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Experts Explore Core Challenges of the Military to Civilian Transition: Part I – Culture Shock

The fundamental equation of the modern workforce is a balance between marketable skills and given levels of competition for the field in question. Even those who have spent the entirety of their career in the private sector can find significant challenges in bridging this gap.

This series will be exploring three primary things that can present the most serious stumbling blocks to service members transferring into the civilian sector. For this, we’ll be drawing on the expertise of six professionals, some of whom are former officers and enlisted, who have forged success out of these challenges. We have found a great deal of commonality in the experience of former military members.


This is one experience that, while still very unique to you in its expression, nevertheless has a considerable amount of overlap with others who have gone through the experience. It is in this way, by bringing these facets to light, that we hope to provide something of service to you and explore the key tools that can help you get ahead in the private sector.

Our first contributor of note is Ed Brzychcy, a former U.S. Army Infantry Staff-Sergeant with service across three combat deployments to Iraq. After his time in the military, he received his MBA from Babson College and now coaches organizational leadership and growth through his consultancy, Blue Cord Management.

For this piece, our subject of focus is going to fall solidly on:

Culture Shock

In brief, “Culture Shock”, as used here, describes the difficulty an individual has in transferring their living environment from the military to the civilian sector.

As Mr. Brzychcy says: “The military is a highly structured organization where expectations are well set and regulated. Service members have their expectations well established in regards to job responsibilities, promotions, and workflow.”

Let’s explore that, because it presents a very considerable shift of day-to-day routines and expectations. Given that routines are such a large part of military life, it can be quite a shock to suddenly have those regularities and reliable measures absent. As harsh as any system can be, at the very least it sets a reliable expectation for almost any given scenario.

Far more disconcerting than even the harshest of punishment for failure to adhere to set standards, is the random chaos of having no set standards at all. Even if you do everything right and have the absolute best, ethically sound intentions, there is no guarantee it will be properly rewarded (or even noticed).

Another vet, identified to us as Adam, speaks through our contact Laura Folse, Public Relations Professional at Cooper Smith Agency, with these words:

The biggest issue I faced in acclimating to the civilian NON-Defense sector world was the loss of brotherhood, teamwork, loyalty, and the knowledge that all my workmates had my back. From the Captain to the fresh recruit. Through thick, thin, and everything in-between.

I could find no training course, seminar, or counseling available for this very human emotional loss, and quite frankly maybe there should be.

In the end it was ’me’ that was required to change in order to survive.

military to private

While there are many challenges facing military service members of all levels, there are core issues of shared experience that bring them all together, to remind them that whatever they have lost, whatever new obstacles lie in front of them, once upon a time they had each other.

And it’s never too late to reach out. To understand the semblance and structure of shared experience is to fill in the gaps of your own, and it is with that professional understanding that we can rise to meet any new challenge.


Fred Coon, CEO 

Stewart Cooper & Coon specializes in career transition services for senior-level military decisions makers and government agency employees by assisting candidates in locating companies who welcome both their leadership and organizational talents.  


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