For about 30-40 years, military members wear the same uniform and they do not go out of the military barracks unless they have to do so. They do their shopping from the supermarkets in the military barracks, they go to military hospitals when they are sick, they go to the cinema at the military barracks and do sports at the military facilities. When they go out for a dinner as a family, they prefer to a go to a restaurant at the military facilities. They even spend their vacations at the military complexes, having little contact with people who are not military members. So, when they retire, some of the military personnel and even their family members have difficulty in adaptation to civilian life. Some senior military members who think they are still active members of the military give orders to civilians as if they are low-ranking military members, they do not want to join in the bank queue and find themselves in the social facilities of the military whenever possible, which are all signs of the challenges of transition to civilian life.
The issue of the retired military personnel back in civilian life has aroused further interest when top commanders including Turkey’s chief of general staff requested their retirement last month in protest of government determination not to promote military officers who are suspects in ongoing coup cases.
President of the Retired Non-commissioned Officers Association Ahmet Atik said although he retired from the military 30 years ago, he still feels like an active military member. Atik who enrolled at the military school in 1956, served for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for 30 years. The association he leads has 980 retired non-commissioned officer members. The members of the association occasionally come together for funerals of the members or to pay visits to the ailing members.
Professor Nevzat Tarhan, a psychiatrist and a retired colonel, explained the reason behind the difficulty in the military members’ adaptation to civilian life with their personality and perception of the military service.
“The personality of the military members is very important here. If their relations are good with the civilians during the time they serve in the military, then they will not face many problems. Some military members see serving in the military as a lifestyle, so they experience problems in adaptation to civilian life after their retirement. Military housing complexes are like villages where there is a sub-culture. They are cut off from the society. The reason behind their having problem in adaptation to civilian life is because they cannot detach themselves from this sub-culture,” explained Tarhan.
Giving some advices to the retired military members to cope with the challenges in the post-retirement period, Tarhan said they should be seeking ways to adapt to civilian life easily by making a self-criticism of themselves, they can get psychological support from an expert or assume social responsibility projects that will improve their relations with the people.
Retired Maj. Gen. Nejat Müldür who used to get up early every day, shave himself, polish his boots and then set out for his work at the military, said he felt a kind of uncertainty about what to do after his retirement. Müldür said he took up tennis as a hobby upon the advice of his friends and he improved tennis playing so much that everyone in his immediate circle became very surprised and his adaptation to the civilian life became easier after taking up tennis.
Retired Col. Durmuş Türemen enrolled at a military school in 1963 and first wore the military uniform when he was just a teenager. Although he served at the military for 36 years, he did not feel the trauma of returning to civilian life when he was retired contrary to the situation of many of his colleagues. Türemen said the reason behind his easy adaptation to the civilian life was because he never cut off relations with civilians when he was serving at the military and chatted with people in the bazaars and coffee houses. He said some of his colleagues who alienated themselves from the society when they were serving at the military had to receive psychological support when they were back in civilian life.
Advice for retired military officers for easier adaptation to civilian life
Both the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and some private institutions offer courses for retiring military officers to help them overcome the challenges of adjusting to civilian life. Sample tips include:
Don’t try to jump to the front of bank queues.
Don’t raise your voice and do not shout at young people.
Do use public transport and do establish friendships with civilians.
Don’t spend all your time meeting with your former military colleagues.
Do not exaggerate the challenges of civilian life; enjoy your retirement.
Do start a business if you have some capital.
Do enroll in a course in an area that interests you.
When you go on vacation, try to stay at hotels other than exclusive military resorts.
Don’t try to get special treatment in government offices by declaring you are retired military as this may now have the opposite effect.
Do obey the traffic rules and don’t quarrel with policemen.
Do take your wife to restaurants other than those in military facilities.
Do try to give up your old habits. You don’t have to shave every day; remember, you are a civilian now.
Don’t look down on people.
Do get involved in your community.