How did I get here? How did I end up where I am now? And why the fuck am I here? These are common questions expressed verbally, physically, quietly, or silently by many military retirees. For some, home is where you make it and it doesn’t really matter, long as all is good and they are living the dream, whether they planned it that way or not. For others, retirement is just another PCS, but with a destination that may or may not be of their choosing due to necessity and circumstance. Most would assume that after 20+ years of active duty service, everything we do and every choice we make would be in accordance with a plan or grand scheme. This is no true for many.
Those of us who end up somewhere other than planned or find ourselves where we are, but under circumstances that were not part of the plan manage to adjust to the situation and optimize it to our benefit because that’s how we have been trained to live and survive. It may not be what we want, but we know how to make it the best it can be because it is our instinct to do so. Still, sometimes we want something more. Sadly, many of us don’t know what we want, we just know we want something else that feels like something we had, but cannot have again, yet we still make the most of what we have. Before I lose you in the second paragraph as you wonder what the fuck I am talking about, allow me to explain by describing my own experience in transition from military to civilian life.
I was born and raised in Southern California, grew up a surfer kid who was pretty damn good at baseball and striking out with girls. I had the best childhood, best neighborhood, and couldn’t have imagined a greater place or way to grow up. I signed up for the Air Force at the beginning of my senior year in high school and left for basic training two months after I graduated. Knowing jack and shit about military life and going off the piss poor information my recruiter provided, I seriously thought I could get stationed wherever the hell I wanted and do whatever job I wanted. Are you finished laughing yet? Okay, because it gets even more embarrassing.
I took my ASVAB in 10th grade. I didn’t even know what the hell it was, I just knew that if I took it, I could skip Biology class because I didn’t want to deal with my raging alcoholic asshole teacher. Didn’t mean shit to me, it was just a break from a class (TEACHER) I hated. Apparently, I did pretty well, because every service recruiter was up my ass to join from there on out. Service? ME?!?!?! Fuck that shit, I’m going to play short stop for the Dodgers! Well, by the summer before my senior year, reality set in. I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t fast enough, and I wasn’t good enough to play pro ball. Oh, and my high school GPA was about as shitty as it gets while still being eligible to graduate, so not a whole lot of options there either. So, I decided to follow my Dad’s boot prints and join the Air Force. Here was my plan…..based on the bullshit my recruiter fed me…..because I can do whatever the fuck I want out of basic training….RIGHT?!?!?! I wanted to be a cop. A dog handler with he Security Police. I have always admired LEOs and wanted to become one, so I wanted to be a K9 cop, do my four years, get my degree, get out, and jump right into the FBI. Hell, I had it all planned out! I was going to get assigned at Vandenberg AFB, CA, do my K9 cop job, and go surfing every day. GOD DAMN, THE AIR FORCE IS GOING TO BE FUCKING AWESOME!!!!
Well, I was wrong and I was right at the same time. I went in open general without a guaranteed job and when job selection time came in basic, I answered the wrong questions at the wrong time and ended up in a career field I never knew existed. A job that completely derailed my plans, but put me on a path that led me to where I find myself now. I lived the greatest experiences. I made the best of friends, all of whom I consider family to this day. I lived a life that gave me the greatest gifts that I never would have known had I done what I thought I wanted to do when I was 18 and stupid. Something strange happened to me. I grew up. How the fuck did that happen?
As a promise to my family, which I never would have had if I had gotten my initial wishes when I began this journey, I agreed to punch out at 20 and retire so they could have me home full time and never again fear for my safety and well being in some far away shit box or staff meeting. In preparation for my pending exit from active duty, I had to figure out where we were going to go. My wife was east coast and I was west coast, but my folks finally got sick of So Cal and bailed back in 2006, most of my friends back home had left and those who stayed grew up and got lives of their own as I had, so I had no real reason to go back to California. However, I had no desire to settle where my wife grew up because there were no jobs for me there and the cost of living was fucking outrageous, so we had to figure out where to go where we would all be happy.
We agreed to a place to settle based upon cost of living, quality of living, crime rates, school quality, job availability, etc. I spent three years greasing the skids for us to roll fat dumb and happy into a prosperous civilian life at our projected retirement location. All was good. Right? Well, not so much. Shortly before my retirement ceremony, my wife and I decided to get a divorce. Talk about suck. All of this planning and preparation just got blasted to shit. I would have been happy staying where we were at the time, but the house we were renting had already been put on the market for sale and I had no local job prospects, so I had no choice but to go forward with the original plan, just without a full family because I had no other options and no time to make any ad hoc mission changes.
I officially retired from active duty service and divorced my wife in the same week. Yeah, it was a psychological shit blizzard, to say the least. I ended up in a new state, a new place, living in a new home, paying a hell of a lot more for a shitload less than what I left behind. All of the job offers I had a few months prior had dried up due to government budget cuts and my first official day as a civilian happened to be the first day of the government shutdown. Not only could I not get a job, but I couldn’t even trade my active duty ID for a retired ID because the fucking personnel office was closed due to the shutdown! Wow, my plan for a kick ass prosperous life with a wife and kids and a killer job making good money so we could have the sweet house and all of the spoils has turned a complete 180. Fuck me running backwards on a treadmill…..Up shit creek without a paddle and living off of my savings is not how I envisioned my life after 20 years of service to my country.
I was supposed to be a bad ass FBI agent or infielder for the Dodgers, living the dream, surfing all the time, busting criminals, turning double plays, and being the stereotypical family man. What happened? How did I get here?!?!?!
Fortunately, the luck drought was short lived and I managed to get a good job. Not my favorite job by any means, but a good one that offers me opportunities to use my experience to do great things for important endeavors and important people to do important things, so I am incredibly grateful for that. Took a couple of years to level off, but I got my shit together and have settled into a pretty damn satisfying life. It isn’t what I wanted. It isn’t where I expected or hoped to be. It sure as fuck did not come close to any of my expectations! But it is what it is and I am pretty damn pleased with everything I have and thankful for all I have managed to build for myself and my family in a time when so many have so little. At the end of the day, it all worked out. It isn’t perfect and I continue to look for opportunities to make it better, but no matter where we end up, that is what it’s all about and it is our nature to make more of what is. So long as in the meantime we make the most of what we have. I have a great life. I have a good job that pays the bills to take care of my family. I live in a nice place. I have the best of friends. I have a wonderful kid who makes me smile with everything she does and says. Based on my observations and experiences from the outside throughout my adult life, I think I have the best relationship with my ex-wife that any man could ever hope for. That is one thing for which I am infinitely grateful! It was a pain in the ass to get where I am. I ate shit and took my lumps. I hung in there and stayed in the fight and when I felt too weak and beaten down to carry on, I had the best family and friends with me to pick me up, dust me off, and push me forward. I made it.
Dreams are unique. Unique to each individual dreamer. The only downside to dreams are the inevitable expectations associated with those dreams because those expectations are rooted in a world that never changes when those dreams are born. But the world does change. Circumstances change. Situations change. People change. Life changes. This is not to say that dreams are perishable, but that dreams must be flexible to adapt to an ever changing world, to overcome that change, and avoid the trap door of replacing those dreams with disappointment simply because the world did not accommodate your life to meet your expectations from half a life ago when dreams were not tied to responsibilities and judgement. It’s all too easy to look at and obsess over how things didn’t work out, but so much easier to see and appreciate how things DID work out. Just open your eyes. Seriously, figuratively, spiritually, emotionally, physically, psychologically, literally, metaphorically, and no-shit-ily!
How did I get here? Doesn’t matter, I am here and it’s all good!
Keep dreaming. Never give up on the dream. Just don’t become blind and not appreciate the dream you are currently living. If you are reading this, you are alive. Get after it. Live the dream.