Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life

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A civilian is a person who is not a member of the armed forces of any country. Usually, civilians work in occupations such as law enforcement, construction, education, health care and retail. A trained civilian, however, can be just as effective in combat as a soldier. The only difference is that a soldier is sworn to protect the state and is an official member of the military of a nation.

Civilians also have different roles in a nation’s government than military personnel. For example, some of them serve in the executive branch or legislature while others work with humanitarian agencies. In addition, many civilians are involved with the public through volunteerism and political participation.

Generally speaking, civilians are considered protected people under international humanitarian law (the customary laws of war and the treaties that implement them). They are not to be exposed to the dangers of military operations unless they are involved with certain categories of combatants.

The rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols distinguish between protected civilians and those who are directly participating in hostilities. Direct participation is defined in the two protocols relating to international and non-international armed conflicts, as follows:

Civilians who take part in hostilities are not considered to be combatants, but they do lose their protection from direct attack for as long as they directly participate in the hostilities. They can regain their civilian status, once they cease to directly participate in the hostilities.

Direct participation in hostilities is defined more precisely in the ICRC’s guidelines, which provide that civilians who engage in such conduct lose their civilian status “unless and for as long as they are not members of organized armed groups belonging to a non-state party to an armed conflict.” The ICRC recognizes that states are reluctant to grant legal status to non-state armed groups in situations of armed conflict.

One of the most difficult aspects of transitioning from military life to civilian is breaking away from a familiar and supportive community. This can be especially true if you move to a new area where you don’t know anyone. To help ease this challenge, you can try to build a network of friends through your local VA office or other veterans’ organizations. This will give you a support group to turn to when the going gets tough and you feel isolated. Additionally, you should make sure that you plan ahead financially for the changes you are likely to experience. This will include budgeting for things like housing, education and healthcare costs. Then, you can focus on getting settled into your new civilian lifestyle. If you are not careful, financial changes can be a distraction from your goal of successfully reintegrating into civilian society. This is why it’s important to seek out financial assistance as you prepare to leave the military. This can be in the form of a re-enlistment bonus, VA benefits or other forms of financial aid. You can also ask for assistance from family and friends who have successfully made the transition from military to civilian life.