Making the Move from Military Retirement to Education
By Darren Blagburn
Army Veteran and American Military University Alumnus
“What do I want to do when I ‘grow up’?” You can think that age-old question is reserved for teenagers, but you will find that every major transition in your life requires you to answer that question, i.e. significant promotions, ending your term of service, and your military retirement. What do you want to do next? Continuing your education can be the next logical step. After you’ve enrolled in school, the first requirement is to select a major. With hundreds of programs available, what is the best method for picking the major that supports where you see yourself in five, ten, or even 15 years? The method I have found to work is to create a personal vision for yourself.
A key step in strategic thinking is to identify where you envision yourself in the future and using that vision as a road map to guide your actions. Instead of wandering aimlessly through the catalogue of possibilities, use your vision to focus your direction. Where do you start?
First, why are you going back to school? Some individuals may simply enjoy the school experience and wish to continue their academic growth. One of the most common reasons for military members to attend school is their transition from the military, and they want to finish their education so they qualify for positions in the civilian marketplace. By knowing the answer to that question you can take a step toward focusing on your goal.
Start Your Job Search
The next step is to investigate the job market. You can’t take for granted that there will be a job waiting for you just because you have similar military skills. If you are a military police officer looking to join a civilian police force, in most cases, you will need at least an associate or bachelor’s degree. You have to shape your education, credentials, and experience to fit your desired position. To identify what employers need you should research positions using various job-search tools such as USAJOBS.com and your community’s job service office.
Define Your Personal Goals
Finally, it’s time to take into account your personal goals.
- How much money do you want to make?
- Where do you want to live?
- How driven are you to achieve upward movement?
By combining the answers in these three areas, you can create a personal vision and select the right major.
When I started back to school I knew I was retiring in three years and would start a second career. However, I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on in school. My vision started with creating a list of wants: I want a job that pays me at least $50-$75k a year. I want to live in the Northwest. I want the stability found in a government job but liked the idea of a corporate position. That meant either type of organization should work. I wanted time off annually to travel. Finally, I knew that I was seeking a career that I would ideally enjoy for the next 15 years. That criteria may sound easy to discern, but before the list came together it took me a few weeks of looking at different jobs and that caused me to make some tough personal choices that would affect my family.
My Personal Vision: Develop myself through my education that will allow me to retire at 62, be financially independent, use my 30 years of military experience, and do something that makes me feel as though I am bettering the nation.
While using my vision I began looking for my major. I knew that I didn’t enjoy math, and forget business classes. I knew I did not want to trek across the desert searching for rare rocks; that left out geology. I am, however, good at creating and understanding government policy; public administration fit that bill. It seemed pretty vanilla, so I wanted to spice it up. I researched positions using USAJOBS.com and saw three-quarters of the announcements focused on the environment. My degree conclusion settled on a Master’s of Public Administration with an emphasis in Environmental Policy.
If you still struggle to find the perfect fit, you can use the military education office and university counselors to also help you decide. They have the formal training and an understanding of the options available that will you fit your educational needs with your personal and professional desires. Additionally, having someone experienced to validate your plan increases your confidence in your decision.
Whether you are entering college for the first time or you are working on your master’s degree, creating a personal vision can help you focus on an outcome, and may lead to selecting the appropriate major. While looking five years down the road can sound difficult to do, you will find that you can stay on track to accomplish whatever you set as your long-term goals. Selecting the right major is one of those accomplishments that will lend itself to supporting your vision.
About the Author
LTC Darren Blagburn is a 30-year member of the Idaho Army National Guard where he currently serves as the State Deputy Operations Officer. Darren graduated with honors from AMU in February 2015 with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in environmental policy. He lives in Boise, Idaho with his family.