Beyond being the best: the role of education in transition from British Army to ‘Civvy Street’

Having banged on about the ‘forthcoming’ thesis for months, here’s a flavour of what I intend it to do, by way of the latest version of the introduction. In airing it, I hope this is the final push I need to assemble the many thousands of words written so far, and produce the final draft adjudged acceptable for submission:


This study is framed within a part-time doctorate in education—a degree described as a ‘professional’ qualification by Scott et al. (2004). As such, I consider it the continuation of a professional development process begun while serving as an Education Officer in the British Army, and continuing now while I am engaged as a civilian consultant in military education and training. While serving in the Army, I began a Master of Education degree, which I completed after my premature discharge from uniformed service on account of illness. Following achievement of my Master’s degree, and while continuing to act as a civilian consultant in the military training arena, I progressed onto this doctorate in education; the subject matter of which I turn to now.

My former uniformed role included provision of advice to those preparing to leave the British Army, by pointing them towards appropriate courses and information aimed at supporting their transition back into civilian life. Yet, when it came to my own transition, I believe I was wholly unprepared.

My army career­ was, barring illness or other complications, contractually due to end on my 55th birthday. However, I was diagnosed with cancer aged 38, and this led to the early termination of my tenure just over two years later—well before I arrived at the otherwise prescribed retirement age of 55.

This ‘traumatic’ (Cooper et al., 2016) and premature departure from the Army created huge personal and professional challenges in my experience. What is more, literature that I will consider in detail in the next chapter suggests that I am not alone in encountering such challenges in the context of leaving the United Kingdom’s (UK) armed forces, and indeed those of other closely aligned countries. The British Army is, as Goffman (1963) suggests, an organisation that bears the hallmarks of a ‘total institution’, and therefore one that ‘is typically different from civilian life’ (Cox et al., 2018, p. 59).

Indeed, recent decades have seen much governmental and academic interest in why this might be, culminating at the time of writing this introduction in a UK parliamentary inquiry suggesting that more research and practical output is necessary in order to ‘better’ understand the experience of armed forces’ transition, so as to provide more appropriate support to those embarking on it (House of Commons, 2018).

Accordingly, I set out to respond to this appeal via this thesis, and do so by calling attention to key themes that emerge as potential challenges to a ‘successful transition’ (Cox et al., 2018). These themes include issues and theories of identity, trauma, loss, guilt, grief, stigma, resilience and camaraderie, as well as how in reflexively considering all these, military leavers and veterans might overcome barriers to successful transition, and use this reflexivity as a catalyst for a greater transitional success. What transitional success might look like is addressed in later chapters, and indeed is the crux of the practical educational output I recommend towards the end of this thesis.

In the next chapter I attend to relevant definitions, theory and pertinent literature, before justifying my chosen methodological approach in Chapter 3. The related methods are derived from an autoethnographic methodology, based on a qualitative exploration of my own experience of transition, as also explained in Chapter 3. In this respect, this exploration is conducted from my viewpoint as a former uniformed advisor on transition, but also from my perspective as a veteran that has undergone the same process I once advised on. In so doing, I consider my experience in light of broader literature presented in Chapter 2 (attending to issues of military to civilian transition), and communicate this analysis, along with conclusions and recommendations, in subsequent chapters.

Correspondingly, I use this methodological and theoretical basis to present both a synopsis of my experience, and an analysis of it in Chapters 4 and 5 respectively. From this foundation, I then go on to make recommendations as to how a greater educational input into pre- and post-British armed forces’ career departure might reduce such challenges for others, and do so in Chapter 6.

Therein lies the contribution I wish this thesis to make. Indeed, a study such as this would appear timely given the apparently mounting ‘interest among policy officials, charity representatives and academic experts in understanding the transition process for Service leavers’ (Cox et al., 2018, p. xiii).

Furthermore, given a widely acknowledged paucity of qualitative inquiry (Cooper et al., 2016; González, 2016; Sondergaard et al., 2016) into ‘how coming out of the Army [and wider military context] is individually experienced’ (Walker, 2010, p. ii), my research offers a qualitative case study, and does so in an effort to fill this gap. My aim is to influence the UK government and charity representatives that collectively support UK military leavers and veterans, and are adjudged to need to do better (House of Commons, 2018; Brewer and Herron, 2018).

Where I began my professional career as a British Army education officer, part of whose role was to assist others in preparing to transition out of the British Army, I now seek to continue both my own learning via this study, and to continue to serve those that I was officially charged with supporting while in uniform. For reasons that I develop in Chapter 4, this commitment is something of a vocation. I felt called to do this from an early age, and this calling continues to drive me now. I come from a background of educators and uniformed public servants, and I followed them into a career that enabled me to combine both. When this career ended, another phase of my learning journey began, and it is this learning that I now seek to bring to bear in the discussion around what is, and what could be done to better support military leavers and veterans as they prepare for and undergo transition. What it has done for me personally is explored in Chapter 7, by way of a reflexive epilogue. This also serves as an example of how the recommendations I make in the penultimate chapter might offer practical and psychological succour to my fellow military leavers and veterans.

It was to them that I dedicated my efforts while in uniform, and it is to them I dedicate my learning in this thesis.


Brewer, J.D., and Herron, S (2018) How Counter-Insurgency Warfare Experiences Impact upon the Post-Deployment Reintegration of Land-Based British Army Personnel. Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2018).

Cooper, L., Caddick, N., Godier, L., Cooper, A., and Fossey, M. (2016) ‘Transition from the Military into Civilian Life: An Exploration of Cultural Competence’, Armed Forces & Society, 44(1), pp. 156-177.  Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2018).

Cox, K., Grand-Clement, K.G., Flint, R., and Hall, A. (2018) Understanding resilience as it affects the transition from the UK Armed Forces to civilian life.  Available at: (Accessed: 4 July 2018).

Goffman, E. (1963) Stigma. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

González, J.M. (2016) The Experiences of Army Enlisted Veterans Working in Non-Defense Industries and the Perceived Influence This Transition Has on Their Self-Identity.  PhD thesis. Capellam University.  Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2018).

House of Commons Defence Committee (2018) Mental Health and the Armed Forces: The Scale of mental health issues. Available at: (Accessed : 29 July 2018).

Scott, D., Brown, A., Lunt, I., and Thorne, L. (2004) Professional Doctorates. Integrating Professional and Academic Knowledge,Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education and Academic Knowledge & Open University Press.

Sondergaard, S., Robertosn, K., Silfversten, E., Anderson, B., Meads, C., Schaefer, A., and Larkin, J. (2016) Supporting UK Service leavers and their families in the transition to civilian life. Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2018).

Walker, D.I. (2010) Narrating identity: Career soldiers anticipating exit from the British Army.  PhD thesis. Durham University.  Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2018).

3 thoughts on “Beyond being the best: the role of education in transition from British Army to ‘Civvy Street’

  1. Hi Graham,

    A piece of work that’s long overdue and you are exactly the right person to complete it.

    I have many thoughts I would like to share with you on this and would like to catch up with you again if possible. I am also a surviving cancer veteran like yourself and it might be interesting for you to know how I was supported by civilian employers when suffering from a highly agressive lymphoma that nearly terminated my life. You might be surprised.

    I am now about to retire following an interesting second career. I always find it interesting seeing how service leavers transition to industry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Richard,

      Really good to hear from you again, and (notwithstanding you had to go through it) that you are surviving your own cancer experience.

      Thanks also for your feedback, and the suggestion we get together again. I would be delighted to do so.

      Where are you based these days? Perhaps you could message me via our LinkedIn connection?


  2. Reblogged this on War Stories and commented:
    The following is a re-blog of Graham Cable’s summary of his forthcoming thesis on education and transition. The theme of ‘narrative transformation’ speaks to this blog’s core interest in war stories. Graham’s blog ‘Write for you life’ is well worth exploring for stories of transition and we look forward to engaging with his work when it becomes available.

    Liked by 1 person

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