Soldier to Surfer

Leaving the Armed Forces can be extremely stressful for some veterans but the transition from soldier to civilian doesn’t need to be stressful at all, depending on how you approach it.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a fellow veteran who took what I believe is to be the most relaxed and laid back approach to the transition from soldier to civilian that I have ever seen.

I’d like to introduce you all to Ben Heathcote who initially served with The Kings Royal Hussars from 1999 to 2003. After operating in Bosnia, Ben decided that it was time for him to leave the Army, however, it wasn’t long until he rejoined in 2009.

Ben In afghan 2
Ben Heathcote


Why did you rejoin the army after initially leaving?

“I was bored in ‘civvy street’ and I was out on the piss all the time. I was watching ‘Ross Kemp in Afghanistan’ and I felt like ‘yeah, I want some of that‘. I found ‘civvy street really s**t and I was just getting pissed up”.

It seems that Ben had a lack of excitement within the civilian world, so he decided to rejoin the Army with The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment who he then deployed to Afghanistan with, on ‘Op Herrick 15’.

Once Ben had attained his ‘war fix’, he then felt that it was time to exit the army once again in 2015.

Ben Afghan 1
Ben in Afghanistan on Op Herrick 15


What was it that finalised your decision to leave the Armed Forces for the second time?

“I had a two-year Adventure Training posting in Wales and that really opened my eyes to everything after Afghanistan. There is so much more to do on the outside, so much more adventure. I found that I was pushing myself harder on the outside than I ever did in the Army”.

“I went back to my battalion in Germany but after two weeks of returning to my battalion and then I decided to sign off”.


Did you carry out any preparation before leaving the Army?

“No, as soon as I left the army, I went surfing in New Zealand for six months, that was my preparation. I went to Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. I just went out there and surfed my nut off for six months”.

Ben Surfing
Ben Surfing 


How was life when you returned to the UK after six months of surfing?

“I had an interest in converting vans into camper vans, so I felt like carpentry was the ideal job for me. It gives me a lot of flexibility to come and go when the swirl is good, it’s actually worked out really well”.

“Whilst I was training to become a carpenter, I had to live in my van for two years because I couldn’t afford to pay for rent or for the fuel to get to work. I just slept in my van and lived on rations for two years”.


Ben's Van
Ben’s home for two years.


“I have recently had a pay rise to six-hundred pounds a month, so it was worth it in the long run. Sometimes, you just have to grizz it out”.


Who did you train in carpentry with?

“My carpentry training was with ‘Persimmon Homes’ and we were building all of the new Army housing in Tidworth”.

Did you have to use your Enhanced Learning Credits to retrain?

“No, I actually got the job from the Career Transition Workshop (CTW) website and I have achieved an NVQ level two from this”.

Ben Carpentry
Ben is now a Carpenter by trade.


Until I had this conversation with Ben, I was actually unaware of the CTW website. I have been transitioning from soldier to civilian for the past five years and it has taken this time to find out about the Career Transition Workshop. This indicates to me that potentially there may be other veterans who are also unaware of this.

“There is plenty of work to be found on the CTW website”

Career Transition Website


What are your current plans for your new civilian life?

“I plan to work Monday to Friday and then I’m going to go surfing and spear fishing on the weekends and evenings where possible”.

If you could give one piece of advice to a soldier planning to leave the Armed Forces, what would you say?

“Get away and clear your head. Figure out what you want to do and take a bit of time out to chill. You don’t even know who you really are when you are in the Armed Forces and I suppose you are brainwashed to some degree, like a robot.
So get away and figure it out” – Ben Heathcote.

Ben Surfing 2
Ben Heathcote – Soldier to Surfer


It’s not groundbreaking news that veterans are definitely institutionalised when serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, so maybe it is beneficial to take some time out when you initially leave in order to break down that institutionalised frame of mind.

I know I always preach that proper planning and preparation are always key to a successful transition from the military but maybe some veterans require that initial rest period to rediscover themselves.

It worked for Ben, who knows, you too may need that essential down time to reconfigure your mindset.


I hope that you enjoyed this week’s blog, I apprecaite you taking the time to read it. Pop back next week for another ‘Soldier to Civi’ blog.




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