The Identity Shift: From Civilian to Military and From Military to Civilian
In this post, we will delve into the profound and
transformative journey that individuals undergo when transitioning between
civilian life and military service, and then back to civilian life. This
exploration sheds light on the emotional and psychological aspects of these
transitions. You'll discover the unique identity shifts that take place and how
individuals adapt and evolve in the process.
In a recent exchange of comments from UK veterans, the
concept of identity within the military and its subsequent stripping away upon
departure was brought to light. These candid reflections offered a profound
insight into the unique and transformative experience that military service can
The first comment emphasised the emotional toll of
"de-kitting" – the process of returning one's military equipment and
uniforms upon leaving the service. The soldier described it as a surprisingly
challenging experience, likening it to having one's identity stripped away.
It's a sentiment that many might not fully grasp unless they've handed in the
boots and uniforms. The comment also highlighted the power and confidence of a
uniform and rank, which can shape perceptions and create a sense of authority,
even if the ideas being presented aren't always the best.
;It's very easy in the Military world, rightly or
wrongly, to walk into a room confidently, deliver knowledge or advice and know
that, because of the positive unconscious bias that is created by a uniform and
a big badge, your words will carry weight due to that preconceived notion that
you must have bags of experience (although not always the right ideas).
Humility is understanding that age & experience doesn't always mean you're
right and that the Pte / 2 Lt different approach might be the way forward.’
The second comment harks back to the initial stages of
military service when, upon donning the uniform and having one's head shaved,
there's a profound sense of identity transformation. The feeling of having
one's identity stripped away in those early days can be equally powerful. It's
as if the military moulds you into a new identity, one forged in discipline,
camaraderie, and duty.
In the world of military service, a unique transformation
takes place when individuals transition from being civilians to becoming part
of the military. This process not only involves donning a uniform but also a
profound shift in one's identity.
Civilian to Military: An Identity Transformation
The first transformation occurs when civilians join the
Military. They step into a structured environment where uniforms, ranks, and a
code of conduct shape their identity. In this new world, the uniform becomes a
symbol of belonging, a visible marker of a shared purpose, and a source of
pride. The transition can be challenging, but it's also accompanied by a sense
of purpose and the assurance that their words and actions carry weight due to
the uniform's reputation.
Image: UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023
The process often involves shedding aspects of their
civilian identity to adapt to military life. The initial haircut can feel like
a symbol of this transformation, where they watch their familiar image
disappear in the barber's chair. The military moulds them into disciplined and
resilient individuals, where collective identity often overshadows
The Return to Civvy Street: An Identity Stripped Away
When it's time to leave the military, the transition can be
jarring. The structure and identity that the military provided must now be
reshaped into a civilian one. This transformation can be a challenging process,
as it involves navigating a world where the uniform and rank no longer carry
the same weight, where you are no longer the Warrant Officer, Petty
Officer/Fight Sergeant, or private. This process of transitioning from one
identity to another is not always straightforward.
The comments of UK veterans highlight the struggles
that come with this transition. Rebuilding confidence and finding a new
identity can be a daunting process. The skills and experiences gained during
military service are undoubtedly valuable but translating them into the
civilian world may require adaptation and reintegration
Balancing Both Identities
The connection that these veterans make between the initial
identity shift upon entering the military and the subsequent shift when leaving
is a profound realisation. It highlights the cyclical nature of identity, where
it is built, deconstructed, and then rebuilt in a new context. This
metamorphosis can be emotionally taxing, as service members grapple with
questions of who they are now, what their role is, and how they fit into
society as civilians.
While it's essential to maintain pride in one's service and
the network established during military life, it's equally crucial to embrace
and invest in a civilian identity.
Some veterans might resonate with the sentiment of being
"always a Veteran, never a Civilian," but the most successful
transitions often occur when individuals can balance both identities. Being
proud of one's service while committing to belonging in the civilian community
can lead to fulfilling post-military lives.
It's crucial to recognise that the uniform is a part of
professional identity but not the entirety of it. The civilian world doesn't
recruit soldiers; it welcomes well-adjusted professionals with a wealth of
experiences and skills. Embracing this duality is key to a successful
Understanding and acknowledging this shift in identity from
civilian to military and from military to civilian is crucial for both veterans
and civilians. It's a reminder that military service is not just a job; it's an
experience that shapes individuals in ways that may not be immediately apparent
to those who haven't served. It's a testament to the resilience and
adaptability of our service personnel, and the need for empathy and support for
veterans as they make the transition from military to civilian life.
It's essential to acknowledge the challenges of these
transitions and understand that they shape who we become as individuals. Pride
in one's military service is crucial, but so is a commitment to thriving in the
Identity is not static, it evolves, adapts, and encompasses
the richness of our diverse experiences. The military uniform is a significant
part of the journey, but it doesn't define our entire identity. We can be both
proud veterans and successful civilians, and it's in that balance that we find
our true selves.