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Advice From A Vet On The 'Rude Awakening' Of Transition To Civilian Life

After 23 years, Cameron Cook (left) is leaving the service. Jarrad Turner (right) left in 2010.
Courtesy of Cameron Cook/Courtesy of Jarrad Turner
After 23 years, Cameron Cook (left) is leaving the service. Jarrad Turner (right) left in 2010.

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There .

Cameron Cook signed up for the U.S. Army in 1994, three days after his high school graduation, and that's been his life ever since. The job took him to Germany, Macedonia and Albania. He did combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cameron says it came with a sense of purpose, camaraderie and excitement. "It's just been something new every day, every month, every year," he says. "Whether it was a new job skill, go get a new piece of equipment. It's like Christmas every week in the Army."

That's all about to change. Cameron is retiring.

That means adjusting to a civilian life without the built-in brotherhood and mission of the service. It also means giving up the routines that have structured his days for more than two decades.

Jarrad Turner knows those challenges well. He was an Army medic for nearly a decade, and saw combat in Iraq. He left the military in 2010.

He remembers, on his first day as a veteran, waking up, putting on his military physical training gear without even realizing it and walking out of his house — only to find out that he was the only person out on his block.

"For me it was a rude awakening," he tells Cameron, "because I kind of had the mentality of, OK, slackers, get up! I was like, you're wasting time! We've got stuff to execute upon."

Advice from Jarrad Turner

On learning to slow down

When I got out, my son — so he was 4. You know, being 4, he was still in dad's arms, you know. And kind of just falling asleep on the couch with him is one of the things that started to break some of those old patterns. You know I'm looking at my kids, and I'm like, I'm looking at my family, I don't want to lose this precious time. So, it's like just chill out.

On dealing with civilians well-meaning but unwelcome questions

I don't think that they do it intentionally. You know, a lot of times they're just trying to help out. But, when you start telling them, because you're trying to help them get a better understanding, and you say, "Well, when you're in boots, you know, you're in that big dust bowl and you lose people, unfortunately that body goes somewhere else and you still got a mission on," a lot of them just don't get that. And it can frustrate you, but I just kind of take it from a place that look, they just don't understand. They're trying to get a better understanding of it. So, when I can talk about it I talk about it, and when I can't I just can't.

On building a support system

Having a support system that you can trust — family, your bros, veterans' organizations — that is truly the reason that I'm still here. I buried my tenth soldier to suicide, Dec. 24, we buried him. I mean, to this day it still hurts. But, I would say, there's gonna come times in your life now that you just need to be brutally honest with people. Whether it's pain, whether it's memories, whether it's life, there's a time when this stuff can come back on you. And, if you're willing to just talk about it, and understanding that it doesn't necessarily have a rhyme or reason to it, you'll be good.

Freelance producers Emily Forman ( @emilylforman ) and Julia Botero ( @jbott661 ) contributed to this report.

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