Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life

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A civilian is someone who is not a member of the armed forces. Civilians are a large segment of the world’s population and have many different interests, jobs, and careers. Civilians may be employed by government, businesses, educational institutions, non-profits, and more. Civilians can be found all over the world and are an essential part of society.

The term “civilian” has specific meaning in international humanitarian law, which outlines the principles that govern how wars are conducted and how people are treated when they are caught up in them. Civilians are protected against direct attack in international armed conflict by the Third Geneva Convention and the two Additional Protocols to it (API Arts. 45.1, 51.3; APII Arts. 13, 14).

For those who serve in the armed forces, the transition to civilian life is a major adjustment. From rigid schedules and a strict tone of voice to the expectations around socializing with friends and family, there are plenty of differences between military and civilian life. These can make it difficult to feel at home again after a long time away from your loved ones.

Another challenge is adjusting to civilian work culture and balancing your new role with your military obligations. Some civilian employers may not be as understanding of your commitment to service or your reservist duties, and you might find it challenging to work with others who don’t share the same level of dedication to a common cause.

Despite the best efforts of individuals and organizations, civilians can sometimes be subject to military operations that result in harm. This is especially true when the military is in a host nation or operating abroad, where there are likely to be more civilians than troops. It is important for militaries to understand how and why civilians are harmed in these circumstances, so they can avoid and mitigate civilian harm as much as possible.

CNA has been working closely with militaries worldwide to mitigate civilian harm, including through the creation of a global network of civilian experts to support their efforts. In addition, we are developing tools to help them identify and prioritize civilian harm mitigation actions. The development of these resources will enable militaries to develop more effective and sustainable approaches to civilian harm mitigation that can foster better civil-military relations. This includes working with civilians to identify and assess the impact of military operations, as well as establishing procedures for responding to civilian harm, from medical assistance to amends mechanisms. To learn more about our work to reduce civilian harm, contact Larry Lewis, a senior research scientist on our Civilian Harm Mitigation team. In his capacity as a Civilian Harm Mitigation Analyst, he has worked on several studies on the topic of civilian harm in conflict and its implications for civil-military relations. He is also an active participant in discussions about civilian harm reduction with our allied and partner militaries. He has presented on these topics at numerous conferences and workshops.