Things you don’t know about the military until after you leave the military

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the military for four or 34 years, you’re going to get out. As a veteran of 20 years and five days, here are a few things I’ve noticed.

1. Uniform vs. Civilian Clothes

Your ACU, battle dress or the thing you wear that looks pretty with earrings (yes, I’m looking at you Air Force) has a lot of things going for it. Chief among those is that wearing a uniform adds a level of predictability and ease to your life. If a piece wears out, you go to the military clothing store and buy a new one. Camouflage patterns hide dirt and stains. I drove a 1995 Jeep Wrangler for 15 years. The Jeep, which my good friend and co-worker Erika Fields once referred to as “that thing you drive,” is not known as a smooth ride and coffee was spilled every morning.

Camouflage uniforms don’t care, they make coffee stains their bitch.

In the civilian world though…

Spilling coffee on yourself is a turn around and go home, full-blown emergency!

Actually, this guy has choices because I think he designs his own uniforms! What the fuck is going on here?

A uniform, no matter if it’s camouflage-based; a cable-guy uniform, or the one this dude has to wear … is still a uniform. There isn’t a choice. When you get dressed you know exactly what you have to put on.

In the civilian world though…

HOLY FUCK, welcome to infinite choices. Maggie Menzies warned me about this when I was getting ready to retire and for the first six months after I retired I thought she was a dirty, filthy liar, but then one morning in the shower it happened.

“Jesus! What the FUCK am I going to wear?”

“Who am I dealing with today,” is a question that factors in to what you’re going to wear. As does, “What am I doing today, where am I doing it and will they make fun of this pink shirt at work?” (Hint: They will.) It becomes this retardedly complicated question that once answered can be rendered moot by one bump in the road that causes a bit of spilled coffee.

A Major once told me a story about testing out a new night-vision mount on a helmet. One his rangers intentionally banged the mount against the wall and when the company representative complained, the major said, “Hey, this shit happens.” Point being, the stuff the military buys is generally well made.

Civilian clothes on the other hand are garbage. Everything tears, snags and pulls apart. Early in my retirement I found a great pair of Steve Madden shoes that I LOVED. I LOVED those shoes, I kissed them at night. Everyone complimented me on them. Trouble was, they wore out in like a day.

I’m hiding … so I can destroy your clothes

I literally bought 10 pairs of before I admitted defeat and realized I was not going to win. Wearing a different pair of the SAME TYPE OF SHOE every other day just prolonged the death. They may have looked good, but they were made by meth-addicted Chinese sweatshop 8 year olds anxious to get back to their World of Warcraft gold-mining jobs.

Those shoes sucked, but I loved them.

Don’t get me started on slacks.

2. Rank … it lets you know so goddamn much

I don’t care if you were a private or a colonel, when you walk into a room you know you’re place. It’s just that easy.

Seriously, toss 50 military people into a room and within .0003 seconds they know who is in charge. Hell, you know who’s second in charge, who the senior enlisted guy is and who will head up the moral and welfare part of the group. It’s just that simple.

In the civilian world it becomes decision by committee. Everyone’s opinion matters. I think I’ve seen the cleaning lady get asked about her thoughts on the invasion of Iran. Everyone has a voice and it sucks. I’m pretty sure I could tell my boss tomorrow that I think we should consider the feelings of puppies when we go forward with the plan and he’d have to pause to think about it. In the Army you’d be stuck doing pushups, which are GOOD FOR YOU.

3. You’re generally taken care of in the military

You are. You’re taken care of. Fuck you, you are. Everyone has a story about how the military fucked them. Here’s a stop on the clue train for you, you weren’t fucked, you just ignored some key bits of information that left you feeling fucking while the U.S. Military put on kid gloves and tried to make it as easy as possible for you.

And you fucked it up after all that effort.

I have dug down into more people’s lives, asking where that last dollar went, when I was in the military than I care to think about.

“Why are you buying the good cheese when you can get a generic cheese? I’m asking because you’re in debt and I want to know. Fuck you, answer me.”

That’s a legitimate question in the Army if you’re having financial trouble. Your leaders can step in and tell you you’re making dumb decisions with your money. They can and literally do make you write out your budget.

mmmmm ... cheese

Sure it looks good, but are you mortgaging your house?

They can’t make you buy generic cheese, but they can call you an idiot for not doing so. This is just one example of hundreds, if not thousands, of things the military does in an effort to take care of their service members.

In the civilian world NO ONE GIVES A SHIT. They say they do. Hell, they might even try to make a half-hearted effort toward helping you, but at the end of the day, come 5 p.m., it’s your problem.

Living in a cardboard box? Fuck you, be in on time.

Daughter dying from cancer? So sorry, but while you’re at her bedside don’t run out of time off.

I exaggerate, but the military puts so much effort into seeing you succeed that you never realize it and when you do realize it. It’s too late.

4. Organizational predictability

The average person in the military and their family KNOWS full well when they are leaving for deployment or changing duty stations. The military takes great pains to let you know so the process is less painful for you, your family and your organization. Any movement from one station to another, or from one job to another, is predictable to a large degree. Knowing that your personnel action specialist is leaving in six months makes replacing that person that much easier.

But in the civilian world, it’s mostly like a bomb is dropped. Civilians can, and do, out of nowhere come up to their bosses and say, “Hey, I love it here, but I’ve got a job on the other side of the world and they want me there tomorrow so we need to have the going away lunch now.”

Meaning the organization now has to function one person down and, perhaps, has to operate without a key set of skills.

There are exceptions to any rule, so if you want to think you’re a special little butterfly and one of these didn’t apply to you fine. Generally though, it’s spot on.

Now, there are myriad ways life outside the military is better/easier/whatever, but that’s another update.

16 responses to “Things you don’t know about the military until after you leave the military

  1. LOVE this! Very interesting since I’ve always been intrigued with military life and still toy with the idea of doing Reserves (not that I’d get all that in the Reserves, but still, good to hear the positive spin on things). And I spill coffee on myself and my Mustang every single day and NEVER go back home to change. I wear my sloppiness with pride. Gives me character in this stuffed-shirt city. 😉

  2. Spot on Todd. Cept for the clothes stuff. I don’t give a fuck what I wear. Sure people say you are a GS-12 you should wear a collared shirt. I say fuck you, I do more fucking work in a t-shirt In one fucking day then you have done in your suit in the past year. So fuck you very much.

  3. Nick Sternberg

    I can remember when this happend to me once with a contractor that worked for me…“Hey, I love it here but I’ve got a job on the other side of the world and they want me there tomorrow so we need to have the going away lunch now.” Meaning the organization now has to function one person down and, perhaps, has to operate without a key set of skills.

    LOL…another from the heart spot on write-up

  4. This is gospel as I ets after 14 years I have similar questions

  5. As you know, I have been in and out of uniform most of my adult life. Switching from one to the other has been a real pain. Sometimes I just said fuck it and wore black fatigues like the SWAT teams did. I didnt have to worry about what to wear, and people generally steered clear of you inn crowds, another benefit. I for one totally agree about how the Army takes care of its Soldiers. It’s USUALLY the Soldier who has started the screw up and then perpetuated it through ignorance or just plain stupidity. Like my old first shirt used to say, don’t just wait for something to happen, do something. Even if its wrong at least you are trying to fix things and we can move along in a different direction when necessary. Civilians seem to want to stand around and have someone else doing things for them. Am I generalizing and stereo typing? You bet, but then look how we do it to our Soldiers everyday. I had four uniforms/utilities/fatigues during my long sporadic career. Started with the olive green ones back in 73. Moved on to the Elvis BDU’s in the 70s. Came back in with the new BDUs in 2002 and finished up just getting my first set of ECUs when I retired. Which ones did I like the most, British desert tiger stripes I wore with the SOF last time out. I always was a bit different. Hang in their mate. It’s a rough ride when going between uniforms and civies. But then life is a roller coaster and I wouldn’t have it any other way for me. Love this column Todd. Keep it going. Thanks.

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  7. Talking with my two former Navy co-workers last night and they were wearing the same clothes. Marty says he goes to Target and buys 6 V-neck t-shirts, one in each color and he owns two pairs of jeans. TWO. He doesn’t want choices. Obviously he doesn’t want women either. It’s so easy guys. Pick up a copy of Nylon for Guys or the Urban Outfitters catalog and find an outfit you like and buy the entire thing. Dress 5 to 10 years younger than your actual age and women will be on your dong like cheech and chong. I know that makes little sense but it has worked for this guy for years.

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