Culture Military

Veterans: What does ‘The Next Objective’ mean to you?

A lot of veteran organizations use the phrase “the next objective” — it’s a great way of communicating to military folks about how to tackle the upcoming stages in life. You might not be storming a mountainside or creeping across Afghan rooftops, but you need something to sink your teeth into. Just as you assigned great value to the military mission, so you must assign great value to something outside of the military.

There is a pervasive idea in some parts of our western culture that tells us that nothing really matters, not in a grand sense anyway. Some claim it’s rooted in science, others that it’s a cultural thing with social media or other technology — either way, the romantic idea that one’s life has inherent value is slowly being stripped away. Perhaps it’s always been like that, I’m not sure. I know that men have wrestled with the concept of purpose for a very long time — literature makes that clear enough.

Regardless of when it started, this feeling does not exist in combat. When the bullets are flying or the explosions are rocking the earth, one’s life feels pretty damn meaningful. You begin to devote the entirety of your being to small, simple tasks — clear the malfunction in my weapon, take that hill, knock out that bunker, clear that room. This feeling even exists during intense bouts of training. When you’re at your lowest, with your body and spirit broken, your heart is filled with purpose. It might be the frantic purpose of survival; it might be the heroic purpose of saving a wounded comrade — it’s purpose, nonetheless.

So how do you carry that into the civilian world? It’s unlikely most of us will find that clarity of mission again, so why tell us to seek out “the next objective”?

First of all, it’s important to understand that if your combat days are over, you can’t expect to feel those same feelings again. You will miss the comradery, the intensity of emotion, and the simplicity of nothing else in the world mattering except for the task at hand. But it’s also important to understand that that’s not all there is in life. If you’ve been blessed to survive such occasions, you need to understand that there are countless other fulfilling facets to life besides fighting through an enemy position. Building a family, traveling, meeting people of all walks of life, falling in love, helping and serving others, creating art in all its forms — these are just a few of the pieces of life that make it worth living. The trick is to find what matters to you.

You’re in charge of the target deck now. No one is going to hand you an objective, let alone prepare you for what’s ahead. If nothing else, the civilian world is a whole lot less structured than the military. You have to find a mission that matters to you, accept that it matters and embrace that it’s your purpose, and then you have to dive headfirst into it. Sometimes it’ll break your heart, sometimes it’ll fail, and you always have to stay flexible — but that’s exactly how the military was as well. The problem is just transferring that mindset to something new.

There are things that matter outside of the battlefield, and you might even find that the most important thing you ever did was after the military.

About Luke Ryan

Luke Ryan is an author on the Freq who lives in upstate New York. He is a former Team Leader from 3rd Ranger Battalion, having served four deployments to Afghanistan. He grew up overseas, the son of foreign aid workers, and lived in Pakistan for nine years and Thailand for five. He has a degree in English Literature and loves to write on his own, having published a book and short story.

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Mic-Mac
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Mic-Mac

I get it, Luke. I’m a civilian and not been in the military or combat, but raising children then after 20 years they are all gone out of the house. Empty nesters. Life loses a lot of meaning, those friendships and bonds with other parents through sports and functions go away. Not the same thing as life and death that you all experienced in combat of course, but there is an emptiness and we have to find a new meaning, interests and focus so that we don’t just fade away. I experienced a lot of sadness, though I was happy… Read more »

JoyB
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JoyB

You know, I think it’s more defined in the military, especially for combat veterans, but lots of us go through experiences that are at least emotionally similar. Here’s a tough one- being a caregiver to a sick, especially dying, family member. Every day revolves around meeting the next objective, giving medicine, getting them fed, doing therapy, keeping them comfortable, moving them just enough not to cause pain but avoid bedsores, getting them to the doctor, advocating for their needs, dealing with insurance. If they’re lucky enough to get better or they do die, it’s the oddest thing. You’re free of… Read more »

Yankee Papa
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Yankee Papa

Luke, I’ve mentioned it before. Astronaut syndrome. While relatively young you walked on the Moon. So what the hell are you supposed to do now? First, recognize that you have it. I had to accept that before I was 29 years old I had hit the highest accomplishment plateau that I would ever know. Of course, nothing like my father’s… My father had been with the 3rd Infantry division from North Africa to Germany in WWII, the East side of the Chosin Reservoir with Task Force Faith in 1950… and spent a tour with the Ethiopian Kagnew battalion taking hills… Read more »

susanh
Member
susanh

Loved this, YP. What a wonderful post, so full of wisdom and a life having been lived. Thank you.

georgehand
Member

YP… I actually submitted an application to NASA to become an astronaut. While they told me I was qualified they didn’t accept me. Had I been a Doctor or Pilot I would have been a shoe-in.
geo sends

susanh
Member
susanh

Oh my goodness, Geo! How could NASA not accept you?? You’d have been an awesome astronaut!

Mason
Member
Mason

My new nick for you is “Moon Shot”.

georgehand
Member

That was magnificent, YP!
geo

susanh
Member
susanh

I concur!

Mason
Member
Mason

I hope more good fortune finds it’s way to you YP, great insight here.

Yankee Papa
Member
Yankee Papa

Mason,

Like everybody else, sometimes I’ve drawn the short straw. But more often it’s been a case of… “There I was…left holding the jackpot…” I’ve had a good run.

Best,

-YP-

susanh
Member
susanh

This is marvelous. Thank you, Luke.

Mason
Member
Mason

Crystallization, distillation. From your descriptions, combat, does this for yourself and other veterans. Everything non essential is stripped away, and the immediacy of life/living is rendered to it’s simplest terms. Hard to replicate in civilian life for most. Hard to find meaning in a cubicle, especially dealing with the day to day office drama – which can seem so shallow and narcissistic on the part of the actors participating in the grape vine. I cannot relate to anything you write about in combat, can’t imagine being in your shoes. I do live vicariously through you and others, and get a… Read more »

georgehand
Member

This is a very important and powerful essay; belongs in a textbook on how to succeed.
geo sends

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