Hold On To These Habits When You Transition Out Of The Military

Photo by Gertrud Zach

Time served in the military teaches us many good habits worth emulating throughout the rest of our days. These serve in both in the civilian workforce and in our personal lives. When it comes time for you to transition out, consider taking these habits with you.

1. Show up early for everything … but don’t go overboard.

The military teaches you to be punctual. Sometimes the military even abuses punctuality. Unless you move to Japan where being five minutes early is considered late, the back scheduling of arrival time for formations, meeting times, pre-meetings, pre-rehearsals are not very useful in civilian world. Being on time is very important, but I’ve found showing up three-to-five minutes early for anything is perfectly sufficient. You better still be prepared to brief, meet, or perform, but otherwise leave your early show times behind.

2. Stay on top of pre-combat checks.

Checking your gear or equipment before entering combat is an invaluable trait. I can’t say that I properly conduct preventative maintenance checks and services on my truck before I go to work every day; but before big trips, I check my equipment and follow my checklist to make sure I’m ready to go hunting or go to the beach with the family.

3. Always take notes and carry a notebook.

Note-taking and always carrying pen and paper were one of the first lessons taught in basic training. Even in the digital age with great apps like Evernote, I always have a pen and a notebook available. I’ve ditched the ubiquitous green book from the Army and carry a Moleskine notebook everywhere at work; I even have one in my car when needed. If you’ve suffered a few head injuries over the years or are prone to a few too many beers on a Friday, planning your week ahead in your notebook is a great tip.

4. Never stop planning ahead.

There are many great military maxims out there. One of my favorites is on the importance of planning: Failing to plan is planning to fail. The military, despite some epic failures, is great at planning. Often military plans these days get down into mind-numbing detail. Keep your plans general, with good intention and deliverables and your civilian life will thank you. I’ve found the military decision-making process and troop-leading procedures can be directly correlated to your success as a civilian.

5. Wear eye protection.

While there are plenty of insane safety imperatives the military likes to implement (i.e., PT belts for protection), eye protection has saved an unknown number of eyeballs and eyesight in combat and training over the past 15 years. I wear my trusty eye protection and my noise-cancelling peltor headset when I’m mowing the lawn and working with power tools. I’m not the most coordinated guy and would have gouged myself in the eye with some brush last weekend if I had not been wearing my Oakleys left over from deployment. After working in corporate safety and manufacturing, I’ve embraced this habit and hope you do, too. I am not wearing my clear eyepro at my desk, however, because that would be crazy.

While there are plenty more habits to hold on to, there are also more than a few best left behind with the uniform when you punch out or transition to civilian life: Cursing as a part of normal vocabulary, knife hands all the time, high and tights, dipping compulsively, Rip Its, and drinking all night just to stumble to PT and run five miles.

If the military taught you one thing, it should be some discipline. Some habits are a model of indiscipline. Sure, we all let ourselves go and enjoy putting our hands in our pockets and walking across grass as a civilian, the ingrained habit of discipline in action is the most valuable trait that I picked up in the military. My success in civilian life and drive for improvement is based on the discipline taught to me in the Army combined with a few other useful habits along the way.

Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario's seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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