Military Transition Lessons Learned

A Veterans Guide To Transition

Thomas Braden is a 1991 graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. His shore tours included Washington, D.C. and Naples, Italy. Selected to the inaugural cohort of the “Navy D.C. Intern” Program, he completed his Master’s degree in Organizational Management, from The George Washington University in 2001. He is passionate about the opportunities that the U.S. Navy has afforded him, on active duty and now as a GS employee! He looks forward to sharing these lessons learned with other veterans. You can find him and the conversation on Linked In, #ADtoGS.

When you transitioned in July 2018 from the U.S. Navy, what were you most afraid of during your transition? And how did you work through those fears?

I transitioned from the U.S. Navy in July 2018, after 27 years of active duty. I have been very fortunate in that my wife has always worked and for the last ten years or so, as a DoD Civilian. As I was deciding to retire or stay for one final tour, she was offered an opportunity in Jakarta, Indonesia as The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) Advisor to the Indonesian Ministry of Defense (MoDA). So, we continued on this Navy adventure with her now in the lead. My biggest fear was that without a job, I might get restless and start day-drinking (half-joking… but you get the point) or have a hard time filling my days/weeks in a strange place, such as Jakarta.

What did you do well during your transition? 

If you’ve ever done the Ruehlin Retirement seminar (which I highly recommend, by the way!), they tell you that a successful transition begins in defining 3 variables: your finances, your location, and your future vocation.  Going to Jakarta answered two of the three for me. And we were prepared, financially, so we knew what to expect. Changing locations wasn’t a significant factor for us – we like the adventure of new places. And emotionally, I thought my ego was firmly in check, I had long passed the day when I wanted, needed, or enjoyed the identity of a uniform. So, both my family and I were ready!

What did you do poorly during the transition and more importantly what did you learn from that failure?

But, as much as I thought that I was personally ready, there’s another factor that they didn’t discuss: a real loss of status. You go from the uniform-wearing, readily recognized public figure, who is usually also the breadwinner to stay-at-home dad. I have to say, I thought that I was ready and took to the time off, like a duck to water! I was filling my days with yoga, travel about town, and photography. However, it didn’t really fulfill me. Normally come dinner time, when the rest of the family told about their new school, new friends, and new job… all I had to report was, essentially, that I was a consumer… travel, shopping, lunches out. It begged the question: is this it? So, I immediately started looking for a job. And as luck would have it, I landed one with USAID.

What do you miss most about the Military? And do you stay connected to the military family?

I found that I missed the people. Plain and simple: the people. I missed being able to mentor, coach, and develop the young men and women who were passionate about serving their nation.

Luckily, the staff at USAID/Indonesia were equally dedicated and passionate about their causes, which were so much more diverse (or maybe just totally different: climate change, women’s rights, health, education, democracy, etc.) than anything I’d witnessed in DoD, it was refreshing to work in a completely new and not-hierarchical setting yet to discover that it at its core, it was a very similar mission-driven environment, staffed by smart and passionate people eager to make a difference.

What advice would you give to someone who desires to work for the federal government?

Quite simply:

Buy my book. It’s all in there, and there’s nothing else like this, that’s why I wrote it.

Do your homework, so you understand what you’re getting into. Be sure to “next-work” with other GS employees. Conduct a few ‘informational interviews’ to manage your own expectations.

Seriously, “buy” my book. (You can actually get it for free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited – and Amazon gives you a 30-day free trial of that service.)

Anything else you would like to say to a soon-to-be transitioning military member?

Get on Linked-In and find Kirk Windmueller. He has produced a Transition timeline planner that is the best thing out there! I like to call it, “Everything the USG won’t teach you in TAP: all in 1 page!”

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