Every one of us will eventually, through age, injury, or life choices, cease being the focused, hard-charging warrior of our 20s and 30s.  We will take off the uniform and never render a military salute; never land on a drop zone with full combat equipment; we will not fire a weapon except during hunting season or on a range.

I am sad to say I will never fire a Tank Table VIII or XII again with my soldiers from years ago. My father was a police officer in Los Angeles, and he only reminisces about his days on the force, never the corporate life he had up until retirement in his late 60s. I thought a lot about this during a recent vacation, and wondered how people continue a life of service after they leave the world of duty, honor, country (and UCMJ) for a life not under-arms.

I am fortunate to be working with DoD as a civilian and while I still feel a sense of purpose and agency, even this will end at some point with retirement and a farewell lunch.

Beyond raising a healthy family, I believe all of us need to consider what our focus will become as we age out of deployments and physically challenging work. I worry a little in my own case, that I might turn out like Walt from the movie Gran Torino: angry, drunken, and frustrated toward the end of his life.

I’m sure many of us enjoy alcohol, and it’s an easy answer to numb the mind in the absence of a specific ambition. I hope as we all make the transition to a “normal” life, we can find a purpose and focus to keep our minds sharp with a socially-respectable direction.

Recall why we chose the paths we did.  I think for many of us, our way of life is a calling, something we are driven to complete despite other opportunities or personal costs. I can say that is why I joined the Army, and stayed with it for a number of years like many of us did in each service. I had wanted to serve my country as long as I can remember, and any other career opportunities were a distraction. I wanted to be a part of something with history, traditions, and honor. I wanted to be proud of a life of service and sacrifice with the goal of defending my country. I still do.

As this career winds down, l need to make a difference and contribute to my community and country in a different way. I’m not sure what I will end up doing in what passes for my “retirement” years, but it will be using the skills and experiences I have gained from almost 30 years of challenging times serving Uncle Sam. I pray we all can make this transition in a healthy way.

My father eventually worked in a boot-camp for troubled teens, teaching them discipline and providing a positive male role model. My first platoon sergeant did the same, and my senior Tac NCO from Benning teaches high school JROTC. A former Navy Master Chief I know is now running for State Senate in his home district: his way to continue to serve the community.

You can make money continuing to serve, or just volunteer your time. I worked with the Habitat for Humanity, building homes for screened couples over many weekends, and what a challenge that was! Physically taxing and time intensive, I found it very rewarding helping build a family’s home.

My extended family had also worked in a food shelter with many low-income residents, and this was a real eye-opener my first visit. Mentoring, coaching, teaching classes allow you to lead, train, and assist those without your skills. Add to these, the Boy Scouts of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America …there are many opportunities for us to continue developing ourselves and help our country’s people.

Mentoring a teen with some tough love.

This is a relatively short article, and I hope readers will place comments below to share ideas, plans, or suggestions.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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About The Author

Dale Swanson is a DoD analyst with 27 years of experience in the US and overseas in multiple theaters. When home, he enjoys shooting sports, hiking, hunting, and working out for general fitness. You can reach him at DWSwanson1965@gmail.com

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