The Best Time to Leave the Army

At some point in every Soldier’s career, they will leave the Army.  Whether it means waiting until retirement, resigning after your initial obligation, or just waiting to your ETS date, everyone in the Army eventually transitions to civilian life.  The purpose of this article today is to help you decide when to do it.

Let me begin by telling you that for most Soldiers it is a very tough choice.  If you have been accustomed the to the military environment, the steady pay, and the sense of adventure, it can be tough to leave, even if you don’t enjoy it.  I can’t tell you how many Soldiers I’ve counseled during my career that were SCARED to leave the Army because of the fear of the unknown.  In most cases, these Soldiers had never had civilian jobs.  All they had ever done for work as an adult was the ARMY.

I’ve also worked with Soldiers who HATED the Army, and even though they wanted to get out, they still had their reservations and fears.  Giving up a steady paycheck and job security can be scary for many people.  I’m not wired that way, but I know that many people are.

Personally, I spent about two years contemplating my decision to resign my commission.  I wasn’t that far away from my 20 years either, so that made it a little more difficult.  I spent a lot of time pondering the pros and cons and finally just decided it was time to move on.

I truly believe that everyone knows WHEN it’s their time to leave the Army, they just don’t always act on it. Everyone knows when they don’t enjoy it anymore or if they want to do something else.  I tell everyone to listen to your gut instinct.  It is seldom wrong.

Listed below are six situations that might dictate if it is a good time to leave the Army.

# 1 You don’t enjoy it anymore – I can’t speak for you, but I made a commitment to myself that the day I stopped enjoying wearing the uniform was the day I would hang up my boots for good.  I never wanted to be one of those guys just sitting around, waiting to retire and collect a check.  Life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy.  If you don’t enjoy wearing the uniform, move on.  Soldiers deserve leaders who want to be there.

# 2 Something has damaged your career – Maybe you have received an Article 15, a Courts Martial, a Letter of Reprimand, a demotion, or something else.  If you’ve received punishment for something that will slow down, or even stop your career progress, it might be time to move on to bigger and better things.

# 3 You get a better opportunity on the outside world – There are lots of great opportunities in the outside world.  If you get the opportunity of a lifetime, such as a dream job, why not take a chance?  Maybe you get offered the job you’ve always wanted or you get offered a position in a dream location.

# 4 Your family (spouse and kids) hate Army life – I truly believe that if your family doesn’t like Army life, you shouldn’t stay in.  Staying in just to be selfish and pursue your own goals isn’t very noble once you have a family.  As a single person, it’s no big deal, but as a family person you have an obligation to provide for your family and try to make their life happy.

# 5 You are against the wars we are fighting – This might offend a few of you.  And for that I apologize upfront.  But, if you are against the wars, for whatever reason, it might be in your best interest to hang up your boots and call it quits.  The last thing you want to do is get deployed to a combat zone that you don’t believe in.

# 6 You want to start a new chapter in your life – Most of us have several different chapters in our lives.  Maybe you are ready for new beginnings doing something completely different.  If so, drop your paperwork and move on.

In any of these instances, I would suggest this.  ALWAYS, and I mean always, have a game plan before you get out.  Get your finances in order, try to pay off all your debts, talk with your loved ones and have SOME type of game plan.  You don’t want to wing it or leave your livelihood up to chance.  I hope that makes sense.

The bottom line is that everyone will leave the Army at some point.  It’s up to you to manage your own career effectively.  When your gut is telling you it’s time to move on, trust your instincts.  Just make sure you have a game plan, so you can have a smooth transition to civilian life.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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8 thoughts on “The Best Time to Leave the Army”

  1. Theresa Williams

    The biggest reason we are making a push to transition out of army life and into civilian life is because I don’t enjoy it. I never have and even though we haven’t had to face many of the hardships other military families do (deployments, separation, etc.) it has strained us nonetheless and put a certain divide between us as husband and wife because of the nature of my husband’s job. I’d also add, though, that it is the job of a good military spouse to take into consideration all the good military life can afford the family and sincerely take that into consideration when deciding whether or not the spouse should leave the service. Personally, I’m willing to put my disdain for the military lifestyle aside for a while longer if staying in the military provides my husband the best chances to work in the field he wants to and provides the best life for our family. I think these things should be reviewed between spouses all the time because things and feelings and circumstances can change quickly.

  2. These are all fair and valid reasons for leaving the Army, and during the time I spent in an Army community I definitely heard service members (or their families) cite at least one of these as being the reason they decided to retire. Whether it was an internal conflict (against politics or wars of the time) or external conflict (demotions, court martials, family problems), most people I spoke to were able to point to a very specific reason for hanging up their boots. And, for those who argue about family and kids not being a valid reason to leave the Army, I implore them to try and get inside the mind of someone whose family relationship is strained because of the nature of their job. Then they’ll see it’s a very valid reason.

  3. I’m not sure I agree with you that someone should consider leaving the service if their family is unhappy. I was an Army brat from the time I was born to the day I graduated from high school. (Dad retired one month later.) I really doubt you’ll find any kids who say, “Oh yeah, I just love making friends at a new base just so I can leave them in a year or so or have them leave me. Yep, I’m really happy with that.” As you said, change is hard to accept for a lot of people and kids can be quite egocentric.

    Now that I’m an adult, I’m eternally grateful that I had those experiences growing up. Not only did I get to see places and meet people that I would never have otherwise had a chance to, but I like the fact that it brought our family closer together because, in the end, we were all we could depend on to be there.

  4. I would say for most people the decision to leave the service is more difficult than the decision to join. I think most of us want to go out on our own terms, but many things can conspire against us such as reduction in force and our own families.
    This decision should be as important as the decision to get married or have children.
    I would agree with the summary of this post in saying if you are planning to leave the service have a game plan that your family is completely on board with. Transitioning to civilian life is difficult enough, but it will be much easier with your family in your corner.

    1. Leaving the service is never as easy decision, but it’s something that everyone has to face at some point or another. If all you’ve ever done for work is the military, it can definitely be a HUGE transition. It’s normal to have fears and doubts. People love things that are familiar to them, even if they are unhappy. Our comfort zone can really hold us back and make the decision harder than it needs to be.

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