You will likely struggle when you leave the military. Most of us did. There is no shortage of advice swirling around as you get out, and most of it is bad. The best way to avoid serious problems in the transition process is to build a team of folks to help you out.
What you need when you leave the military is a transition team.
Think of it like a fire team or a squad, where people take on differing, but complementary, tasks in order to accomplish the mission. You do not need to recruit and train people, though. It's much easier than that; all you have to do is find a minimum of three people who are willing and able to help you out a bit when you first get out.
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Of course you are the team leader since it's your butt on the line. But you will require help. Specifically, you are going to need to find someone to fill these three roles:
1. A point man.
Someone who lives in the area where you're settling. Ideally he or she will have lived there for a long time and know a lot of people in the community. This person will be critical to handle all the hidden logistics of a move. That goes double for anyone with a spouse and any other dependents. If you're moving back home, for example, a parent is an obvious option.
2. A radio operator.
Someone who is a natural networker, online and offline. When you start looking around at schools or places to work, this person will be your entry point. It is always better to be introduced into an organization than to send a “cold” email or apply to a job through an online portal. Think of an extrovert who cares enough about you to lend a hand.
3. Thebig guns.
Someone who has some clout. He knows how to use his influence to move mountains when there is no other way to get something done. You don't use him often, but it's nice to know he’s available. The logical choice for this is a platoon or company commander. You will probably end up in a pickle where you need to play the “Sir” card.
Transition smoothly is not about a plan. It's about relationships. That is how you will get through all the inevitable bumps in the road, and maybe even enjoy yourself.
For the skeptics who think they are going to fine because they took some transition courses, don't fool yourself. Almost all of that information is useless, or not presented to you in a way that will help you make the right decisions when you're faced with serious issues as a civilian.
And they will come up, believe me. Here's a short list of stuff that can turn your hair grey: finding the “right” job; getting into the “right” school; deciding between a house and an apartment; selecting a health insurance package; determining how much to save each month, etc.
I'll give you a million dollars if you can find the specific answers to all these in the mountain of brochures you were handed in transition class. You can't because your situation is unique, and must be treated that way.
And you can't just Google it, either. You need to sit down and talk to people about the problems you're facing, give them the context yourself so they can offer truly valuable advice.
So build a team around you. Develop those relationships. Treat your transition like a team sport, and offer to help anyone else you know who is getting out. Be a part of their team, and make life a little better for one of America's own.