Blogger Biography: James Hinton is an Army veteran who hangs his cowboy hat in Idaho. He spends his time writing on veteran’s issues and attempting to teach his four daughters to call cadence while walking to the bus stop.
I made a mistake. I made it for reasons that made sense at the time, but it was a mistake. I’m hoping my story will help you avoid making it as well.
I enlisted in the Army back in 1998. At the time, I was looking for work and for training I could take back with me to the civilian world. I found, to my surprise, that the military was what I needed. I’d found myself in a place where I knew my role and purpose, my needs were met, and most importantly, I was part of something far larger than myself.
After my six was up, I reenlisted, intending to make a career of it. I’d already had two combat tours under my belt, so I knew the bad as well as the good. For me it was worth it. This was the life for me. I was going the full 20, and possibly even 30.
It didn’t happen. Just as I was looking to get my E-7, a doctor at Darnall informed me I was done. My third combat tour had left me with permanent respiratory and back damage. I was no longer medically fit for service. Within a few months I was wearing civvies and wondering what in the world I was supposed to do. The monthly check I was getting for my disability was nice, but I couldn’t live on it, even if I wanted to just sit around at home (I didn’t).
I had a problem. While I had great Army skills, I was coming up short on the skills needed for the civilian world. Sure, I had been a non-commissioned officer, or NCO. I had demonstrated leadership skills. But leadership in what? The civilian world didn’t need armament dogs. In my job search I kept encountering the same thing. Unless I wanted to start a job in unskilled labor, I needed to go back to school.
The Army had, for years, been providing me the opportunity to pursue an education. I’d earned a few college credits that helped in my pursuit of rank, but it had never been a serious pursuit by me. Now I was finding that people really wanted someone with a college degree and that I was well removed from their expectations. It took three years for me to make up for that mistake, working what barely survivable jobs I could while studying late into the night for exams and writing papers.
Don’t make my mistake
If you happen to be like I was, an enlisted soldier, marine, sailor or airman planning to go all the way, it’s very tempting to make the same mistake I did. It’s easy to assume that life will be accommodating and let us make it to that 20-year letter. We’re young, we’re strong, it’ll happen.
Only, it might not happen. You could find yourself injured as a result of combat, an illness or even just a silly little accident. If it does, you need to be prepared.
There are no excuses to avoid being prepared. These days a large number of accredited and respected institutions are offering classes online that can be taken whenever, wherever. If you are thinking you can’t take classes because you could be deployed overseas in a month, wrong. If you have a laptop and a chance at Internet access you can take the classes with you without an interruption. You can attend class from your home, your barracks, your hooch, or the Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent — better known as MWR tent — of a forward operating base.
Some programs seem obvious when considering what online offerings might work well for a deployed, enlisted soldier. Norwich University offers programs in Military History, for example. NCOs with a bent for leadership can prepare for a civilian career in management with an MBA from the University of Alabama. Many vets, and not just 31Bs, consider going into law enforcement. The University of Cincinnati has an online degree for that.
Officers aren’t exempt from this. Sure, you already have a degree, but how well will that degree set you up for the future? If you suddenly find yourself out in the civilian world, will your education help you stand out, or simply make you another run-of-the-mill candidate? Set yourself apart by continuing your education with advanced degrees.
Maryville University offers online degrees in nursing perfect for an officer, with 66 series of military occupational specialties. It might seem like this would be an impossible degree to achieve online, but so long as you are working in a clinical setting (such as a field hospital in Afghanistan or at a clinic stateside), you can qualify to participate in the program. A 67E can easily transition into a civilian pharmacy career through the University of Florida. Having a master’s in medication therapy management will put you right at the top of the list for employers who need to comply with Medicare Part D requirements.
I failed to be prepared. Though I had the drive and leadership skills that makes a veteran desirable to employers, I did not have the degree that got me interviews. My “trade” was not applicable to the civilian world, and so I found myself in a position where I was a trained leader, but didn’t have skills to lead in a civilian job. It took three years to overcome that lack.
You can avoid my mistake. You may believe nothing can stop you from that 20-year letter, but things happen. Just like the Army requires people to have a will prepared for the worst, you should be prepared for an early and unexpected discharge. Don’t be like me, only finally able to find work three years after my expiration term of service. Get schooled, get a job and soldier on.