"I joined the navy with a few GCSE’s to do my student nurse training and all the rest of my education, right up to Masters level, has been funded or partially funded by the military. I spent 23 years ‘in’, it somehow captivates you and keeps a hold on you. Had I not been medically discharged, I probably would have stayed even longer inside the military bubble. You’re very protected, you think you’re invincible and untouchable, it’s not until you leave that you realise there’s a whole world on the outside with other opportunities and freedoms that you’d never thought, or considered.
Putting down roots
I left the military just over two years ago. It was quite a change for me to be honest but my husband and I had already purchased a house and we’d started to think about putting our roots down. We sort of embedded ourselves in the village and it has quite a tightknit community which is really important to me. My husband and I have both been very keen to take part in village activities to start to feel the bond with the community that we now live in.
Elements of my personal life have been really pivotal to helping me settle. The animals are a really important part of my life, they help me relax, they give unconditional love and the dogs are my connection with home. When we go out and walk the dogs in the community, people know who we are and Magnus, the dog that is in the photograph and our latest acquisition, the whole village know that he’s our new dog and that’s lovely because that means that people know who we are and know when things change, and that’s part of being in a community.
For the first time in my entire life, and this is the point when I would normally be posted in the military, here I am putting those roots down. I don’t need to be packing my desk up, I don’t need to start thinking about relocating and all the things that we take for granted as part of being in the military, but actually are very disruptive to life in general. “It’s something for me to get my head around that actually we’re staying where we are, unless we choose to move, and having the choice to move rather than being told to move is very different.”
Change of Pace
Transition takes a long time, it takes a really long time, I would say. I felt I was missing something or that I’d lost something or that I wasn’t doing everything that I was supposed to be doing, for about two years after I came home. On tour, every minute of your tour is full, you know what you’re doing and you know what you’re expected to do every 24 hours.
The pace of life outside the military, especially after having done a tour of Afghanistan, is very different. You go from everything being urgent, a sense of emergency at any time, day or night to suddenly having to calm down, there isn’t going to be an emergency in the next 10 minutes, in the next 24 hours, possibly not in the next week or even month. Everything becomes very mundane and that’s quite a big part of adjusting to civvy street, to be honest with you. Work is a difficult one, I probably did struggle with a little bit, adjusting to in civvy street. Going from working in an environment where life and limb are at risk, to going to doing a more academic or a more office based job means you have to adjust to civilian ways of working, it takes a while for you to settle down. I was very conscious of not saying to people “when I was in the military” or “when I was in the navy” because I know that that isn’t appreciated in civilian street so I’m just very mindful of that.
Socialising is also very different when you are in the military, there are common bonds, common themes, you all understand each other. Banter is taken as banter and the rules are all understood. We use very dark senses of humour, especially to get through very stressful situations, so we learn to laugh when things go wrong which is probably inappropriate outside of the armed forces but while you’re in the armed forces, it’s actually a survival mechanism.
Out in civvy street, it’s different, you have to learn not to assume everybody understands the same things that you do, you use different, toned down language, you almost feel like you’re being ultra politically correct instead of speaking normally. Socialising can be quite difficult because you actually don’t necessarily have things in common with the strangers around you anymore. In the military, you could go into any mess or any facility or any dining hall and you would find something in common with the person you were sat next to and that’s just not the case in civilian life.
Working in a civilian environment, people don’t necessarily know how to take your direct approach, looking at situations from a military perspective, rather than looking at it from a generalised perspective. In the military we don’t get upset when people scream and shout around us, we don’t get upset when somebody tells us to do something again and again, or to go away and rethink something. Actually I’m learning fast, in the civilian community I may have to be more careful, more diplomatic or I need to be a bit more cautious about using specific language.
Expectation of others in the civilian community has taken a significant amount of readjusting for me personally. Inside the military, I had a recognised amount of authority so if my students decided that they weren’t going to do their work or they were going to do it badly or they behaved inappropriately, my role was to make that stop, and to hopefully help people to realign their behaviour to the expectations and the way that we want people to behave. The military is very disciplined, that’s what the military is all about. It’s about following instructions, following your leaders. As an academic in the civilian community, it doesn’t work like that, I can’t cancel people’s annual leave because they haven’t written an essay, I can’t penalise someone for not doing their academic work and in the way that it should be done. There are no consequences. The most I can probably do is let a student know that I’m disappointed. When I was in the military, there were very firm boundaries and very firm expectations of what I could expect from the people around me.
Being a Veteran
I was in Afghanistan 7 years ago now so I’ve had time to process a lot of what I think about it and I’m still very very close with friends that I deployed with and so we do still talk about it very fondly but also in a way that brings us all together and helps us reconnect and helps us understand each other. We banter off each other and we have that common language that we can still say things the way that we said it when we were in the military, even if we’re all on the outside now, because that language bonds us.
I think the military instils a set of values and standards that is well respected in the civilian community. There’s kind of an understanding that military people will be disciplined, will be good time-keepers, that we’re reliable, that we tend not to panic in a crisis. I think they’re all really strongly transferable skills that can be used for most employers around and in the community. More than that I think, what the military does teach you is to work with strangers quite comfortably and to be able to adapt to whatever’s around you, it’s about being prepared, reacclimatising yourself."