Servicemembers, military spouses at Camp Lejeune gather to prepare for civilian life
By THOMAS BRENNAN | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: March 7, 2014
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — It’s a much different battlefield than they’re used to, but it’s one they want to head onto fully prepared.
Marines, sailors and their spouses recently attended a seminar which focused not on continued service but rather how to transition into the civilian world. From the beginning of the seminar, which was held aboard Camp Lejeune, attendees’ hands flew into the air with question after question about benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, health insurance options, employment options, education benefits and more.
“The more information I can gather the better,” said Marine spouse Kristin Fry, 26, of Jacksonville. “I would like to have a sense of what to do when we get out, whether it’s using the G.I. Bill or to just start working. I need as much information as possible so I can make an informed decision on what path to take.”
Having been inside the gates for 11 years, transitioning to the civilian world seems foreign and scary, she said. Within the Marine Corps there are a lot of resources; but once you are a civilian, you take whatever direction you want because there are very few people who will help you, she said. With the information gained at the seminar, Fry said she hopes that she and her husband can make the most informed decisions possible.
“The hardest part for us will be figuring out our new daily life such as what we will do for work and where our son will go to daycare,” Fry said. “We just need to find a way of life that makes us secure and supports our decisions.”
Also a Marine spouse, Jessica Gimlin, 25, of Jacksonville, said that as spouses, they don’t always receive the information they should to be informed and make the proper decisions for their families. By attending the class, Gimlin said she now knows where to go and what to do for help. She also realizes what options are out there for her and her family, she said.
“I feel like the military has more than enough resources for families who are transitioning, but I also feel as though enough people don’t know about the resources,” Gimlin said. “We have 10 days left, and we are just coming to this class. If I had known about this a year ago I would have been here then. I just don’t think enough people know to take advantage of the awesome programs that are out there.”
One of the things she has grown used to and will miss when her family transitions is the stable paychecks and Tricare benefits, which are something she encourages other spouses to plan for when they are transitioning. Some spouses, she said, do not realize they will lose certain benefits when their spouse is discharged, so to solve that problem, she suggests mandatory classes for the transitioning husband and wife, which will ensure that the entire family is getting the information they need.
“I’m going to miss the family mentality within the Corps. My husband is going to miss the brotherhood. Neither of us may see our friends again which stinks,” Gimlin said. “Here, we’ve always had resources, but once we get on the outside, we won’t have as many to help us out.”
As a transition readiness seminar instructor, Lindsay Gress, who is also a military spouse, said that the classes are important because they give families tools they otherwise wouldn’t have. Transitioning to civilian life, she said, is often one of the scariest things about a military career and must be addressed appropriately to be successful.
“I think the civilian side is so difficult because of the fear of the unknown,” Gress said. “The service member and their family have been protected within the gates with all of the resources that we have. Once they get outside the gates, the resources may not be readily available or they don’t know about them.”
The goal now, she said, is to give the families a place to come and ask questions if they do not know something. The transition assistance professionals on base, she said, want to be there for all of the family’s concerns, but the main challenge is getting people aware of the programs they offer and what they can do to help.
“Before, we didn’t have the resources to provide them with all of the necessary information but now we do,” Gress said. “We hope we are making the transition to the civilian world a whole lot smoother for the families who utilize our services.”
For more information on transitioning or to register for upcoming classes, visit mccslejeune.com/fmeap.