Photo Information

U.S. Marines and Sailors participate in a transition readiness seminar offered at Camp Lejeune for service members coming up on the end of their term of active service, Jan. 15, 2014. The classes offered are intended to prepare the service members for their imminent reentry into civilian life. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael S. Lockett/Released)

Photo by Cpl Michael S. Lockett

The light at the end of the tunnel is a train: ending my active service

23 Jan 2014 | Cpl. Michael S. Lockett 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

I never really expected to be done with all of this.

I mean, intellectually, I know that four years isn’t that long. High school was four years. College should’ve been four years, if it wasn’t cut short. Four years isn’t a long time. But four years in the Marine Corps acts like dog years – artificially stretching the time into an infinity of packing, moving, training, schools, deployments, and occasional periods of leave that I can only vaguely recall. Between all that, I never really expected to see the end. But then I got back from deployment and bam, there it is. End of the trail.

Now, mere weeks from hitting terminal leave, I’m faced with the imminent reentry into civilian life. No more field day, no more uniforms, and no more chow hall. No more being a 23 year old with no bills – save phone and car insurance. I mean, I’m going to have to pay insurance on like everything now. How does that even work? I’m going to have to live somewhere while I’m in school, so I need to find an apartment. I’m going to have to feed myself without the chow hall. That’s going to be weird. I can’t cook worth a darn, so I’ve been trying to learn some here and there. I didn’t give any of this any thought while I was in – save to occasionally make fun of people who mentioned it. I’m not a very nice person, it turns out.

It’s all coming due at once: college, moving, insurance. When it rains, it pours, right? Getting back from deployment three months before getting done probably didn’t help, but at the same time, I’m sure I could’ve been working this a little earlier instead of bootstrapping it all at the end. In a month, this will all be my problem. I’m heading to college, which mitigates a bit of it, though that was its own problem – college applications. I haven’t applied to college in six years. I don’t remember my high school grades or how many hours a week I spent participating in athletics. It helps that I was able to go home over the holidays, and with the help of a box of donuts, grease the wheels with my old high school guidance counselors enough to get that process moving.

Most college admissions folks are understanding enough if you call them and talk to them as well. If education is your goals, your first stop should be the education office, which you can call at (910) 451-3091.

I think that’s my lesson here. Figure out where you’re going and what you’ll need when you get out. Figure out how much it’s going to cost you. Line up your ducks long before you kiss the Marine Corps goodbye. The good folks at transition readiness can help you in any direct you want to go. You can reach them at (910) 451-3754. They’re also where you need to go for the transition readiness seminar, which all separating Marines are required to take before their end of active service.

I’ve seen plenty of guys who just got to the finish line – got to that EAS – and collapsed, their lives flying into more pieces than a trailer park in tornado season. But seeing it as an end would be a fault. Exiting the Marine Corps may be a bigger life change than entering it these days – reentering a culture that you no longer fully belong to, that you’ve been divorced from because of the things you’ve seen and done. And now you no longer have the support structure, the benefits, the men and women going through the same life transition beside you. You’re exiting, and you’re flying solo now. Think ahead, and good luck.