Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life

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A civilian is a person who is not on active duty with a military, naval, police or fire fighting organization. It can also refer to a lawyer or scholar who specializes in civil law or Roman law. Civilians are a large portion of society and are the backbone of our economy, yet they are often misunderstood and underestimated.

In war zones, civilians are often subjected to brutal violence and have been historically targeted by armed conflict actors. Their numbers and plight are alarming, and they require the engagement of many different actors in order to protect civilians and reduce the harm caused by conflict.

One of the most valuable assets that civilians bring to national security policymaking are a unique set of skills that are not necessarily taught in schools or on military bases: the ability to analyze and balance extremely diverse interests, the art of building relationships of trust and loyalty, and the experience of working in the face of great uncertainty. This is exactly the type of skill that prepares them for the complex challenges in advancing our national defense.

Despite international legal and ethical principles and a growing consensus on the need to respect civilians, the protection of civilians in armed conflict remains an ongoing challenge for all involved. The indiscriminate violence of armed actors continues to cause horrendous harm in the form of mass rapes, attacks on schools and hospitals, and displacement of millions of people.

SIPRI is urging States, the private sector and other partners to work together with a unified and global approach in addressing this issue. This can be done through increased collaboration with armed actors, establishing procedures to respond to civilian harm, and enhancing accountability.

For those who have just transitioned from military to civilian life, it is important to understand that the priorities are very different. Caring about yourself may not be as much of a priority, but it is important to take the time to maintain healthy habits and buy high-quality personal care items that are affordable and accessible. There may be some frustration when communicating with friends and family who are not used to military communication styles, but it is crucial to remain patient and practice new ways of expressing yourself. Another aspect to consider when transitioning to civilian life is finding the right permanent housing type for you and your family. The process can be daunting, especially when moving from on-base military housing to an area where you may have to find a whole new community. This can be made easier by seeking out local support services that offer guidance on the housing selection process. You should also review the benefits of civilian life that are available to you and your family, such as federal health insurance, FEGLI and the Thrift Savings Plan (similar to a 401(K).) These benefits can help mitigate some of the hardships associated with transitioning to civilian life.