Five Transition Success Tips From One Vet To Another

By Kat Kaelin

Success and life achievement conceptAfter ten years of service in the Army and Army National Guard I knew it was time to separate from the service. I had served among a variety of units during my time in service and I experienced a collection of different personality and leadership types.

Some of the best lessons I learned were from watching people doing the wrong thing and vowing I will never put myself in that situation or discredit myself or my service. Some of the most important lessons I learned was when I was in the military. These lessons are also beneficial when transitioning to the private sector.

You may encounter a new breed of people and personalities, but the situations will be very similar to those you experienced in the service. The following are a few of the important tips I used while I was engaged in the service and throughout my professional career as a civilian:

  1. Surround yourself by people who want to succeed. You will meet all types of people in the military as well as the private sector. I like to compare my earlier years in the service to being back in high school. Most units and businesses are packed full of drama and gossip. Yes, it is completely unprofessional, but you will meet people who breathe drama and jealousy. Also, meeting people who target you specifically on your gender is not as uncommon as it seems, and it’s not just your male counterparts either. I have served alongside some very catty women. But don’t pay any mind to those who want to bring you down or gossip. These people will eventually fall short solely on their own merit and short comings.
  2. Look for people who have succeeded. They are willing to share their success story with you, not to brag, but to guide you into following their footsteps. The best soldiers I ever worked with were the ones that worked the hardest and didn’t play the “good-old-boy” system to get ahead. These people took pride in their work ethic and their abilities to contribute to the success of the organization and the mission. Their morality took precedence over their ability to talk and it always showed during the outcome of the set task.
  3. Trust your gut. One of the biggest mistakes I learned from in the military was that I did not trust my gut. Trust your instincts! If it feels wrong, it probably is. Do not place yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable or make you question your self-worth. I say this because people are cruel and will take advantage of you and your work ethic. They will use it like a ladder and climb all over everyone to get to the top. Sometimes you may be placed in situations where you feel like you need to be friends with someone in the know, trust your judgement of that person and their track record throughout their career. Chances are they crushed a lot of skulls to get where they are.  As the old saying goes, “Take the hard right over the easy wrong” the outcome will be far more beneficial in the long run, even if it takes a bit longer to get where you want to go.
  4. Don’t play the gender card. An important lesson I gained from the military is not playing the gender card. I have seen time and time again, women who discredit themselves as equal to their male counterparts, and use their gender to compensate for their shortcomings. The times have changed, and having been one that has wanted to be treated like an equal and prove my capabilities; I am happy to see times are catching up. But I say this with a word of caution. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, if you know you are not capable to successfully fulfill a job position due to a few shortcomings; don’t come in with fists swinging. Take a step back and adjust your attitude and either choose to strengthen those weak areas, or grow on the strengths you already have.
  5. Be proud of your accomplishments! Don’t cut yourself short or compare your experiences to those who surround you. Different opportunities arise at different times in everyone’s careers. It is literally up to you to jump on the chance to better yourself and prove to your peers your capabilities. Sometimes it may be scary and cause a degree of anxiety, but if you properly prepare and make yourself knowledgeable of what is expected of you, you can conquer any task that is presented before you.

It’s important to take away what made you successful during your service. These are a few tips I used that helped me grow in the military as well as prepare myself for the departure. Take a look back on the pros and cons of some of the most memorable experiences you had. I guarantee you will not only relate to the list I presented, but add a few more of your own.


Kat Kaelin is a former US Army Staff Sergeant and a combat veteran of Afghanistan. Near the end of her military career, she volunteered to train and serve in the Army’s new role for women as a cultural support team (CST) member. After completion of the training, the 75th Ranger Regiment selected her and the top tier CST’s to be attached to support their soldiers in Afghanistan. She was a member of CST-2 and served with LT Ashley White, whose story is told in the NY Times best-seller “Ashley’s War.” She is a cohost of the Mentors for Military podcast that has been on iTunes “New and Noteworthy” list.

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