What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is a person who does not serve in any military force. Civilians are often employed in police, fire and rescue services, emergency management, and other government agencies that deal with public safety and welfare. They are also found in a variety of private businesses. A growing number of civilians are also serving in law enforcement roles such as crime scene investigators, mental health consultants and data analysts, helping to free up sworn officers for other duties.

The term civilian is used in international humanitarian law (IHL) to refer to a person who is not a member of an armed force or other entity fighting in hostilities, whether internal or international. This concept of a civilian is central to the laws of war and has been established by IHL treaties, the law of armed conflict and customary international law. The ICRC disseminates this concept of civilian through its delegated experts around the world who train armed forces in IHL and teach them that, under IHL, civilians must be protected from direct attack “unless and for so long as they do not participate directly in hostilities.”

One of the main differences between military life and civilian life is camaraderie. The military is a close knit community and members are like family to each other. This is not the case in the civilian world, where it’s a much more individualistic culture. In addition, a civilian’s finances are far more complicated than in the military. Civilians have to budget for housing, food and other expenses. Most do not have the same financial benefits, such as housing allowance and medical insurance, provided by the military.

Another difference is education. While the military may offer a wide range of educational opportunities, these are not as easily available in the civilian sector. Civilians have to pay for their own educational pursuits, although some have access to tuition assistance through their employer.

Changing from military life to civilian is a challenge. The most significant adjustment is in relationships with friends and family. Transitioning back to the daily routine of work and home can be difficult as well. It’s important to be patient with yourself as you adjust and learn how to communicate your needs to others.