Updated: Sep 22, 2018
-By Brennan Jackson-
It’s been 1 year, 2 months, 11 days since I checked out on terminal leave after 4 years in the Marine Corps. To say that everyday since then has been a breeze would be a lie. Like countless other vets, I had an adjustment period after leaving the military. It’s understandable that after being surrounded by the military lifestyle for any number of years, that you don’t just slip right back into your old routine. My time in the Marine Corps changed me, in some ways for the better, in other ways not so much. The last year of my life has been filled with good days, bad days, self-reflection, and trying to understand my place in the civilian world. It wasn’t without help from others that I have finally begun to figure out just who I am now, and I want to take a moment to share some of my lessons-learned with those of you who may be going through some of the same things I did.
1. Be who you want to be
After I got out of the military I ended up moving back to Rochester, NY where I was born and raised. Naturally, this led to me running into a lot of people that I had known before leaving for the Marine Corps. I noticed when I had come back home, that most people seemed to have a predetermined idea of, as a veteran, what I would act and be like. In most media and the average person’s minds (I imagine at least), the veteran is portrayed as closed-off, stoic, wise, strong, and of few words. Well I hate to be one to disappoint folks, but that’s just not me. If I had to pick one word to describe myself, I think I would choose Goofy. I don’t fit the mold that most people think of when they hear “veteran”. And that’s perfectly okay. I have learned to be who I want to be, and to not let others preconceived notions affect me. It wasn’t always easy to not fall into this idea of what a veteran is. When I returned home I found it much easier to get through the countless “thank you for your service” conversations by playing the stereotypical veteran. Over time however. I’ve learned that doing that just made me miserable, and I am much happier breaking the mold and being my own goofy self. I understand just saying “be yourself” is easier said than done, but I can’t break this mold by my lonesome. It may be daunting at first, but I have found that I am just as accepted now as I was before. Hell, I have had more luck making friends and connections as a result of just being myself than just being the quiet veteran at the bar.
2. Try to be an open book
This kind of ties into my point above, do your best not to wall yourself off. We all have had some very unique experiences during our time in. These experiences have molded and shaped us, and they are ones that the typical person has not experienced. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that the average person cannot possibly fathom what you have gone through and are currently going through. But this just isn’t true, and by thinking this way we unintentionally close ourselves off to our friends and family. This is something that I struggled with a lot. I just always felt that “you didn’t experience it, you can’t relate”. To the people who mattered to me most, my wife, my best friends, my family, I didn’t share my stories. And in short, this led to me being a miserable prick. Just opening yourself up isn’t easy, and I don’t want to convey the idea that it is. But I do want to show other vets that opening up isn’t world-shattering. Since I have began to try and share my experiences with those close to me I have found that my mindset and mood has improved. I have been able to relate with all sorts of people I didn’t think I could. It’s led to me writing this blog post, which I have to say has been very therapeutic by the way. I will encourage you one last time to put aside your boundaries for a night, go try and be open with someone close to you, or screw it even a stranger, I promise that they are interested in your stories.
3. Use your benefits
This point is too easy. Besides the fact that I think an education is extremely important and getting a degree or trade will net you more money in the long run, the government is willing to PAY FOR YOU AND PAY YOU TO GO TO SCHOOL. The VA is also willing to PAY YOU FOR YOUR INJURIES. I’ve heard so many times “I don’t want to take money away from someone who really deserves it”. Hey knucklehead, guess what, that’s you. You deserve it. The VA disability system is in place to help and compensate you, because let’s face it, the military is hard on our bodies. The VA isn’t going “oh Johnny gets 10% because his back hurts, better take money away from this guy over here”. No. You both will get what you need, I promise. I suffered a knee injury in 2016, and subsequently had knee surgery. Because of this injury and the resulting affects, I rated disability from the VA. I am also a full-time student, studying Web and Mobile Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I’m just going to say this: My degree is going to be paid for in full, and I am just as well off now as I was as an E4 in the Marine Corps. Take the time-management skills you obtained in the military and get yourself an education, trust me you do not need to be a genius to get a degree or trade. Your experiences in the military have prepared you for school, it is a cake walk compared to what you have already accomplished. If you are feeling unmotivated or struggling with schoolwork, find your on-campus veterans club, if one doesn’t exist then start one, or even reach out to me. I’m always willing to help out a brother or sister. If you need some direction with where to go for other benefits, then OpSiix is exactly where you want to be, we’re here to steer you in the right direction.
4. Do the things that make you happy
This is my simplest, yet probably most difficult point. Live your life in a manner that makes you happy. Don’t worry about what others want you to do or be like. Focus on yourself. Take some time to reflect, figure out what makes your clock tick, and do what you need to make yourself happy. You’re out of thee military now, you’re journey begins with you. You can carve your own path and that is amazing. Many times over the past year I have felt overwhelmed by how many options I have now. I take every opportunity I have, to do things that put me in a good mood. Go to festivals, go to concerts, go hiking, kayaking, biking, go try a new restaurant. That list is tailored to things I enjoy, but my point stands. You have full control over your life now, focus on making this a happy one.
As far as accomplishing any of these points, well that is different for all of us. For some of us the motivation is there, others it might be lacking. This is why I am here with OpSiix (This is my shameless plug), because we should be able to lean on our brothers and sisters to help us out. I know from personal experience, that connecting with other vets helped me open up and be myself. I felt comfortable around them, more comfortable than I did around other people. Over time I was able to relax, and not only be comfortable around other vets but everyone in general. I’ve been able to lead a happier life now, and things are only looking up. Just like others were there for me, I want to be there for you guys. If you need someone to talk to, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send your info through the contact page and I can reach out to you. Look for veteran activities in your community, join a veteran’s group or a club, and get out there. If you find that there aren’t any in your area, reach out to us and we can try to help you connect with an organization or set something up.