French novelist, Marcel Proust, once said, We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.
I have always liked that quote because it speaks to the character and the person I have become and that I am still growing. I view the world through my life experience and it is the sum total of all of my life: good, bad, and the day-to-day grind that blends into the recesses of my mind. It is the same for all of us as we all struggle to face what life throws our way.
One of the observances that I have made is that when anyone makes a life transition, your whole world changes. That life change can be meeting that certain someone that you choose to spend your life with, it can also be the birth of a child, and it is most certainly the transition one makes from serving in the military and becoming a civilian. One day you know what you are wearing to work: your uniform. Now, all of a sudden, you have to decide what to wear. I know that this sounds crazy, but it was just one of the small things that hit me hard. I had lost my identity. I was no longer a Soldier in the US Army Special Forces. I was a civilian looking for the next phase of my life.
At TFD, I get a chance to interact with many, many SOF Soldiers - both active and retired. I have noticed that almost all of us have these four subject areas in common:
1. Loss of Mission
2. Loss of Purpose
3. Loss of Focus
4. Feeling Defeated
For those who retire at their own choosing, we most certainly feel the first three. For those that are wounded, injured, or ill and have to retire early and at a time that they didn't choose, many feel a sense of defeat. We will discuss this more in depth later.
1. Loss of Mission: When we are on active duty, we have a sense of mission. We know what we are supposed to be doing. We train to defend our country. We deploy to meet the requirements and support our President, military chain of command, wartime commands and theater commands. There are also the personal reasons why many have joined SOF units and that is to protect and defend those who cannot protect themselves. The Special Forces motto: de Oppresso Liber sums it up: to free the oppressed. Helping those who would otherwise be trapped in a life of servitude and slavery living in a land that kept them from being free. Afghanistan under the Taliban rule was very oppressive. Young girls and women were unable to go to school and get an education. Post Taliban rule, girls are allowed to go back to school. Our sense of mission is important and no matter what it is for each of us, we know what we are supposed to be and we know what we have to do to be prepared. When we retire, that is all gone. One day you are a Soldier with a mission and the next day.....
2. Loss of Purpose: Loss of purpose goes hand in glove with loss of mission. When you have a mission, you have a purpose. We often place mission and purpose above all...yes, even family. We are true warriors who find comfort, satisfaction, and even peace in our chosen profession of arms. When we leave that profession, we are without purpose. It is hard to reconnect with our families. We struggle to help be Dad and an active parent. Our wives struggle to share the duties of running the household that they have been responsible for while we were away. Loss of purpose means our life no longer has that meaning it has for so long. We are like a ship without a rudder in a pitching sea. We are tossed about back and forth by our emotions and it is depressing.
3. Loss of Focus: Because of our loss of mission and loss of purpose, we are not able to focus on what is important. Everything is blurred and we feel lost. When we feel lost, we are lonely and confused. We don't feel like we have a reason to get up in the morning. Why should we get up? I struggle to find a job that I think I want because we are used to having a profession that meant something and now I have to find a job? What job can define me now? I don't want a job: I want something that matters. I want to make a difference like I did when I was on active duty.
4. Feeling Defeated: when one leaves active duty early, they have not completed what they thought was their mission. Because they are wounded, ill, or injured; one doesn't have the ABILITY to do what they want to do. Their life has changed and one MUST adapt or go crazy. Many fall into massive depression and never come out.
We have heard over the last few years that the suicide rate is ~22 veterans a day. I don't know if that is caused by these four things, but I suspect they play a major part in the thoughts that go through our veterans' minds just like they went through mine.
How do we overcome this? We can only overcome this through understanding what is going on in our lives. In SOF, we have the SOF Imperatives. If we apply these imperatives to our lives and continue to think like a SOF person, it can help us make that transition.
TF Dagger FDN is also working to help with this challenge. Chuck Y and I have been developing what we call is our "Island" Concept. It was Chuck's idea stemming from the 3 gun events and an event he attended in Omaha Nebraska. We are working to build a program where those who are having a greater difficulty in making the transition can come to an event and discuss those issues. It is not a kumbaya event where we hug and make each other feel better, it is an event where one will face their issues and figure out how to attack them and overcome them.
This is an ongoing development and is not meant to be a transition program from active duty to civilian life, it is meant to be a focused event to help people discover what they want to do for the rest of their life and It is designed to restore the MISSION, PURPOSE, and FOCUS. It is important for each of us to have a mission in life, a purpose for living, and a focused intensity to help us achieve our goals and feel the sense of satisfaction. After all, if we have a plan before us, we know what we have to do.
TFD is thankful that we can Serve Those Who Have Served US.
~Til next time...