Dropping the Rank: One of the Biggest Obstacles to a Successful Military to Civilian Transition

*The following piece is an op-ed and in no way represents the Department of Defense, the United States Marine Corps, or the MCRD Museum. The views and opinions expressed here belong solely to the original author. 


In today's day and age of information sharing and a growing public awareness about all things military, the topic of military transition to civilian life is not an uncommon subject. There are certainly a variety of challenges that affect the outcome of a successful or unsuccessful transition from the military. Loss of identity, unfamiliar structures and systems, co-workers that have a different understanding of the workplace and world in general, shifting roles from being the top expert in your field to the stay-at-home parent and the list goes on. Being a veteran who has navigated my own transition for the last thirteen years and someone who has worked in the veteran space for over six years now, it has become clear to me that something many of us do out of respect, may actually be the single biggest obstacle to helping our veterans transition successfully from the military.


I want to preface these thoughts by stating I realize this is in many ways a taboo and controversial opinion, but one I'm passionate enough about to understand that if we are truly trying to help our veterans live the life they have earned ten times over, post military, then we have to address these types of taboo subjects that have become societal norms. 


In my opinion, the single biggest obstacle to setting veterans up for a successful transition out of the military is by continuing to address them by their highest held rank. On one hand, I agree that if someone requests to be addressed in that manner, it is absolutely their right. But what I have noticed is that it is often not done at the request of the individual, rather it is done based on a preconceived notion that this is what the veteran expects or that is what is appropriate. 


In the civilian world, if you retired as the Executive Vice President of Toyota, I find it hard to believe that is how your friends and colleagues would introduce you. You may be recognized as the former Executive VP at some point in the conversation, but for the most part, you are introduced by your name instead of a previously held title. 


Those who dissent from this opinion will say they have earned the right to be addressed as Colonel, Sergeant Major, Master Chief, etc., and you will not ever hear me disagree with that. My point is, if someone is supposed to reprogram themselves from the only environment and professional system they have legitimately known, by addressing them as their last held rank we are keeping them in a perpetual state of identifying as military personnel as opposed to Chris, Sarah, or Mr./Mrs. Smith. 


By addressing veterans by their rank, we are subconsciously reaffirming their belief that their entire identity and the greatest accomplishment of their life is something they have already achieved. That assumption could not be further from the truth. Our greatest accomplishments as people, in my opinion, are the summation of our cumulative contributions to our families, neighbors, communities, and betterment of society as whole for future generations. This can only be completed when a veteran combines their military service with the many amazing accomplishments they will have post military.


Let me be clear, I am not stating that any person/ organization is doing anything wrong by addressing a veteran by their rank. In contrast, most do it out of an abundance of respect, and I whole heartedly believe intention should be a key determining factor when judging the acts of others. But to simply say it’s the respectful thing to do or its the appropriate thing to do without having an honest conversation of the second, third, and fourth order affects from doing so, is inherently detrimental to the goal we all collective share. We all want to see our veterans prosper, find happiness, and experience tremendous success, but if we continue to identify veterans with a professional title from their past, then it will be inherently more difficult for them to move forward.


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Chris Weimer, Marine Veteran and current Deputy Director of the MCRD Museum Foundation


Chris Weimer is a Marine veteran and currently serves as the Deputy Director of the MCRD Museum Foundation. During his time in the Marine Corps he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was awarded a Purple Heart among other honors. 

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