Getting Out of the Military – How Are You Supposed to Act Now?

Written by J Rawls

Once a warrior, ALWAYS a warrior…

Just because the uniform comes off, doesn’t mean our standards change…

Leaving military service can be an overbearing rush of information and emotions. All service members find themselves at a crossroads that impact their lives drastically when they finally remove the uniform, and whether their service concludes after 3 years or by retirement, the process of moving on should be a very well thought out decision. There is much to take into consideration, and one area that often gets overlooked is personal behavior after serving. What we’re talking about here is the mentality of “I can act just as nasty, vulgar, and/or as unprofessional as I want to”, and this simply is not true… The reality is, higher standards remain for warriors even after they leave the protective realm of the military establishment.

Higher standards? Yes.

Of course, no one is there to watch over and correct warriors as they were corrected while still wearing the uniform, but there are warrior leaders out there willing to guide, and they will often speak up when they see a fellow warrior acting and/or behaving in a manner that brings shame to the class as a whole. Your post-service behavior is now a personal responsibility that must be controlled, and whether you like it or not, is not beyond evaluation. Responsibility falls to the individual warrior to continue their path, no matter what that path or outcome may be. Admittedly there is no single book outlining the basics of post-service personal behavior for the modern warrior, but every service member has been highly trained in nearly all aspects of acceptable behavior, meaning they already know how they should have acted with the public while they were in service, so that basic standard should carry over to say the least.

Warriors of all walks, cultures and societies have always held themselves to a higher standard than the rest of society. To provide merely a single example, Samurai followed Bushido, a code of conduct that set a standard for the individual behaviors of warriors of that day to which impacted nearly every aspect of their lives. Though the days of the Samurai have since pasted, today, higher standards of behavior and expectations of behavior are still prominently rooted within the warrior class. And there even remains evidence that societies as a whole – who vastly refuse such standards for themselves – yet still expect their warriors to maintain them for life. In the United States, for example, “Veterans Court” for prior service personnel separates U.S. Veterans from regular civilians when ruling on their actions. The impact of service alters the treatment/sentencing options as courts specifically take into special consideration a veterans past service, health care, needs, and a large variety of other factors that may or may not have contributed to their current state of affairs – including that “higher standard” of personal behavior.

Knowing these things, it is paramount that warriors understand society identifies them as such, no matter where you may travel to or chose to live in your post service days. This is because warriors, and members of the warrior class, share commonalities worldwide. We see evidence of this in cross-cultural comparative history, where, as much as culture has changed over the centuries, portions of Bushido (“Way of the Warrior”) were picked up by Europeans after the 16th century. (Cleary, p. 9, & DeMarco, p. 47)  DeMarco points out that both cultures (European and Japanese) mirrored each other in warrior practices and standards, prior to even meeting as their feudal empires evolved. This is significant because what it indicates is that warriors can have more in common with each other than the very societies they inhabit, even if they’ve never met prior. Flash forward to modern times, in a comparison of West Point cadets with Royal Norwegian Naval Academy cadets, Michael Mathews stated, “We found that military members from different countries are more alike in terms of character strength profiles than they are with their own countrymen” (Mathews, p. 27).

So, what does all this mean, and why is it important?

It means, as a culture, a standard and a separation most certainly exists. Should there be one and why? Absolutely, and here is why:

We are all represented in the eye of the public by the actions of the individual warrior.

Consider this very carefully… When a warrior is caught doing something wrong (or not), the media will always point out that they are a warrior. In the overwhelming majority of cases this is the very first thing they choose to focus on. Headlines will nail the individual as a warrior first and foremost with bold letters, and continuous coverage will continue based solely on warrior status alone. The media will not go through high school records looking for grades, however, they will go through military records looking for training, deployments, and character of service. Of course, this also extends to everyday behavior as well. When one individual, or a group of individuals within the warrior class, chooses to act and behave in disrespectful, crude, and even down-right unprofessional ways, the whole of society sees that and equates all warriors to be as such…

It is unfortunate that a growing trend of the “crude warrior” identity seems to have taken root, but it is far more unfortunate for us all when some individual warriors refuse to acknowledge that bad behavior post-service reflects negatively upon us all – a culture that by all accounts should be the most professional and highly respected of any social class within a society. What’s important for the public to understand is that one individuals actions should only be a reflection of that individual, not the whole community, but we all know that’s not the way it works. When some warriors act crude, disrespectful and foul, the public grows to believe all warriors are the same. And worse, negative stereotypes are far easier to take root than positive ones.

With that in mind, we must clarify four very important points before concluding:

  • Not all warriors were truly meant to be warriors.

Not all of the individuals that sought the trials of becoming a warrior were bodily invested in becoming a warrior. Though they had good intentions, they may not have understood the price. The price of being a warrior is more than just battlefield relations, it is a lifetime dedicated to doing what is right, even when no one else follows. The saying exists, “There’s always the 10%.” This is attributed to the small portion of individuals that may not have clearly understood what they were getting themselves into. Many individuals are quickly separated from service for a large variety of issues, yet they will still have backgrounds attributed to their attempts to serve. It isn’t against them, just that the small number impacts the larger whole when viewed by the populace.

  • Even the best make mistakes.

In no way are we saying that all warriors are without the ability to do wrong, of course not! Even the best can make mistakes. This is evident when we see higher echelon staff becoming the subject of media scrutiny for a plethora of issues. It could be due to a lapse of judgement or complete misbehavior on their part, or that media scrutiny could be completely unjustified and the individual under fire a victim of circumstance and uncalled for judgements. There are a number of things to acknowledge when evaluating actions by warriors of the highest (or thought to be of) caliber.

  • The military promotional system is not perfect.

This means some individuals will be promoted (or not promoted) that may (or may not) need to be at that rank. It happens, and it is highly imperative for each individual to be seen and judged as an individual, not for the whole service or class to be judged based on the actions of a single individual.

  • Age is important, but so is experience.

Though the 22-year-old Lance Corporal went to war, his or her age may impact their individual circumstances. With age, it is fair to note that many young warriors are doing great things and are often shown in the media for this, but the unfortunate side is when there is negative media coverage involving younger individuals who merely made immature mistakes nearly anyone could make. Both types of coverage (good or bad) impact the Warrior Class, however, just as age doesn’t equate maturity levels, battlefield experience doesn’t always elevate maturity either.

At the end of the day, no one is perfect, we fully understand that. But as a warrior, you chose a higher path, and therefore you have an obligation and a personal responsibility to uphold the standards, values, and traditions of service for a lifetime. Society is so very lightning quick to judge, and in the mind of the civilian population, guilty by affiliation shall always be the prevailing mentality. For civilians to understand what they are seeing in the media, they need context, and lots of it, but that context should always come from our own and never from the media or non-warriors. Sometimes context is easily identifiable, but to the civilian eye most of the time it is not, and members or former members of the Armed Forces should assist when needed for clarification. Remember, the Warrior Class only makes up roughly 7% of the population*, and movies, games, and the media are not a reputable source of information on military and/or veteran issues as they nearly always give bad information, misinformation, misrepresentation of reality or facts, and/or even purposely biased information for their own agendas and self-interests.

So regardless of the possible contextual areas, we as warriors should always hold ourselves to the highest of standards when conducting ourselves publicly. There are limitations, but each warrior represents the whole. Professionalism should never die out, and we should remind ourselves that we dedicated our lives to taking the higher ground, to doing what is right at all times. It is very unfortunate that there is a growing trend today where many individuals want to simply fall into a middle area, allowing professionalism to take place only when needed, and instead acting out without impunity on social norms when it suits them. The point of this conversation here is remind us all… we’re far better than that, and just because the uniform comes off one day, doesn’t mean our standards change.

We’re warriors… Real leaders above all things…

And we should always conduct ourselves as such.


What are YOUR thoughts? We WANT to hear from you!

Take a moment to collect your intelligent, reasoned thoughts, then let us know what you think in the comments below!

Open discussion helps everyone learn and grow.


Cleary, T. (2009). Samurai Wisdom.  Lessons From Japan’s Warrior Culture.

DeMarco, M. (2015). Medieval Warrior Cultures of Europe and Japan.  Body, Mind, Sword. An Anthology of Articles from the Journal of Asian Martial Arts.

Mathews, M. (2012). Head Strong. How Psychology is Revolutionizing War.

Featured Image:

Participants of the Department of Defense’s Joint Civilian Orientation Conference march under the watchful eye of Drill Instructor Sgt. Gustava Brown at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, July 25, 2012. The participants were surprised by the stern welcome given to them as they were treated to a standard new recruit shakedown at the base’s receiving barracks. (Department of Defense photo by: Glenn Fawcett)  (Released)

* [The 7% figure is a rough approximation that applies only to the United States at the time this article was written. Other nations’ warrior class population percentages vary either lesser or greater depending upon that individual nations society, culture, laws, and a large variety of other factors.]

About the author

J Rawls

Jeremy Rawls is a former active duty Marine with two combat tours in Iraq. He was part of the invasion in 2003 and later returned for the take down of Fallujah. After leaving the Corps, he worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security with two contracts in Afghanistan. He is currently a freelance writer.