Have you thought about what you are going to do after you leave the military? Whether you’re one and done, or you stay in until retirement, you will one day leave the military. And the steps you take today can go a long way toward determining your post-military future.
On this podcast, we interview Mark Deal, a former Nuclear technician in the Navy. He shares his story of self-development and planning for the future, even when he didn’t know what that future would be. In many ways, my story is similar to his, and I’m sure it will be similar for many of you.
The big takeaway is this: “Develop a long-term path, and take short-term actions to get you there.”
Or, in military terms, “Determine your strategic goals, and take tactical measures to achieve them.”
There are many ways you can do this, and we’re going to go into more detail in the podcast.
Whether you are a Private in the Army, a mid-level or senior-level NCO, or a company grade or field grade officer, there is a lot of wisdom here. And the tips we discuss about education, training, and personal development apply to everyone at every stage of life – whether you are still in the military and contemplating your next move, or whether that ship has sailed and your military days are long over.
Planning Your Military Exit – Even if You Don’t Know When it Will Be
A successful mission isn’t successful if someone is left behind. That is why every special ops mission is planned with the exit in mind. How do we get in, accomplish our mission, and exfiltrate?
Your military career should be treated with the same care and end-goal in mind. Whether you serve 2 years on active duty, or 35, there are many steps you can take to prepare yourself for your next course of action, whether that is another career, or retirement.
With this in mind, Mark and I discuss the steps he took during his six-year enlistment that helped prepare him for his successful transition into the civilian world. After listening to his story, you won’t be surprised to learn he has been successful in business world as well.
Let’s look at Mark’s journey and some of his advice.
Do a Self-Assessment of Your Skills and Long-Term Goals
Give yourself options – in both your personal and professional life. Can you take steps in your career that will align with your long-term personal and professional goals? In Mark’s case, he was able to quickly qualify in his career field so he could use his off-duty time to pursue his long-term career aspirations. He didn’t have a career lined up while he was in the military, so he chose to pursue the study of classes that were in line with his military job. Mark studied classes related to mechanical and electrical engineering.
There are similar courses of action you can take, depending on your career field. For example, I was an aircraft mechanic. I knew many people who used their military training to get certified as an Airframe and Powerplant Technician (an A&P license is required by many commercial airline companies to work in aviation maintenance). There are likely similar certifications for many other career fields – computer and networking certifications, auto-maintenance, communications, and much more. Many career fields also have associated two- or four-year degree plans.
This is a great way to cover your bases and give yourself options. Had Mark chosen to remain in the Navy, he would have had a degree that was well-aligned with his career, making it easier for him to achieve an advanced enlisted rank, or pursue a commission had that been his desired career path.
Be productive with your time. Instead of using all of his downtime to play video games, or poker, he utilized his down-time to achieve his goals. For Mark, this meant taking classes while he was out to sea, while his ship was in dry-dock, and testing out of classes.
I took a similar path to Mark. I achieved my Bachelor’s Degree while I was on active duty. It was a lot of work – I volunteered to work the midnight shift for almost two years so I could attend night classes. I went to work right after class, went home to sleep, then studied for an hour or so before repeating the process. I also tested out of classes and took online classes while I was deployed.
Self-improvement isn’t limited to formal education. Mark also recommends loading a Kindle or eReader with books for your deployment time. You can always find a few minutes here and there to read. And an eReader is a convenient way to carry a load of books in a compact unit. This can include text books, non-fiction, self-improvement, and of course, entertainment. Personally, I like to read a non-fiction book, then follow it up with a good thriller – just to keep things interesting and give my mind a break.
Be intentional with your actions. We all have 24 hours in a day. And hopefully we have a lot of years in front of us. Mark’s advice: “Determine your long-term goals, and look at what short term actions you need to take to get down that path.”
Use your benefits and available resources to achieve your goals. Being in the military gives you access to many excellent resources. Mark mentioned he used Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill to help fund his degree both while he was in the military, and after he separated from the military. He also used a VA Loan to buy his first home, which saved him a lot of money on Private Mortgage Insurance. Here is a little more information about these benefits:
- Air Force Tuition Assistance
- Army Tuition Assistance
- Marine Corps Tuition Assistance
- Navy Tuition Assistance
- Coast Guard Tuition Assistance
- Montgomery GI Bill
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
- VA Loan – How to Qualify
Start taking action today. I hope you find this podcast and information beneficial. The biggest takeaway is to take action, and the sooner the better. The earlier you begin working on your self-improvement projects, the longer you will have to reap the benefits.
About Mark Deal: Mark is a former Navy Nuke. He spent 6 years enlisted in the Navy with most time spent below the waterline on an aircraft carrier. He now holds a BSEE and an MBA, but considers himself a reformed engineer. He co-founded Foreign Investor Resource Group and is the host of the US Immigration Podcast. Although he has enjoyed a diverse career track since he left the service, today we are going to focus on the early steps he took to help position himself for future opportunities.