How To Be Comfortable Taking Real Initiative
James Connelly, Staff Sergeant US Marine Corps Infantryman
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At some point every service member, regardless of branch, MOS (military occupational specialty), or rank is aware that at a specific time, on a specific date, and from a specific place, that member will be released from their contractual service obligation and return to life as a civilian.
The time has flown by, and it probably feels like just yesterday, you were checking into your first unit. You may well feel like not much has changed. You may even look and feel the same as you did the day you shipped off for bootcamp or basic training or OCS (officer candidate school), but things as you remembered them from your previous life as a civilian have probably changed. You have probably changed.
As you transition from professional soldier to civilian, so have your perceptions and expectations for others, and for how things “ought to be” as it relates to the necessary processes you are likely about to undertake. Your expectations for how others perform are entirely your own.
While the benefits earned through your service do not necessarily guarantee your transition from soldier to civilian will be without challenge, they should, at minimum, provide you with the kind of breathing room to focus on dedicating yourself to your next endeavor. But, such is the case with all things worth-while, those benefits are what you make of them.
If your last few months of active duty were anything like mine, chances are you were burning the candle at both ends. I EAS’d from a duty station in the US European Command’s AOR (area of responsibility) as a US Marine stationed aboard a US Army Garrison. And, my replacement was going to be arriving much later than we had initially anticipated, which meant, in addition to my regular day-to-day responsibilities as an assistant current operations chief in an incredibly dynamic directorate, I had to build an entire turnover binder, while becoming fluent enough in Army-talk to not foul-up my retrograde to CONUS, keep my bosses happy, and make sure my troops were taken care of as they rotated in and out of the dozen or so multinational security missions our unit was tasked with conducting.
Nearing my EAS, I began populating the training rosters maintained by my parent unit’s operations chief to participate in service-wide, DoD (Department of Defense) mandated training. I learned how to become my own administrative specialist ahead of being tasked with self-sufficiency in my next mission — finding employment opportunities that offered the same kind of regimented routine I took comfort in when I transitioned from civilian to professional military service member.
For the vast majority of us, our transition will include a strategy for obtaining gainful employment. If you’re leaving the service with an Honorable Discharge, you have, at minimum, consistently demonstrated an ability to be where you’ve been instructed to be, and you’ve shown up with what is required to accomplish whatever tasks are at hand.
Don’t underestimate the value of what that means to a prospective employer as they consider you for employment; especially if you’re just starting out in a new career field. This is especially true for those of us who have, or soon will be pursuing careers in the American private sector. Chances are, most of your future colleagues have never heard of Fallujah, or Marjah. And they probably do not understand what the difference is between a soldier and Marine. And for that, you should consider yourself lucky because now you can skip telling war stories and fully apply yourself to learning absolutely everything you might need to know about whatever it is that you are about to be doing.
And you can accomplish this by drawing from the same lessons-learned on the challenging journey you voluntarily undertook when you first enlisted, or accepted your commission — a journey that took you from knowing next to nothing about your rating, or MOS, to becoming proficient enough to perform your job under some of the most extreme conditions imaginable.
If the desire to show up and immediately distinguish yourself somehow overtakes you, just be the new-join that shows up on time, every time, with what you need to accomplish your task. No excuses. I promise, you will be noticed.
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