a higher priority.

The military takes every opportunity to educate their folks... and picks up the tab. Tuition Assistance will generally pick up the full amount of the cost of classes (I think the limit is $250 per ch), and what TA doesn't cover, the GI Bill will. I got my undergrad and graduate degree paid for... and still have a good portion of my GI Bill left to transfer to my kids.

As far as deprogramming is concerned... we'll just have to agree to disagree... I plan on retiring in 20 months, and I'm not going to need to work. My military retirement will cover me for as long as I'm around. I do advocate reducing military retirement, and having the gov match 401k contributions which would save money, and allow for folks that don't do 20 years to be able to separate and have something to show for say 10 years of service. Absolutely agree that it's easier to get a job as a communications technician as opposed to tank driver. So what would you tell the 18 year old kid to do with their lives when they've grown up poor in a small town with no prospects? Some kids join the military just to get a start... get out of a dead end town or a bad home life.

$450 a month on groceries seems about average... for a family anyway... agree that a 40K salary isn't going to have you living the high life... but with the median average household income at $48.5K (2010 numbers), it isn't like the average American is living large... $40K for a 22 year old without a degree and 4 years of experience isn't bad. 

Far as bankers and traders go, I'm a big advocate of everyone managing their own stocks... understandably not everyone has the time or skillset... but I'm always amazed at how little time the average American spends on keeping their financia lives on track.

I've got a friend that got out after ten years (communications) and is managing networks for companies... making $130K. But that certainly isn't the norm (prior military or not).

Saying your life is frozen at 18, and that you all your decisions are made for you is a bit naive and a tad anti-military... which is fine... we're all entitled to our opinions... but having just shy of 24 years in, and having made decisions and argued for things that have a global impact, I'm comfortable...




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#15) On August 29, 2012 at 3:54 PM, mtf00l (43.13) wrote:

Thank you for the article David. As always well thought out and written.

I'm not much on long responses however; I do thank those in uniform for their service as I believe it is a sacrifice on their part to wear a uniform enlisted or officer. I will say additionally that not all branches are equal. When I was in High School the delayed entry program was all the rage. With the ASVAB behind me recruiters were courting me nightly. The only recruiter that I can say was totally honest without guile was the Marine recruiter. He told me "You don’t want to join the Marine Corp. The only way to get a promotion is for people to die." True story. I took the Marine Corp of my list and thanked him for his honesty. Admittedly, I did not look into the Army however, the Navy, of course, is co-located with the Marines. The Navy and Air Force had me slotted for similar positions. At the time I thought Carrier duty would be sexy. That put me into a different job class that I knew, even in High School, would have no future. I put my intake file into my memory box and never looked back.

No, I have no military service however; I do appreciate those who do. Once one leaves the military they are a civilian and have the same opportunities and challenges as I do. So, yes David you may consider them platitudes however, try, try to see it from a non-military person’s perspective. They may just be sincere...

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