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Fully Committed: Finding Your Purpose Post-Service


Last week, Clint Trial, who served for more than 22 years, in our Armed Forces shared why he joined the military and what service meant to him. Read that article here. 

Our conversation continues this week, focused on his thoughts post his 2020 retirement.

What do you think are the biggest challenges veterans are facing today? 
In my experience, I have found the transitioning phase from active duty service to the private sector to be a critical period where a veteran’s long term path can take either a dark path or a golden one. Having witnessed examples of this in my own peer group only reinforces my opinions for why we can never stress enough to those still on active duty the need to have a well thought out plan for post-military life, plus contingency plans. 

It is my opinion that finding your mission and purpose in life is absolutely vital for reducing the amount of mental and spiritual struggle that can occur in its absence.  For many of us veterans, our mission and purpose was always very clear. A life dedicated to serving something you believe greater than yourself… to serve the United States of America; to serve on behalf of the ideas of individual liberty and freedom. For the red, white and blue. For God, for country, for family. For so many of us who chose the military life, we often took for granted the existence of that mission and purpose. 

But what happens when your time in service comes to an end? Now what? Without a mission and purpose, life can make the strongest of men and women vulnerable to their own negative thoughts.

Upon retirement or end of active service, the perception we have is that we have lost our mission and purpose. But we don’t really lose it. In fact, I would argue the opposite is happening. We are given back total control of it. Taking the reins of your own mission and purpose is what happens. Unfortunately very few of us know how to use those reins… and we can end up driving ourselves in circles creating a sense of being lost and disconnected in life.  

It is far better to have a well formulated plan go belly up and shift to an alternative contingency than succumbing to thoughts of hopelessness and despair that can infect an idle and mission-less mind. 

Knowing your mission and purpose in life is essential. Once a veteran knows what his or hers is… there is no stopping them. 

What do the two words YOU MATTER mean to you?
“You mattered… “ is how I’ve most often used those two words. They aren’t really spoken words so much as words I hear spoken by the little voice in my head when thinking about friends who have died by suicide. I often envision conversations between me and the friends I’ve lost. 

“Why did you do this?” I ask.

“Because I felt like I didn’t matter,” he answers.

“You mattered,” I say.

My stance on this darkest of human actions has always been accompanied by puzzlement and confusion. Suicide is completely opposite to my very nature which is to survive. 

This is not to say my friends who died by suicide weren’t survivors… on the contrary, they in some cases survived decades of repetitive exposure to direct combat across multiple war fronts. They willingly put themselves in danger for country, for America. For many of us, we end up after years and years of combat doing it for one reason and one reason alone … for each other. 

I’ve come to realize that so many of us are not broken… rather we, Veterans, are enlightened in ways that cannot be fully understood by so many of our civilian counterparts. And no matter how hard you try … you will never be able to fully explain to someone who has never shared in the extreme horrors of war. This divide creates a sense of disconnectedness in the combat veteran, the disconnectedness can lead to self isolation, negative reflection and feelings of hopelessness.

I imagine many of the conversations that take place between the ears of those who’ve served, often wondering if anyone is ever going to understand what it meant to lace up our boots to protect and defend others, for our country, for America. 

How many combat veterans have heard themselves uttered, “Nobody’s gonna ever understand what it meant.”

Where things can take a dark turn is when we decide that because no one will ever understand, that what we’ve done doesn’t really matter and the statement switches from “Nobody’s gonna ever understand what it meant…” to “none of it mattered.” 

As Veterans, we have gained a truth about the nature of man, the nature of life and the nature of war. We recognize truths about life and death far ahead of our time. And there is real difficulty in handling those truths as you transition into the civilian world and attempt to integrate back into a society that often lacks the awareness and understanding of war’s realities. 

It is a painful realization for a combat veteran to feel like what he did in service does not matter. 

But it did matter. It mattered to those you served alongside. 

When a Veteran finds himself thinking … “I don’t matter,”  he must revolt and reject that thought. He must remember the faith he once felt amongst his team mates. The courage he borrowed from others … and the promise to pay it back. To remember that though he may be physically alone…he is not. We, the survivors, are here too… the struggle is ours together – a common bond and a common burden. If you need us, tell us and we will come running. 

So to every man and woman who carries this burden of knowing, I offer this:

It DID matter. It DOES matter. It WILL matter. 


Clint Trial served for more than 22 years, enlisting first in the Army National Guard as an infantryman before joining the Marine Corps. He retired in 2020.