Deciding to Leave the Military (Part 1 of 2)

 Deciding to Leave the Military (Part 1 of 2) - USAA Member Community
Sailors and Marines observe a reenlistment ceremony during an all-hands call with Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Greenert and Stevens visited Harry S. Truman for the Thanksgiving holiday along with Mrs. Darleen Greenert. Harry S. Truman, flagship for the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, supporting theater security cooperation efforts and supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Emily Blair/Released) – No Endorsement Implied




Stay or Go? There is probably no greater decision for a military member regardless of their military service, military occupation, or status in the Active military, Guard or Reserve. The decision to transition is an emotional decision and you need to do your best to separate, for a time, the emotion from the practical decision making components of deciding to remain in the service or depart. The following six factors will help you determine if you should stay in the service or depart.


1. Do I Like What The People 2-3 Levels Above Me Are Doing? This is probably the single best question to help you decide to stay or go. First, look up the ranks and assess what the people who are 3, 5, and 7 years your senior are doing. Do you like the demands of their jobs? Is it interesting? Do these people like what they are doing? Are their advanced educational opportunities that you are excited about? Can you see yourself fulfilling the requirements of those jobs? If you say no, then is it possible to move into another military occupation you would enjoy? For example, if I am a U.S. Army Infantry officer that loves technology, could I move into the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps to help make design and purchase decisions on new U.S. Army Infantry equipment? If you love the military but do not like what future positions hold, then that could be a strong indicator you are ready for something new?


2. What is the True Value of My Military Pay & Benefits? What is the true economic value of all aspects of my military compensation, benefits, healthcare, access to services, and future retirement compared to the geographic location that I want to move? In short, if I live outside Fort Benning, GA today what will I need to live in San Francisco, CA tomorrow? USAA has a great calculator called the Military Separation Assessment calculator  that provides a comparison between the value of your military pay and benefits and what you will need to replicate it at your new living location. Comparing Fort Benning, GA to San Francisco, CA, a service member would have to more than double their income level to have equal, not better, benefits. This calculator is meant to inform you of the totality of the value of your benefits, not scare you to stay in the military. Military members receive a great deal of “hidden” value in access to base amenities, health care, Commissary, etc. that do not exist in the civilian world. The financial planning and creating an 8-12 month emergency fund to transition from the military is an essential step.


3. What’s The Life Stage of My Family? The decision to leave for a single service member or a married service member with three children really is different. A single, transitioning service member can literally go anywhere, do anything, and need few resources to do it. A family is a completely different consideration where housing, access to good schools, transportation, medical care, and tens of other choices dominate. A service member at any life stage can separate successfully, but if you are married with children just understand that the complexity and planning involved is about 10X a single service member due to your obligations. Also, the timing for a military family to leave the service is critical to make jobs, school, and medical care work.


Once you make a decision to stay or go, then sit on it for three months. If after three months, you still feel good about it, then you have made the correct decision. The decision to stay or leave the military is a very difficult decision. By understanding your family’s life stage, the true value of your military compensation, the precise education requirements for a new career, your opinion of your military career progression, looking at the potential of new occupations, and understanding what your friends and family think of your choice, then you can make an informed decision to stay or leave the service. If you decide to leave, the first step is to create a robust, comprehensive, resourced, and detailed military-to-civilian transition plan.


Look for Part 2 of this article coming soon.


Have something to add to this story? Share your advice below!


About the blogger:
Chad Storlie is the author of two books: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. An adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.




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1 Comment
Phantom Cobra
Limitless Contributor

Item number 2 needs more clarification as it could be misleading.  If you have not been in the military at least 20 years, there are very few/no hidden benefits such as access to anything on base. I have 6 years as a Viet Nam veteran (no military related injuries) and have no access to anything on base. 


I received education benefits/assistance for a time (now expired), qualified for a VA home loan (also expired, I believe) and now that I am on just Social Security, I can qualify for VA Hospital benefits which are still not very helpful with the nearest VA hospital 100 miles each way.  Fortunately, they do mail prescriptions or the miles would make it impossible to benefit from since they do not recognize a private doctor prescription and civilian pharmacies won't fill a VA prescription.


The VA isn't known for very good efficiency or care and there are limitations to who qualifies (go to the web site to see if you qualify).  Next is the slow decent of on base benefits for the retiree and the widow/widower.  Medical being one.  My father was a 20 year retired officer and still had to use a private doctor for everything except the most basic care.  He didn't bother with military medical to avoid having 2 doctors to deal with.


Bottom line is ot investigate carefully the "benefits" you might still get after leaving military service as the general description may be a lot different than what you actually need or receive.