The Veterans & Families Institute for Military Social Research (VFI) at Anglia Ruskin University was delighted to host Nick Wood from York St John University, to deliver his ‘Military Human’ workshop. The session explores the differences and similarities between military and civilian cultures, to gain insight into the military environment and the complex needs to be negotiated on transition from military-to-civilian life.

The workshop begins by looking at the diverse reasons why men and women join, from personal motivation such as seeking excitement, adventure, or a more secure future due to low socio-economic factors, to practical applications including gaining skills, a trade or education. Nick highlighted that some enlist in order to satisfy practical needs and others, emotional needs. Academic research is used to support the argument, including Erikson’s psychosocial model of understanding the sense of self and ‘becoming’ and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to recognise that basic human needs must be met in order for motivation and self-actualisation to occur. The importance of acknowledging and supporting the family unit as a central part of a service person/veteran’s life was also considered throughout.

The similarities between military and civilian life were then explored, but also the differences and why military life is not ‘just a job’ – a long term commitment to deployment, risking your life for others as part of your daily role and in some instances, having to take a life. We were encouraged to understand why this leads to service personnel seeing their colleagues as ‘family’, who they protect and by whom they are protected, with an unconditional sense of trust, loyalty and selfless commitment. The cultural understanding in the military of not showing feelings or emotions can lead to a lack of help-seeking following discharge and the possibility of leading to other social problems. The loss of camaraderie, leading to social isolation and a significant shift in identity can add to these difficulties.

We reflected on the reasons why people leave, including to permanently live with family or having attained the purpose for joining (e.g. gained a specialist skill) and moving on by choice, to those whose leaving may be enforced, such as medical discharge, redundancy or dishonourable discharge. Personal insight into the transition period is further offered from veterans in the room. Whilst it is acknowledged that most leave the Armed Forces and do well, issues around relationships, finding employment and expectations of civilian life can cause difficulties. Alongside a discussion around the difficulties of the definition and identification of a veteran, we also discussed the support available to veterans following transition. The Armed Forces Covenant states that members of the Armed Forces community should not face disadvantage due to service life. Signposting was provided to charities, healthcare and service providers who support veterans and their families.

The Military Human offers an important insight into the social and cultural norms within military life, and how civilians can understand the transition process and better support veterans during and post transition. The Military Human is an excellent workshop, suitable for practitioners, support workers, academics and anyone with an interest in the military lifestyle. This workshop would be a very useful addition to the courses offered by the Careers Transition Partnership to service personnel undergoing the transition process. Thanks Nick, an insightful and tremendously important workshop.

Dr Linda Cooper

VFI/Forces in Mind Trust Research Centre