Editor’s note: This story was first published on Aug. 31, 2023.
Joining the military at 18 years old can no doubt shape one’s self-perception. But once it’s time to separate or retire, what’s often left is just a DD-214, a GI Bill, and an inevitable search for personal identity.
Luckily, there is precedent to fall back on. If unable to carve out your own post-service personality, there are few tried-and-true veteran identities available to slide right into. They may fit as poorly as a plate carrier at first, but you’ll grow into it ... eventually.
The T-Shirt Bro
Hundreds of vetrepreneurs have made middling money by slinging moto t-shirts featuring no shortage of obnoxious clichés. You can as well. Just don’t forget to memorize catch phrases like “You’re welcome for my service.” Pair said shirts with a rainbow menagerie of Oakleys for maximum effect.
Make it through SERE school? Why not make an entire lifestyle of it? Evade, resist, and escape a boring post-retirement life by heading into the woods and living off the land. Stash currency in a mattress, stockpile MREs, assemble a weapons cache, and rock that glorious beard the military wouldn’t allow.
The Finance Guy
After separating, some veterans choose to get an MBA. Seduced by the world of crisp Hugo Boss suits and classmates whose dads golf with senators, cryptocurrency and oil futures are suddenly the only thing that matter. You can’t help but dole out advice to anyone and everyone about where they should put their money.
Many looking for a purpose in life turn to religion. Vets can, too. Join a church and go every morning, just like mustering for formation. They’ll tell you where to put your hands, when to stand, what to say. It’s just like the military — except, instead of getting paid, you’ll be paying tithes every weekend.
Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you have to surrender a hard-earned title. Have everyone address you by your rank. Introduce yourself as colonel or top. Don’t give away your first name. Adopt a physical demeanor that says, “If you don’t address me as ‘sir’ at the grocery store, you’ll pay for it.” When neighbors wave at you, salute them so they know who’s in charge.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.