Old soldiers never die: they adapt their military skills and become successful civilians


This thesis examines the transitional experiences of men and women who leave the armed forces and return to civilian life and work and considers their pathways to successful transition as civilians.


This doctoral thesis has identified a number of factors which explain why those leaving the armed forces after 22 years or more of army service make successful transitions to civilian life. The work adds to knowledge since whilst considerable literature exists relating to those who have not made successful transitions from the armed forces to civilian life and work, there is little on those who have been successful. Existing literature is primarily concerned with those who, having served for relatively short periods of time, leave and suffer a range of social and health problems including mental illness, homelessness, unemployment and alcoholism. Evidence was gained from 51 veterans both men and women through written mini biographies, face to face interviews and interviews through the medium of the internet. Research data was drawn from the remembered lived experiences of the veterans recalling both their army and civilian careers. A methodology based on an interpretivist perspective was employed to explore the veteran's remembered experiences, their thoughts and opinions and this approach was informed by life course and career development theories. Collected data which was transcribed and converted to text was manipulated and analysed using N-Vivo Qualitative Data Analysis software, Microsoft Word and Access applications. Veterans' words concerning their return to civilian life reflect that many issues remain unchanged over several decades. An enforced career change at the age of 40 is a major life course event; how veterans dealt with this contributed to the main findings which show that successful army veterans accepted that their army service was ending and prepared early for civilian life and work. Most adapted their military skills and attitudes to suit the civilian environment and accepted that many civilians do not work and think in the same, positive way as ex-soldiers and gradually modified their own approach to work. It is possible that problematic institutionalisation may be identifiable in those who serve for short periods whilst those who complete 22 or more years' service draw only benefit, high self-esteem and a positive work ethic from this major part of their lives.

Full Reference

McDermott J. (2007). Old soldiers never die: they adapt their military skills and become successful civilians. What factors contribute to the successful transition of army veterans to civilian life and work? PhD thesis, University of Leicester, Leicester, England.