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Transitioning from Soldier to Civilian


Individuals are extremely different in terms of the way that they perceive important changes in life. Nevertheless, there are many processes that often involve significant psychological difficulties as they require people to start living in accordance with new rules and adopt different core values that are to guide their choices. The process of military transitioning can be listed among the brightest examples of such processes involving radical lifestyle changes. In fact, military service is associated with numerous sacrifices related to physical fatigue, stress, and constant threats to life. Taking that into account, it is a pivotal note that the facts of military life often impact the future of soldiers and make it more difficult for them to socialize to a non-military culture that involves less strict control and promotes equality and freedom. The significance of the problem in the United States is strictly interconnected with the changing composition of unemployed in the country.

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Unemployment rates in the country are still quite high, and people in the United States cannot find steady jobs due to psychological and physical challenges, limited access to education, social and financial inequality, and other factors. Unemployed people in the United States are usually presented by those belonging to socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Nevertheless, the number of unemployed people among former service personnel has grown recently (“Employment situation of veterans summary,” 2017). The given tendency indicates that the needs and problems of former soldiers related to the process of transitioning have to be studied thoroughly to make re-entry less difficult. Unfortunately, the effects of difficulties related to the process of transitioning from military life can become more significant due to the impact of strangulated psychological traumas in former soldiers. Sometimes, the combination of these factors can be detrimental to the psychological health of former soldiers, urging them to demonstrate asocial behavior or even commit suicide. The given paper generalizes the knowledge on the predictors of the positive and negative experience of transitioning to civilian life.

Problematic and Simple Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

There are no people whose life consequences would be the same, and psychological differences also contribute to the fact that people’s experiences are unique. The experience of former soldiers is highly impacted by positive and negative factors that improve people’s ability to adapt to new consequences in a rapid manner or straight conversely, increase the time needed for readaptation to civil life. Interestingly, factors that are responsible for successful transitions include academic degrees and attitude to religion (see Figure 1).

The process of readjustment to civil life involves the necessity to join the community and build proper relationships with family, friends, partners, superiors, subordinates, and colleagues. Due to the fact that the culture in the United States is rather individualistic, many people try to preserve their independence during military service and minimize transformations related to character. Nevertheless, armies cannot exist without strict discipline and rules that everyone must obey. Military discipline is associated with numerous positive consequences as it makes people more self-organized and improves their leadership skills.

This form of behavior is encouraged by intensive and regular training but discipline cannot exist without steady hierarchical structures. The members of armed forces get used to living in communities that are organized in a hierarchical way and obedience to other people’s orders becomes essential for them. Nevertheless, despite all the advantages of self-discipline in armed forces, former servicemen sometimes experience social disorientation because the approach to building relationships that supports various processes in military life is incompatible with healthy personal relationships between adult people. Also, there is a significant gap between former servicemen and those who have never been in the army. Knowing a little about the challenges of soldiers, such people can underestimate their volitional powers or misread the consequences of psychological traumas as eccentric behavior, and it usually causes numerous interpersonal conflicts and troubles the process of readaptation.

Successful Transition to Civilian Life.
Figure 1. Successful Transition to Civilian Life.

Career Opportunities

The process of transitioning to civilian life involves numerous difficulties related to a civilian career. Thus, apart from problems related to communication, attention has to be paid to efforts that former servicemen should make in order to develop new professional skills or return to companies that they have worked for. The world of business is constantly changing, and employees in different industries are often required to work in accordance with changing standards and improve their skills on a regular basis to stay competitive. A long period off the job, paired with high standards and new skills required to cause significant challenges during the process of transitioning. The impact of these factors can sometimes be detrimental to the self-esteem of former servicemen because they feel that their skills and knowledge are not on demand.

Traumatic Events, Injuries, and Emotional Problems

The experience of traumatic events during military service is ranked among the most important factors that increase the probability of difficulty transitioning from service to military life. Traumatic events are known to be responsible for numerous cases of problematic transitioning to civilian life and career due to the fact that they can have a negative influence on people’s communication and social skills, making them more uncompanionable and, at the same time, decreasing their ability to understand other people. There are many examples of a traumatic experience as this term is used to define events that involve both physical and psychological harm. Speaking about the most common examples of traumatic events and injuries, they can include significant service-related conflicts with fellow soldiers that are caused by personal differences, discrimination, or different goals and values in life. In reference to civilian life, a person who has conflicts with other people has a range of opportunities to resolve them.

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For instance, it is possible to change the workplace or visit a psychologist. It can be much more difficult to resolve conflicts during military service, especially if they involve both soldiers and military leaders. Apart from that, traumatic experience in former servicemen can relate to the cases when they lose their comrades in combat. Losing someone is always a tragedy but seeing someone’s death is, in itself, an extremely traumatic experience. According to the research conducted by Herman and Yarwood (2014), former servicemen often associate difficulties during the period of transitioning to civil life with the impact of traumatic events. Both traumatic experiences during military service and physical injuries act as significant predictors of problematic transitioning. In terms of injuries, they can be regarded as the predictor of difficulties during the process of transitioning due to the fact that they often limit people’s opportunities to enjoy their hobbies such as sports or, in some cases, art. At the same time, physical injuries are dangerous because the additional time needed to minimize their consequences can be spent on professional development and adaptation.

Traumatic events related to military service contribute to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder that is responsible for many cases of problematic transitioning to civilian life. As is clear from the research conducted by Holland, Malott, and Currier (2014), post-traumatic stress disorder is among the leading causes of problems during the process of transitioning because it makes people feel isolated and misunderstood when they join new communities. Importantly, the researchers highlight that the negative effect of PTSD caused by traumatic events is especially evident in cases when former soldiers become college students. It happens due to the significant difference between the military organizational structure that is a rather steady and college environment that is less organized.

Apart from traumatic events and injuries, the presence of emotional problems is the factor that is associated with numerous difficulties during the process of transitioning to civil life (see Figure 2). Emotional problems can be caused by different aspects of military life but it is clear that their presence is usually associated with additional risks and inability to adjust to normal life in a short period of time. When it comes to the emotional problems of former soldiers, focused attention must be paid to the fact that they often remain invisible, unlike physical injuries. In their qualitative research devoted to life after military service, Herman and Yarwood (2014) state that many former soldiers experience emotional stress when they try to establish the links between lifestyles related to military service and civilian life. In particular, the researchers highlight that those soldiers who consider their process of transitioning to civil life to be difficult often demonstrate a sense of loss. As is clear from the interviews presented in the article, many of them regard the separation from the military as a personal tragedy, comparing it to “losing one’s parents” (Herman & Yarwood, 2014, p. 45). The research shows that emotional problems can be manifested in former service personnel in different ways; the most common problems include a sense of loss, a lack of motivation, and a sense of closure.

Problematic Transition to Civilian Life.
Figure 2. Problematic Transition to Civilian Life.

Education Level (College Education)

Education level is another factor that defines the degree to which the transition from military service to civilian life would be simple. The results of surveys devoted to problematic and simple transitioning and factors that contribute to possible challenges are extremely different. Nevertheless, there are many resources that present information, showing that the problem of difficult transitioning is sometimes underrated. For instance, according to the survey conducted within the frame of the Military Transition project, almost half of respondents without a college degree state that their transition has been more difficult than expected (“Transition survey results,” n.d.).

The impact of college education on the simplicity of transition is extremely significant because those who have graduated from college prior to becoming soldiers are more likely to have a range of career opportunities after the end of their military service. In fact, those former soldiers who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees already have well-developed professional skills. Also, when studying at higher education institutions, people learn how to get across to peers in extremely heterogeneous groups and resolve conflicts. Unlike school students, those studying at universities are rather independent; they gradually learn the basics of self-organization and become able to structure their work in an effective manner to achieve academic success. These communication and self-organization skills can be extremely important for former soldiers who need to rejoin the community and start or continue their civil career. Due to that, a college education can be regarded as a factor that makes the process of transitioning more positive.

Military Hierarchy (Enlisted Personnel and Officers)

The position in a hierarchical structure is also ranked among factors that predict the degree to which transitioning experience would be positive. Also, the factor under consideration can sometimes predict the amount of time that former military men need in order to adjust to the civilian world. Officers can be seen as a group of military men who are less vulnerable to challenges related to transitioning than enlisted personnel. As for the factors that can help to provide an explanation for this tendency, it is possible that the developed leadership skills of officers allow them to find their place in the civilian world very fast. In her article, French (2014) discusses the results of the survey conducted a few years ago; they demonstrate that officers are less likely to experience challenges during the transition to civil life than enlisted personnel. With that in mind, military managers may need to develop education programs for enlisted people that would help to mitigate the risks of challenges during transition. Taking into account the difference between the duties and responsibilities of enlisted soldiers and officers, it can be supposed that the latter tend to be more successful in adapting to the civil world due to the fact that they plan and manage processes. In reference to the “comfort zone” of enlisted soldiers, they get used to complying with the orders of military leaders. To a certain extent, this tendency can have a bearing on the decision-making skills of enlisted soldiers. Thus, based on the conclusions of modern researchers, being an officer remains a factor that increases the chances to have a positive transitioning experience.

The Degree of Religious Commitment

The level of religious commitment, modern researchers state, is also a predictor of a more positive transitioning experience. When it comes to personal opinions expressed by modern people with regard to faith-based values and attitudes, they often refer to positive aspects related to being a religious person. For instance, religion is considered to be inherent in moral motivation because it establishes clear rules and norms that are to be respected by any believer. In general, religious commitment also acts as a positive factor for former servicemen who need to rejoin the civilian community, and there are studies that support this point of view. The results of the survey for former servicemen that have been mentioned in the previous sections indicate that religious people are more likely to have a positive transitioning experience than non-believers. According to the source, the link between the high degree of religious commitment and a more successful period of readjustment to civilian life characterizes the survey results of post-September 11 veterans (French, 2014).

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Personally, I believe that the positive impact of this factor on transitioning experience can be attributed to specific values that are supported by those practicing all large religions. Among the most important religious assumptions that may be related to positive and negative experiences during the process of transitioning, there are humility and the sinful nature of despair and despondency that often become people’s reactions to life challenges. At the same time, it is important to note that all religions regard suicide as an attempt to “refuse battle”. All popular religions have common points; thus, suicide is considered to be the worst sin, and despair is also criticized. Taking that into account, it is possible that deeply religious military people see their life challenges through the prism of these assumptions, and they give them strength and motivation. This point of view finds support in the review by Salgado (2014) who proves that religiosity is often associated with a more positive attitude to life, high self-esteem, and higher levels of satisfaction with life. According to the research under consideration, numerous positive effects of religious practices and faith can reduce stress caused by negative experiences and encourage believers during difficult times.

Marital Status and Family Problems

Problematic relationships with parents, friends, or partners have always been regarded as a factor that can cause decreases in life satisfaction in different groups of the population. Former servicemen do not present an exception to the rule as difficult relationships with spouses also predict a problematic transition to civilian life. The survey discussed by French (2014) indicates that there is a strong link between the marital status of former soldiers and the degree to which their transition is easy. Many people believe that spouses can help each other to cope with problems; nevertheless, the results of the discussed research indicate that being in a marriage reduces the chances of having an easy transition.

Interestingly, studies that focus on the emotional state of the entire population find the connection between being in a marriage and benefits for emotional well-being. The survey of almost two thousand former soldiers demonstrates that deployment can increase the risks of having significant conflicts with spouses (French, 2014). At the same time, it is known that problematic relationships with wives or husbands during deployment also predict the degree to which the readjustment to civilian life will be easy. Continuing on the topic of the survey indicates that those having difficult relationships with their spouses during military service are more likely to experience a problematic transition to civilian life. Taking that into consideration, it is clear that marital status and the presence of family conflicts have a significant impact on the further experience of former military men.


In conclusion, the transition from military service to civilian life presents a difficult process that often involves challenges – nowadays, almost a half of former servicemen state that their transition to civilian life has been difficult and problematic. There are numerous factors that are associated with a positive and easy transition. In fact, the easy transition from military service is predicted by the presence of academic degrees, a higher position in a military hierarchy, and religious commitment. These factors can make people’s experience more positive because they are strictly interconnected with a wider range of career opportunities, well-developed decision-making skills, and higher self-esteem of former servicemen. However, there are numerous factors that reduce the chances of having an easy transition. For instance, these factors include the presence of traumatic experience associated with the period of military service, physical injuries, emotional issues, the absence of a college degree, and problematic relationships with spouses. The information on the positive and negative impact of these factors on transitions can be used to develop a strategy, helping those former servicemen who belong to the high-risk groups to reduce the amount of time that they need to adapt to the civilian world.


Employment situation of veterans summary. (2017). Web.

French, L. (2014). Staff perspective: Transitioning from military service to civilian life. Web.

Herman, A., & Yarwood, R. (2014). From services to civilian: The geographies of veterans’ post-military lives. Geoforum, 53, 41-50.

Holland, J. M., Malott, J., & Currier, J. M. (2014). Meaning made of stress among veterans transitioning to college: Examining unique associations with suicide risk and life-threatening behavior. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 44(2), 218-231.

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Salgado, A. C. (2014). Review of empirical studies on impact of religion, religiosity and spirituality as protective factors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2(1), 141-159.

Transition survey results. (n.d.). Web.

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