Transitioning to a life away from the military is often challenging for servicemembers. Making the jump from the structured life of the Armed Forces to a new environment can certainly be difficult, but one of the biggest obstacles troops encounter is what's known as the civilian-military gap. With less than 1 percent of the American population in the military, it's easy to see why there might be a disconnect between servicemembers and ordinary citizens, but advocates are coming forward to help bridge the distance between the two groups.
Talking it out
One of the latest efforts to foster good relationships between soldiers and civilians comes out of New York City, where a program known as Veteran Civilian Dialogues has been operating for three years, according to Star and Stripes. The regularly scheduled dialogues bring an estimated 50 people whenever they're held, and the participants often run the gamut from veterans in their 20s to senior citizens. The conversations can cover any topics, from PTSD to school, and often include discussing how subjects unrelated to the military have helped improve relationships. This was the case for Spc. Patrick Murphy, who talked about his desire to transition to a new career.
"It was great to get that kind of feedback, not just because [of] the encouragement," he told the publication. "I wasn't just a veteran to them. I could be something else, like a photojournalist."
Lack of familiarity
There could be a reason for this civilian-military gap, but experts say it's largely due to the fact that knowing someone who serves in the Armed Forces is not as common as it once was, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Approximately 20 percent of members of Congress have spent time in the military. In 1969, that figure was at around 60 percent. Additionally, in 2010 about 18 percent of people had parents who had served in the military, but just 22 years earlier an estimated 40 percent of people said the same. Even top officials have noticed this shift.
"I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle," Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, told West Point graduates in 2011.
A growing need
Bridging the gap will be increasingly important in the coming years and months. Thousands of troops are slated to separate from service and the remaining servicemembers in Afghanistan are expected to be home by the end of 2014.