From housing and education to allowances and welfare, the military provides a raft of day-to-day assistance to Service families. But what happens when your soldier decides to hang up their uniform? Army&You takes a closer look at the realities of making the switch to civvy street…
FOR all of the hair-pulling and nail-biting that it causes, being part of an Army family comes with a good amount of ups to counter the downs.
From relative job safety, allowances and a good pension to the opportunity to be part of a strong, caring community, having a soldier in your life has its advantages.
But whether it comes one, 22 or more years after signing up, every military family will eventually have to cut its ties with the Forces and ride the rollercoaster of transition.
Managing the move from the Services side of the fence to civilian life is something the Army urges soldiers to start thinking about as soon as they join and this long-sighted approach is endorsed by HQ 11 Brigade Transition Officer Maj Jodie Kennedy-Smith.
“Transition is not a solitary activity – it’s a life changing event which affects the whole family,” she said. “It takes planning, research and commitment. Spouses and partners will have views on where to live and where the children will go to school. You will have careers to transfer or build, finances to manage, homes to set up and emotional support to give.
“The key to success is not to leave your transition until your soldier enters the resettlement stage. It’s far better to identify areas of concern and take responsibility much earlier during Service life.
“A useful tool is the ‘Hardfacts’ document available from your unit or HIVE. It helps show how prepared you are as a family for civvy street.”
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY
Although the nuts-and-bolts of transition may have to wait until closer to resettlement, there are key areas where you can lay foundations on which to build your post-military life.
Transition can be expensive, so getting finances in order and developing the habit of saving can make the process less stressful. Equally, researching the support available – whether funding, practical help or simply sources of information – will ensure you know where to turn should you need assistance.
Maj Kennedy-Smith urged families to attend Career Transition Partnership briefings and events, locations and dates of which are advertised at www.ctp.org.uk
“There’s a wealth of information for families at these events and on the website to help you to prepare,” she explained.
“If an individual is medically downgraded, they can apply to start resettlement early – prior to the medical assessment board. Transition has become a through-career activity and it should become easier for families to plan ahead.”
Planning ahead is sound advice as you never know what lies ahead, but what happens when resettlement is forced on you before you have a chance to put plans in place?
That was the situation which faced the Botma family – soldier Stefan, wife Heidri and daughters Grace (3) and Beth (1) – when Stefan was medically discharged from the Army. He went before a medical review board in January 2015 and was told that he would be out of the Service in just six months.
“It was a process which was going on for two years, but the actual discharge was really quick,” Heidri told Army&You. “We thought we would have a year, so it was a shock to find out we only had six months to decide where we were going to live and what we were going to do. You can think about it and analyse it as much as you want, but it is daunting.”
Finding out how little time they had left as part of the Army community left the Botmas facing logistical and financial challenges. The family lived in SFA, Grace and Beth were enrolled in daycare on camp and Heidri had to juggle family responsibilities with a job as a cook at a local primary school.
With so much to be done in a short period, Heidri felt the resettlement process placed too heavy a burden on Stefan and believes greater involvement for a soldier’s spouse would make things easier for all involved.
“If there was some sort of service so that spouses know what’s going on as well it would be very helpful,” she said. “There’s a lot of jargon, a lot of paperwork and we get pushed to the side a bit.
“It’s almost like we’re not part of the process – the soldier is being discharged so it falls on them to relay everything and sometimes that’s difficult when they have a lot going on.
“If we got included more in the process and knew what we were entitled to, we could feel part of the whole thing rather than being dragged along.”
MASTER YOUR MINDSET
Another person to have trodden the transition path is Sarah Davies, who left for civvy street after serving for eight years with the Royal Logistic Corps. She now runs a coaching firm helping others to take their first steps after transition.
Sarah acknowledges that leaving the familiar surroundings of Service life can be daunting, but highlights the exciting potential for change that it brings.
“Often with work, home, school, community and social lives changing for our whole family all at once, transitioning into civvy street is a new chapter that needs careful thought, honest discussion and realistic planning as a family,” she explained.
“Ask yourself what you want your future to look like; what you need to do to achieve that; and what support will you need along the way.
“Together with the physical realities of changing job, house, location and family routine, resettling requires a gradual mental adjustment and acceptance of change. By giving yourself time to think and plan as a family, you will make your journey far easier.
“Not only will you have your feet back on the ground in no time, you may just hit civvy street running.”
After being launched into a whirlwind transition, the Botma family are beginning to settle into their new lives as civilians. Stefan is currently working abroad as a deckhand on a superyacht, while Heidri, Grace and Beth moved into a new house last September.
Having managed the move herself without the safety net of Army welfare, Heidri has encouraged other families going through transition to be aware of what is involved.
“There is lots to think about – moving into a civvy house isn’t like moving into SFA,” she said. “Everything isn’t done for you. There’s not one person you can go and have a moan to and things get sorted.”
CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
Whatever the motivation for deciding to leave the Army, families seeking fresh pastures on civvy street have to navigate a complex path.
Having travelled along the same route herself, Heidri advises others to fully consider their options.
“Make sure you dot your Is and cross your Ts because there are a lot of little things to account for,” she concluded. “Civvy street is expensive and you need money in the bank and something to fall back on.
“Before you make the decision, don’t take for granted what the Army gives you because the grass isn’t always greener.”