Coping with a Rapid Transition from the Military to a Civilian Workplace

Most military personnel have a plan for when they leave the armed forces.

If they haven’t got an exact plan mapped out, then they still have the benefit of deciding when they want to leave, undergoing resettlement and transitioning in to civilian life in a controlled manner.

Unfortunately my departure was not so smooth. In February this year I was informed I was to be medically discharged from the RAF. This was a massive shock to me and resulted in my transition period being days, rather than months. I was working up until the day prior to my med board – to then suddenly get told that you can’t continue with the career that you love is very difficult to come to terms with. Clearly a lot of thoughts started racing around my head – my young family, money, housing to name a few.

The RAF was all I knew. I joined up in 2000 aged 17 and straight from school as an aerospace systems operator or ‘scopie’, as they’re known. I became an aircraft controller in 2012, went through the Typhoon Qualified Weapons Instructor course (QWIC) in 2016 and eventually ended up teaching on the QWI course, which was hands down the best job I had in the RAF.

And then everything changed and changed very quickly, but I was very lucky to find myself being offered a role with Inzpire within days of leaving the military, although I didn’t actually start for a few months. Now I’m working as a control of the air subject matter expert (SME) with Inzpire’s collective training team at the Air Battlespace Training Centre (ABTC).

I have been very fortunate to find employment where I can still use the skills I learned in the RAF and have moved from an instructor role in the military – which I had been doing since 2005 – to one in a civilian workplace, albeit a workplace I was already familiar with. I had actually undertaken training at the ABTC many times for things like Ex RED FLAG work-ups, as a student on the QWIC and then later bringing the future QWIs to the facility as part of the QWIC to enable interaction with other courses such as the QWI ISR course. The end goal of Inzpire’s training is ultimately the same as the training I was delivering in the RAF; much of the documentation I’m using now is the same I was using whilst in uniform so the actual delivery element of the training hasn’t required too much transitioning.

Supporting the European Defence Agency’s helicopter composite air operations (COMAO) course – explaining how and where a COMAO would apportion its assets.

Despite the fact that there are many really similar elements to the roles, there are also a number of notable differences which I’m having to adjust to rapidly! I’m now having to get used to not being the customer – whilst of course we want to deliver training to the absolute highest standard I am having to become accustomed to seeing training from a business perspective rather than just as a service. I’m having to learn all about the commercial aspects – profits, margins, business winning processes etc.

I’ve also had to get used to delivering training to all three services. Whilst I’ve worked in a tri-service environment many times both in the UK and on operations, my role had always previously been very much as an air specialist. I now find myself having to deliver on training exercises such as Ex. STEEL DRAGON, where as an exercise director, I have to stand in front of a Royal Artillery Battery – ranking from Major down to Gunner – and provide feedback and more importantly debrief on things that I am not an SME in, such as the battery’s fire plan. Luckily the team in the ABTC has specialists from all strands of the military and a knowing glance in the right direction can always bring in some SME help. Another big change was having to learn a lot of Army terminology and jargon!

Working in an environment for Inzpire that I had previously spent a lot of time in whilst I was still serving, it’s inevitable that I regularly come across some old military counterparts who I used to work with and in one case for. It took me at least 2 weeks to stop calling my old boss ‘Sir’ – it didn’t matter how many times he told me!

Inzpire have been superb in helping me during my somewhat unexpected and rapid transition out of the military. As I wasn’t expecting to leave, I had my whole year of leave booked in which my new chain of command at Inzpire honoured with no questions asked. Also as I was medically discharged from the service there were a number of courses I had to attend, again all of which Inzpire were very supportive of. I received a mentor straight away to help me get used to the commercial aspects of my new role and I get continued support in that area whenever I need it.

One key aspect that they assisted with, was allowing me the flexibility to stay in touch and involved with the QWIC staff at 29 Squadron. Because I left so quickly, the Squadron hadn’t found a replacement for me but Inzpire facilitated me regularly going back to help out and then to provide a handover when a replacement was found – I’d hate to have left so suddenly without providing any continuity to the excellent course that is delivered there.

Delivering a brief at the ABTC

Inzpire provided me with responsibility and opportunities straight away. One of the best things here is that everyone’s ideas and opinions are equally as important, so when I started I didn’t have to ‘prove myself’ before I was listened to. Everyone has a voice, regardless of who they are. I very quickly became involved in the MQ-9 QWI course, I’ve been out to America facilitating training a handful of times already and I’m being given new opportunities all the time.

I’m slowly adjusting to the flexibility offered at Inzpire, and have enjoyed being able to go to my children’s sports days, attend parents evening and spend time with my family with no questions asked – it’s just the ‘norm’ here. The uniformity of the military was all I had known since the age of 17 so this new-found flexibility did require some adjustment and I had to get used to not asking permission to leave!

I found myself having to transition from military to civilian life much quicker than I had ever expected but here are my tips to anyone who is currently going through the process, whether planned or unplanned:

  • Don’t be scared of what is on the outside. People often worry that the grass isn’t greener and sometimes it isn’t but there are a lot of opportunities out there.
  • Don’t be scared of change – the likelihood is that you are deciding to leave the military for a reason so the change will be good.
  • Embrace every opportunity presented to you – in the military I was always reticent to volunteer for things yet at Inzpire I have thrown myself into every opportunity presented to me.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s an old cliché but there are no stupid questions, only questions.