Three Surprising Things I Struggled With When I Became a Civilian

Three Surprising Things I Struggled With When I Became a Civilian

Until I was 22, I had zero clue heated blankets at hospitals were a thing. I found this out during a rather nasty stomach bug during my last semester of college in which I drove myself to the ER at a hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. After being thoroughly confused about insurance (I’ll get to that in a bit), a nurse offered me a heated blanket after giving me an IV. A heated blanket, Y'all! Never before had I been given such a luxury whilst receiving medical care. Amazing. Now try explaining to a civilian why you had for 22 years never known such a treasure existed.  Welcome to the world of a soldier trying to pass as a civilian. Here are the top three things I struggled (and still do at times) with after leaving the Army:

1)  Health Care

You already know about my amazement with heated blankets, but I had the opposite reaction when it came to health insurance. For context, I grew up in the Army so have always been under my dad’s Tricare insurance. I had his last four (as in the last four numbers of an SSN) memorized at an early age because that piece of information and my dependent ID card were all I needed. Then I, too, joined the Army and only had to use my own last four and my active duty ID card. Done. No forms to fill out time and time again. Then I left the Army after 9.5 years and jumped onto my husband’s health insurance.

I still don’t know what I’m doing to this day.

Mark, my husband, had to educate me on what a group number is versus the health ID number. He had to explain to me the reasons behind needing a health insurance card AND a prescription card AND a dental insurance card AND a vision insurance card. Why on God’s green earth can this not be less convoluted?! What the heck is a co-pay and why does my new civilian health insurance tell me I need to pay thousands of dollars upfront before I even give birth to my baby? Why do I need to fill out this patient form again when I was just here last year and nothing has changed? Why did my antidepressants cost a mere $3.92 three months ago and now Walgreens wants me to pay $51? 

Like I stated before, I still don’t know what I’m doing.

2) Painting My Nails 

The struggle is real, Y'all because I still cannot bring myself to get a manicure since becoming a civilian. I’ve had two, TWO, since cutting the Army cord. Female soldiers just don’t paint their nails for obvious reasons in regards to the uniform (if this has changed in any way, well, way to be progressive, Army). Every once in a great while, I contemplate making an appointment for a manicure, but I just can’t do it. Don’t even ask me what a dip manicure is as I have no idea.

I also still wear my hair in a bun at least 4 days a week. I like to think this is because the Duchess of Sussex regularly wears her hair back in a chic bun, but no, it’s because I’ve mastered this style thank to the Army. I’ve tried just putting my hair in a ponytail before a run or workout at the YMCA, but about ten minutes in I have to take it out and put my curls back into a secure bun. Old habits die hard. Or refuse to die at all.

And then there is figuring out what to wear. WHAT DO I WEAR?! No one is telling me what uniform and gear I need to be sporting. And what do you mean I don’t have to tuck in my T-shirt into my shorts for exercising? Blasphemy!  It’s taken me a good deal of time to figure out my style, what looks good on my body, and how to dress accordingly. I think I’ve found a groove, but every once in awhile I miss being able to throw on my uniform and boots. There was comfort and familiarity in knowing I looked just like my peers. The mission was the focus, not my shoes.

These may seem trivial, but to someone who is trying to adjust to being a civilian, little things like manicures can cause angst. A lot of angst.

3) Camaraderie and Lack Thereof

If you’ve served in the military, you understand this completely. There is nothing like the camaraderie between service men and women, and this was (and still is) my greatest struggle since leaving the Army. 

After my last active duty stint, I returned to my civilian job in the oil industry and hated every single day I worked there. I missed the respect given to one another. There was very little to no respect for your peers; it was an every-man-for-himself kind of mentality. There was no mission to unite us and work toward. I genuinely missed the bonds that early morning PT, late-night fireguard duty, and all the work in between had built between myself and my battle buddies. None of that could be found in my corporate job, and this sent my mind into a state of depression. 

Let me put this another way: when I was at WLC (Warrior Leadership Course) in the Army, the first day in the classroom the instructor asked a question and nearly every single hand in the room shot up to answer it. I realized that I had found my peer group: the group of kids in school who, when the teacher asks a question and no one raises his or her hand, that person boldly raises a hand instead. The Army is full to the brim of those “raise a hand” kids. I was that kid. Yet the civilian world was not like that at all, and I struggled (still do as a matter of fact) to find my place in it. Not many people take kindly to the “raise a hand” kid turned adult.

There are so many more items I could list, but these three are what I’ve found to be the most surprising for me to overcome. I didn’t think for a second that civilian health insurance was going to be as difficult a learning curve as it's proven to be. There wasn’t a briefing before leaving the Army that told me I would cry looking at myself in the mirror because I didn’t recognize the civilian staring back at me. And it’s taken years to find another “tribe” of folks who somewhat get me the way my Army battle buddies did. 

As stated before, I still don’t know what I’m doing without my uniform on. I’m just faking it until I make it.



Kayley Nammari is an Army brat and a veteran of the US Army Reserve where she served in the Intelligence Corps in both an enlisted and officer role. She no longer targets terrorists but instead wrangles her two young sons. While searching for a new handbag, she came upon Sword & Plough’s website and has been using her wool handbag ever since. She now sports a mini tote to hold an assortment of sippy cups, baby wipes, and the occasional book about tractors.

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