How’s That Military Retirement Going?
Leaving for the Air Force after just turning 18 years old on July 31, 1996, was a huge step in a life that very few will ever know, and even less will understand. I really had no idea what laid ahead when I hugged my dad for the last time before boarding the plane bound for San Antonio, TX. I would spend the next 42 days in basic training during August and September. I was just a boy from Connecticut that turned into a man while in uniform over the next couple of decades.
I retired officially February 1, 2017, from the Air Force after a quick 20.5 years of service. That is a brief history for those that might be stumbling upon my blog for the first time. I took a year or so before writing this and wanted to share what life was like one year later.
Some Major Medical Hurdles
I will say right off the bat that I had the worst year of my life in 2017 but it was not due to leaving the military. I had severe bulging discs in my neck and currently still need surgery to get those pinched nerves unpinched. My medical needs lacked proper attention while serving in Korea and I suffered for it after leaving. My diagnosis was a strained neck for 3 years and I was loaded up with 20 pills a day and wearing a pain patch 24/7. The doctors didn’t do a CT Scan or an MRI on my neck where they would have discovered 3 bulged discs, narrowing nerve pathways and a need for intervention right away. While I am still in constant pain, I have painkillers to help me get through this. This is why I was overwhelmingly quiet for the past year on social media, writing, and everything else.
I decided to come to the Philippines before returning back to America after taking off my uniform to get my VA stuff done and figure out a path forward. Unfortunately, the Veteran Affairs in Manila is basically useless for veterans that need help due to budget constraints and rules for veterans living outside of the United States. Medical care in the Philippines leaves a lot to be desired after you are used to the military care you get while serving despite what some may say.
Basically, I suffered for the year and now I am on a path to getting fixed properly by moving back to NH and getting the needed surgery. So this is an issue that is soon to be behind us all and for that I am thankful. My goal is a 3-level disc replacement in Boston in the next 1-2 months. Let’s hope that it happens. I could have done it here in the Philippines but it would have cost $31-40K and the VA wouldn’t promise to cover it and my medical insurance wasn’t the road I wanted to travel for this because of the way the healthcare system is designed in the Philippines. I just don’t know enough to traverse it alone.
I am disclosing this because I think sharing my struggles with readers is valuable so that you might understand why things did or did not happen.
The Mental Transition
Besides my medical issues, retirement has been a mixed bag. You need to time to decompress from a career of being told what to do, where to be, and how to act. I was a very different young man before I left for basic training and returning back to the civilian world is a stark change. I took this time to sit back, figure things out, and find my own version of “normal” before I turn 40-years old this year. I have had time to do a lot of thinking about the future too.
What I want to do is break this down into a few areas of thought. Military retirement is a big step and those that have made it this far and retired themselves will understand what I mean by that. I will get to make my own path without testing for promotion, waiting for orders to move, or accomplishing hurdles for other types of advancement.
Having choices that are really choices is exciting. They always told me I have a choice to do something or not in the military. What they really meant was that I could do what I was told or security forces could come and pick me up for an alternate choice. :)
Mentally you need the family support, friend network, the occasional social media message from someone to say hi and tell you that they miss you. I have had some tough nights during the last year and I am not too strong to ignore that weakness. We all need a helping hand sometimes. Being in the Philippines taught me how alone I really was. There is over 100,000 Americans and military veterans here and I have learned how little I have in common with 99% of them.
One example of the difference that I found is the overwhelming majority of military veterans here are hardcore Republicans and have little desire to achieve many goals. I mean they take a hard conservative stance and I couldn’t be further from that part of the political spectrum. That usually has little impact on my relationships, but this is something that is worn on the sleeve in the foreign veteran community and one I struggled to break through to create friendships. I usually keep my political views to myself but I was unable to due to nature of the conversations that happen here.
By the “achieving goals” comment I simply mean that these folks are usually 10-30 years older than I am and have raised a family already. I am still raising teenagers and want to achieve new goals like growing my small business and building my talent. Most of the guys I have met have accomplished what they want before I met them and they don’t have the same outlook that I have. I in no way think any of them are lazy or underachievers in any way. It’s quite the opposite, to be honest. Compared to some of these guys I have a long way to go before I am on their level.
I have mentally transitioned to being a civilian at this point. I don’t think much about the uniform or miss much about my service at this point. It was always something I will remember and the people I have met along the way were awesome, minus a handful. I don’t have anything hung up to remind me of my time in the Air Force or friends that swing by to reminisce with about the “old days”. I would say that I feel good about being Adam or Mr. Mulholland. I don’t miss the Master Sergeant Mulholland or sir very much. I think that is a sign that I have made it but I could be wrong. Time will tell…
The Military Is a Socialist Dictatorship
What?! I have a friend that told me he thought everyone in the military was a gun-toting hardcore conservative red-blooded Republicans. Not all of us are, but this isn’t really about politics. The military provides everything a service member needs from medical care to a grocery store you can stop in and grab whatever you need for dinner. We are provided for without wondering where we will sleep or when the next paycheck will be in the bank.
You are given everything you need to survive from day one plus lots of benefits that we earn. We are afforded education by the boatload and encouraged to succeed regardless of ability.
Sure, we are told everything but at the end of the day, that dictatorship is traded for 100% care. That in my book is a socialist setting and something that is really forgotten by so many. I am pointing this out in its own section because it is not like this in the civilian world. I have to arrange everything from doctors to life insurance coverage. So little is taken care of and that is a massive change. Things are sometimes forgotten about because you are programmed to not worry about “something” because someone else has it handled.
This very way of life is what keeps me pro-social services and empathetic for others that don’t have a safety net. I value having a government that supports its people and functions for the greater good of all. Leaving that comfort behind showed me how little we accomplish that as a country regardless of some opinions about people living off of the government and not contributing to society. We had people that took advantage of the system while I served and we have it outside of the military too. We will always have that but I am a firm believer that it is not indicative of the entire citizenship. I have faith in humanity even during the times I seem to question it.
Just understanding the difference in the structure of being in the military and what it is like after you leave is an important thing to discuss. So many people and veterans specifically seem to forget this point. I am thankful for the experience of socialism and I am indebted to a tax-paying voter base that supported me during my time. Without you, I would not have been as fortunate, educated, and goal oriented. My family would never have been taken care of the way they were and for any husband and father, that is huge in its own right. I am very thankful in so many ways.
No More Wake Up Calls
No one calls me in the middle of the night for something silly anymore. I have spent many nights thinking about issues I would face during the following morning. Airmen that broke curfew, had domestic disputes, speeding tickets, or figuring out who might still be drunk from the night before. I dealt with all types of situations and I don’t miss them.
When you serve you are at the beckoning call of the commander, chief, First Sergeant and many others and it isn’t very pleasant. Sometimes you might have a laugh or just let something roll off your back but most of the time almost everything was blown out of proportion. I served with some people who were petty, inconsiderate, drama queens, or other less than desirable to work with. Most were awesome, but let’s face it, you usually remember the ones who weren’t.
This was an area that would frustrate me but if someone was ever in trouble I never thought twice about jumping into action and being there for them. That was a rare occurrence and the phone rang mostly because the commander needed to see one of my guys at 0730 in his office. That call didn’t need to happen but I always assumed they didn’t care about my sleep or had concern for disturbing my family for things that could wait until the morning. That was life and something you had to accept.
With the silliness behind me, I don’t get those calls anymore and I have noticed my stress levels have significantly reduced. I don’t think of the senseless concerns that floated around the office or if the commander likes the actions I took to fix a situation. When people count down the “wake ups” they have left on an assignment or serving I can only assume they are referring to these types of things. If people wake me up now it better be worthy or super important. For those of you that might feel the way I do about this will feel good to know that it doesn’t exist on the outside. Hang tough and answer the calls no matter how dumb the issue is. You will have funny stories later on!
My Family Has Me Around, All the Time!
No more TDY’s (temporary duty location), or short-notice training opportunities away from your friends and family for undetermined amounts of time. I can’t tell you how important this one has been. It easily tops my most important list of being a civilian. During my time in the military, I missed two children being born, countless birthdays and holidays and other significant moments. Very little consideration is given to your wants and needs and that is the bottom line. You accept this going in and something that I have sucked up.
I have served all over the U.S., the middle east, Asia, and never said no to an opportunity unless I had no choice. One example of that was being told that I would deploy in December 2002 to Afghanistan during the Christmas holiday with my new wife that was 6 months pregnant. They called and told me I had 2 hours to report but I was 1.5 hours away with in-laws. I threw everything in my 1998 Ford Explorer, kissed my wife, apologized to the in-laws, and dropped my two oldest children back off to their mom. I quickly put my uniform on and grabbed my bags and race into work.
I made it in 3 hours, ready to report for duty and await marching orders to get on the flight only to be met by my boss to told me it’s off because I have orders to South Korea. Those orders stopped me from going to Afghanistan and looking back I am thankful but they took my Christmas away from my family. That was something that came with the job so don’t think I am whining. At that point, I was pumped to get on the plane and head to the war zone. I was young and eager to prove myself. I am not that same young man today to say the very least.
I provided an example of how quick the tasks move and who usually absorbs the toughest of times to say that I love being home. I cherish every time I get to bring my kids to school, go walking with my wife around the subdivision or be around if anyone needs me for something. I get to be around as much as I want. I feel so amazing to be a full-time husband and father, well as much as I can with my three oldest children in Georgia. I no longer have to beg the operator to connect me to them while I am sitting in a tent in Saudi Arabia for a 15-minute morale call. I get to be present and that to me is everything. I missed too much and I will never get that back but I know I will be here for whatever comes next.
There Is So Much More Waiting To Happen
Like any point in your life, you remember things that you loved and hated. You have the memories that pop in and out of your head and going to bed each night I sometimes have dreams about my time serving. This has decreased over time and I hope this eventually will go away.
I spent so much time thinking about life after serving and now that I am living it, it is a special time in my life. I have options, goals, and people around me that are so awesome. It’s only been one year since leaving and there are hopefully much more to come. This thought excites me a lot knowing that there is so much potential left. Only being 39-years old as of this post means that I have a lot of time left to accomplish more. I took my opportunity to set up for the next chapter by going to school, learning technical subjects, and networking with professionals around the globe.
My goals are still alive. I want to open my own barber shop, build my design portfolio, grow my small web development business and publish content. I want to learn how to hunt, weld, and be more environmentally responsible. Giving back to the community I live in and teach others what I can is also important.
The last thing I want to leave this off with is the things I miss and some things I don’t. Maybe you can relate to some of them.
5 Thing I Love About Not Being In The Air Force
- Freedom to say what I want, but still understand what consequences are.
- No more unnecessary phone calls or meetings.
- Being able to not deal with people I don’t like regardless of rank or position.
- Freedom to travel without building a travel itinerary and asking 10 different people if you can go.
- Growing a beard, sideburns, a goatee, or whatever I want on any given day.
5 Things I Miss From the Air Force
- Constantly meeting amazing people from all over the globe.
- Opportunities to see new places on the government’s dime.
- Entirely free medical and dental insurance.
- Not having to choose what to wear to work every morning.
- Seeing behind the government curtain of propaganda. I.E. Watching North Korean missile launches as they happen on a 50-foot screen with the generals.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I could easily write a book on this but I think I made enough points. If you are currently serving and waiting for your time, please hang in there. Getting to the end is worth it. I don’t regret doing the things I did and would gladly do it again. This piece was simply to write some things I experienced after a year of being a civilian. There is not hate, mistrust, or regret. I cherish the opportunity to serve and now it’s time for the next generation to take over.
If you have questions or need me to elaborate on anything please post in the comments below and I will try to respond the best I can. This will probably be the last foreseeable post about my time in the military going forward but I hope you will come back for more on technology, web development, design and anything else I want to write about. This is a journey that I want to travel with others and I hope you will be a part of that.
Until next time, thanks for checking this out!