Your Time In Service Shouldn’t Be Your Glory Years

U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Patrick H. Owens

So, you’ve finally left the military. You’ve completed your service honorably, be that four years or 20. You’ve sacrificed plenty, and watched others do the same or more. You’ve been there, done that, and gotten more t-shirts than can fit in your closet.

That doesn’t mean you have to wear those t-shirts every day.

The memories those t-shirts recall aren’t the best days of your life. Or at least they don’t have to be.

Too many vets are trapped in a military version of the old Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days.” Like the song’s pitcher and pretty girl, too many veterans are stuck reminiscing over beers, talking about the old times, and exchanging boring stories.

The point isn’t that those memories aren’t important, aren’t precious, but that life going forward is far more important than life looking back.

Related: Why service members are true professionals »

Too many veterans, in person and in social media, state that the best years of their lives were the ones they spent in the service. While a touching sentiment, veterans who say this are selling themselves short.

Too many vets embrace what might be called the “Professional Veteran” identity. Having beers with old buddies doesn’t make one a professional veteran. Going to the VFW or a Veterans Day parade doesn’t make one a professional veteran. Living the rest of one’s life looking back at the portion spent in the service does.

Those days spent in the service aren’t, or at shouldn’t be, the high point of your life. The rest of your life is. Current life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years. Spending 50 of them looking backward is wasting those years. Even if those years in the service do end up being the best years of your life, lingering on them excessively is just taking the luster off one’s golden years.

I recently spent a very long couple of hours near an older man on an airplane. Not World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War old, just an older man, yet he wore a Marine Corps satin jacket, USMC baseball cap, and a cane carved with Marine Corps symbols from handle to tip. All due to four years in the Corps in the early 1980s.

Luckily for me, there was a young devil dog straight out of boot camp next to him to absorb his stories about the old days. This man had 30 years of life since the Marine Corps to talk about. He could’ve bent that young Marine’s ear about how the Marine Corps taught him to make the most of the rest of his life, likely with a second career, a wife, kids, and probably grandkids. Yet he couldn’t get past tales of the “Old Corps.”

Don’t be an Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, living in a van and bragging about the glory days of yesteryear. Even if the military was the formative experience of your life, it was only forming you and preparing you for bigger things.

What those things are doesn’t really matter. For some, it may mean climbing the corporate ladder. For others, it may mean building a family. For others, it may mean public service or growing in faith or charitable works. Whatever it is, the military prepared you for it, be it by giving you the leadership skills you needed or by giving you the self-discipline that raising children and so many other things in life require.

The military wasn’t the culminating point of your life. If it was, then you need to take a long, hard look at what you’re doing. If those four years, or 20 years, were the best of your life, then fix the rest of your life. You have far more to give to the world than your time in uniform.

Raise your kids. Do your new job well. Go help the homeless. Do whatever. Save your reminiscing about your time in uniform for when you see your old crew.

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem.” That’s definitely true, not just for Marines, but for all veterans who served honorably.

You made a difference in uniform. Just don’t let that be the only difference you make.

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles was awarded the Medal of Honor July 18, 2016, for his actions while serving as a Flight Commander assigned to the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. Then-Maj. Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. (U.S. Army/Spc. Tammy Nooner)

by Martin Slagter, The Ann Arbor News, Mich.

YPSILANTI, MI - When a brigade of U.S. troops was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in the Song Tra Cau riverbed on the morning of May 15, 1967, Lt. Charles Kettles volunteered to lead the rescue, and he refused, again and again, to back down when faced with a barrage of gunfire.

His aircraft badly damaged, left spilling fuel, and his gunner was severely injured during the treacherous operation.

But he helicoptered in and out of the battlefield four times, saving the lives of 44 soldiers in a death-defying emergency operation that would become a legendary tale of bravery in the Vietnam War.

Nearly 50 years later, Kettles received the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016.

Read More Show Less
The M160 Robotic Mine Flail at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Photo: Maj. Dan Marchik/U.S. Army

The battlefield of the future could feature robot medics delivering life-saving care to casualties in the line of fire. At least, that's what the Army is aiming for — and it's willing to pay millions for help doing it.

Read More Show Less
A Chinese tank rolls at the training ground "Tsugol", about 250 kilometers (156 miles ) south-east of the city of Chita during the military exercises Vostok 2018 in Eastern Siberia, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 (Associated Press/Sergei Grits)

China is developing a lot of new and advanced weaponry, but a recent state media report suggests the Chinese military may not be entirely sure what to do with these new combat systems.

Read More Show Less
(The 621st Contingency Response Wing/Flickr)

The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard called the ongoing partial government shutdown "unacceptable" following reports that some Coast Guardsmen are relying on donations from food pantries while their regular paychecks remain on hold.

"We're five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," Adm. Karl Schultz said in a video message to service members. "You, as members of the armed forces, should not be expected to shoulder this burden."

Read More Show Less