For most veterans, the transition from soldier to civilian can be extremely challenging. Be under no illusion, leaving the armed forces requires a lot of planning and preparation. However, what if you were suddenly faced with an unexpected circumstance which determined your service termination in the form of a medical discharge when you originally had no intentions of leaving?
Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a fellow veteran which sparked this thought-provoking question.
I personally struggled with the transition to ‘civvy street’, even with plenty of thought process prior to leaving. Granting the fact that I completely neglected to coordinate a structured plan for post-army life, I fell into the civilian world like a headless chicken. Albeit, I consciously made that decision to leave the army, therefore, the results were completely down to my own doing… or not doing.
If an able veteran like myself struggled to find his feet in civvy street under the circumstances of my own choices, then how on earth is an injured or wounded veteran able to succeed in transitioning from soldier to civilian with no warning.
Daniel O’Connor, who served with the 216 Parachute Signals Squadron, is one of many veterans who was faced with unforeseen life changing injuries sustained whilst operating in Afghanistan, in 2011.
“Three weeks from the end of my tour, I was training the new guys on how to search vehicles. We were searching trucks in Lashkar-gah and as a truck was coming past, it swerved to where I was standing and it crushed my body up against the Hesco wall. The force broke my left humorous causing an open fracture and nerve damage. Despite the amazing efforts of the medics and doctors, I ended up with blood poisoning which led to an induced coma. My whole body just shut down and my family were given a fifty percent chance as to whether I would ever wake up again.”
“After fourteen operations and two years of recovering, I was then medically discharged”
So as a result, you had to transition from soldier to civilian under unexpected circumstances, how did you cope with this?
“The army really wasn’t much help, my unit was only a small unit with a lot of commitments. Following the incident, they sent me home to where I spent the next year sitting around on my own before ‘Help for Heroes’ picked me up. I suffer from chronic pain in my left arm, I no longer have full use of my left hand and I used to be left-handed. So I asked to attend courses in preparation for my transition to the civilian world. The army said that I shouldn’t be focusing on getting out of the army, instead, I should be focusing on recovering. Considering I have lost most movement in my left hand, I felt like this was not an option because there wasn’t much I could physically do”
“Help for Heroes picked me up and sent me to the Chavasse VC House Recovery Centre in Colchester where I met many other injured soldiers and I was close to my unit again. It was there that I was able to complete different courses such as an intense Arabic course, project management and I was able to study for my CCNA (Computer Networking).”
“It was only when Help for Heroes picked me up, that I was able to begin my thought process for what I was going to do”.
“When a soldier signs off (terminates his service), they’ve had the opportunity to put in a thought process and have at least decided that they are ready to leave the armed forces, however, it is different when you are medically discharged and especially when you had no intentions of leaving”.
When you left the army, did you feel a sense of being lost?
“I would say that I was definitely lost. I ended up falling into a project management job working for a massive computer networking company. I was extremely lucky because the recruitment guy from the company was also an injured veteran and after exchanging details of our personal injuries, he pushed the company for my interview.”
“I worked for this company for approximately a year and a half but the office lifestyle really didn’t suit me, I was happy with the pay cheque but I was far from happy with what I was doing”.
I am sure that just like myself, many of you veterans will be able to relate to Daniel’s experience with job satisfaction. I too have been through many roles of employment and have fallen into the trap of a boring and mundane nine to five job with no sense of achievement. I believe that is a challenge in itself, being able to find a job that provides fulfilment.
“As a result, and after a few short stays with other companies also doing project management, I decided to quit that job in order to take a couple of months off so that I could decide what it was that I really wanted to do with my life. A couple of months turned into seven months and then pretty much out of the blue, I spoke with someone I knew that was working for a company based here in my hometown, who was selling Motorola radios to conservation sites all over Africa. However, the customers at these conservation sites who bought the radios didn’t actually have a good understanding of how to use them, they didn’t really know what it was that they had purchased. So, I offered to go out to Africa with the intentions of providing training for them”.
“This initially began as a two-month contract, however, I was able to convert this into my own business and I am now running my own training company that goes out to Africa in order to give communications training and specifically, how to coordinate an ops room. Consequently, this is having a massive effect on the fight against ivory poachers. Last year, in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, we arrested sixty-five individuals in a three-month period whereas the year before, they only succeeded in arresting a small number of fifteen within the same timeframe”.
Daniel has demonstrated good awareness by identifying an opportunity which has led to him owning his own business called ‘O’Connor Telecomms’. Not only was he successful in highlighting the opportunity but he was prosperous as a result of the actions that he carried out.
Judging on the basis of Daniels story, the opportunities could potentially be right there in front of you, but they may not be so clear. Having the ability to identify these opportunities is a skill in itself and it is not something that can necessarily be taught to you on a course. I suppose that having the right mindset will potentially open these doors for you.
Daniel told me that as the year goes on, he will be looking to hire more veterans to join the ‘O’Connor Telecomms’ team. Therefore, if you are a veteran who possesses signals experience and you have an interest in this line of work, then please get in touch with Daniel via his email.
I asked Daniel if he would like to send a message out to other fellow veterans and this is what he had to say.
“Don’t just take the first job that you are offered, instead, take some time to think about a job that you are probably going to stick with. When you are in ‘civvy street’, you need to embrace the fact that you have all of these options available, unlike the army where you would have to apply for postings, in ‘civvy street’, you have free will to make changes independently” – Daniel O’Connor
Thank you, Daniel, for sharing your story with ‘Soldier to Civi’, I appreciate your time.
I hope you have all enjoyed this week’s blog as much as I have enjoyed the pleasure of hearing about Daniels story.
If you the reader may know a veteran that could potentially benefit from this read, then please share the blog with him or her.
Thank you all for reading this week’s blog, as always, I appreciate your support.
Jamie and featured veteran, Daniel O’Connor