By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
American Military University prides itself on its rich history of educating those who serve. Thousands of our students, faculty, and staff members have military backgrounds. While Veterans Day is an opportunity to recognize and show appreciation for sacrifices made by those in the military, it is also important to acknowledge the challenges veterans face in returning to civilian life. We asked several of our faculty members to reflect on their transition from the military to civilian life.
Know that Your Service Will Change You
“One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning and accepting that I would be forever changed. Going to war changes every person who has deployed to a combat zone, whether they want to admit it or not,” said Jennifer Bucholtz, a faculty member in AMU’s criminal justice department who served as a counterintelligence agent for the Army. She served on active duty for five years and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“For someone coming out of the military, normal daily tasks such as grocery shopping, making phone calls, and cooking dinner become mundane and seem completely unimportant,” said Bucholtz.
Prepare for the Major Differences of the Civilian World
Dr. Allan Conkey, a retired Air Force officer with more than 25 years of active-duty service, described how he had to re-learn to see the world. He served as the chief of security forces/military police mostly overseas and is currently a faculty member in AMU’s criminal justice department.
“People in the military take responsibility and when they give you their word it means something. In the civilian world, it seems to be more superficial,” said Conkey. “It’s true what they say about the military not being just a profession, but rather a way of life. That can be a difficult change to adopt when someone leaves the military and starts the next stage of life.”
One major adjustment is discovering that the civilian world moves at a much slower pace, recalls Beth Subero, whose last assignment was at the Pentagon working for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. “In that position—and at the Pentagon in general—it’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that everything needs to be done yesterday,” she said. Subero served in the Air Force for 21 years and is currently a faculty member in AMU’s intelligence studies department. “It has been my experience that the civilian world does not work that way. While this sounds like a blessing and not a challenge, it’s easy to get impatient or frustrated with the way the civilian world works.”
“It was hard to adjust to a slower pace,” agrees Dr. Valerie Davis, who was a senior intelligence professional for 23 years and is a faculty member in AMU’s intelligence studies department. “I had to learn how to calm down and get used to not having to be ready to deploy within 24 hours at a moment’s notice.”
It May Be Hard to Find a Job
Unfortunately, many veterans struggle to secure employment after leaving the military. “My greatest challenge was the uncertainty of obtaining immediate employment,” said Michael Beshears, who retired from the Army after 22 years of active duty and is a faculty member in AMU’s criminal justice department.
This inability to secure employment has to do with uncertainties regarding the consequences of their service. “In some cases, I think there is a stigma held by many hiring managers about veterans, wrongly assuming that PTSD or other combat-related injuries – some visible, some not – may interfere with one’s ability to work,” said Bucholtz. “It’s simply not true, but the belief is out there.”
Other times, there’s a lack of understanding about the skills veterans possess. “Many employers have a hard time understanding a veteran’s skillset and looking past their combat experience at the whole person,” said Davis.
Remember the Benefits of Serving in the Military
While the transition from the military to civilian life may be difficult, there are often many benefits to be found. “I learned the value of leading by example and taking personal responsibility for myself and my actions. I learned that integrity, honesty, and overall ethics matter a lot in everything you do in life,” said Conkey.
“I learned that life can get hard, but as long as you keep a positive attitude you can make it through just about anything,” said Beshears.