It has been nearly two months since I picked up my DD-214 at Fort Bragg. My entry into civilian life is going well, partly due to familiarity with the area I returned to, but mainly because my current professions are nested with my core values. Your core values are critical to a successful transition and you must take ownership of the process.
The first step is determining your core values. Yes, you have served in the military, inculcated with the various service creeds but honestly, some of those values mean more to certain people than to others. You have to determine what YOUR core values are; the values that are deal-breakers in personal and professional relationships if they are violated.
They are more than just singular words placed coyly into an acronym; they sub-consciously drove your life in uniform and will drive your life out of uniform. If those core values are not focused on your new path, your transition will be difficult and potentially traumatic. Lt. Col. David Scott Mann, U.S. Army Special Forces, Ret., introduced me to his method of finding core values during a Green Beret Foundation dinner last July. His approach doesn’t have an official name but I’ll call it “The Three Questions” and “The Three R’s.”
I can remember clear as day when I forced myself to answer those three questions. 1) Why did you join Special Forces (or the military) in the first place? 2) What was your worst moment in the military? 3) When your grandkids ask you what it was like and what your Soldiers were like, what will you tell them? Your answers to these three questions form the basis for “The Three R’s,” of Redirection, Reintegration, and Resilience. Your core values illuminate your journey back into civilian society and ensure you are strong enough to handle the road ahead.
In “The Things I Carried,” I wrote about seeing a Special Forces Detachment from the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) roll out on a mission with an Iraqi Police SWAT team from Hillah, Iraq. I decided that day to join Special Forces because I saw the impact of a highly trained small team to create a local, professional fighting force. I saw firsthand their positive effects on my Iraqi Highway Patrol partner force. They achieved something above the norm by mastering the fundamentals, taking higher levels of risks, and gaining larger impacts through combined operations. Core values: A desire to go outside and above the norm, to do difficult and innovative things, a need to constantly challenge myself, and a need to work with other cultures.
I also wrote about the day my Team Sergeant was shot during our second operation in a new district. He was MEDEVAC’d out, made it home before Christmas to see his family, and made a full recovery but I felt responsible. We had been together for nearly two years and we weren’t just teammates; he was a mentor and a friend. I was furious with myself but, looking back, I was incredibly impressed—albeit not surprised—at how my teammates responded during the operation. The Senior Weapons Sergeant immediately took over the Team Sergeant responsibilities, another teammate took over the assault force and so on. John Steakley wrote in his science fiction book Armor, “You are, what you do, when it counts,” and my men truly showed their worth that day. Core values: Competence, trust, a “next-man-up” mentality, and a deep-rooted belief in the positive power of cross-training.
I don’t have kids, nor will I, but I do have two nephews, one godson, and many younger cousins. Eventually, the questions will come about what “crazy Uncle Tyler did during the war.” My response in my journal is littered with adjectives like strong, brave, fearless, resilient, rugged, tough, driven, fun. My comrades had a strong sense of humor, and a stronger sense of duty. The bottom line is there was no greater privilege than to serve with them. Core values: I have to work with strong, competent people, what we do together has to matter, and they must be respected to the utmost by our profession.
I wrote the answers to those questions in mid-September 2015. Two weeks earlier I had attended a National Distinguished Candidate Hiring Conference but was having difficultly making a decision. After much reflection and writing, I acknowledged my core values, made my decision, and charted a new course. Those questions could just as easily sway you to stay in uniform. Either way, it is a win-win. It is important the answers to these questions are written down. These are your core values after all, and they deserve to be taken seriously. You may find yourself referring to them often and you may eventually commit them to memory. A few hours of reflection and writing will reap a successful transition.
The core values you discover for yourself will focus your redirection, solidify your reintegration, and bolster your resilience. Answering the Three Questions enabled me to take a leap of faith, challenge myself, and redirect my efforts in two industries with similar values as my own. As such, reintegration process has been fruitful. My co-workers—like my former Army colleagues—are rock stars. They work hard with dedication and loyalty towards a higher purpose…a purpose rooted in providing industry-leading products and services to our customers. Expertise in quality, cross-training, and competence are highly valued. The active veterans communities in both organizations help me stay resilient too.
Take ownership and lead yourself through the transition process. There are dozens of services out there, ready to help you. Know your core values and get connected with the right one. Do your research, talk to peers or mentors, pick one service and run with it. Being in charge of transition as much as you can be will ensure you end up on the positive side of the statistics. Share these values with your family and move forward together. If a company or profession doesn’t meet your core values, don’t work for them, period. Yes, that last statement includes the U.S. military.
The Three Questions and the Three R’s are not a panacea but they are a better way forward. There will be moments when you miss the team room, the deployments, your comrades-in-arms. You may hang your head and cry as yearly anniversaries mark the death of close friends. You will miss going to the range and training hard in arduous conditions. Acknowledge your pain and move forward with it. It is real, genuine, and most of all it is yours. No one can take it away from you. Your resilience will be strengthened by knowing your new team is made up of strong individuals who match your core values. You may not be as proud as when you wore a uniform, but you will still be proud to state your new profession. Kinship with your co-workers will develop. You will be at peace with yourself.
My friends, that inner peace is priceless. Take ownership of your transition, of your life, and win.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 28, 2019.