Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




M. Sharon Herbers


Alison Buck


Alfredo Ortiz


Research Focus. Change and transition are life constants and are uniquely defined by the individual experiencing them—whether expected or unexpected, positive, negative, or neutral. Only the individual can determine the nature and impact of a transition experience. Military members transitioning from the military environment to civilian life after retirement experience change and transition on several levels—a career shift, a forfeiture of role and status as a military member, a lifestyle change, financial instability, a culture shift, and a loss of military community and friendships, to name a few. This transition represents an exit from, not just a job, but a way of life within a tight-knit community with strong social bonds and a sense of purpose as an integral part of the military—something bigger than myself—to becoming an individual in the larger civilian society. The military retirement transition requires concurrent life adjustments on several fronts at once, making this transition a complex and unique transition experience.

Research Methods. There are ample examples in the literature of transition challenges, especially regarding veterans with service-connected physical or mental health issues that hinder their transition to civilian life. However, many veterans have successful outcomes once they have adequately addressed the culture shock of leaving the military ‘ecosystem’ and re-establish their new role identity as a veteran. This study explores what happens during the successful military retirement transition as a phenomenon. Phenomenological analysis uncovered the description and essence of the successful military retirement transition. This exploration of the lived experiences of military retirees provided insights clarifying the military retirement transition experience from the perspective of successful transitions.

Research Results/Findings. A conceptual model and four overarching themes—the unified essences—emerged from the phenomenological analysis to clearly define the phenomenon: learning in transition, uniqueness of the transition experience, leveraging military experience, and freedom post-transition. Together, these overarching themes comprise the central characteristics of the phenomenon and are interwoven and interdependent to contribute to the general description of the successful military retirement transition phenomenon. The description consists of a general narrative and these four unified essences of the phenomenon. It reads: The successful military retirement transition is a multidimensional, complex, psychological process, a phenomenon comprised of a minimum of three simultaneous transitions for the military member: (1) a retirement from a career and a way of life after at least 20 years and (2) a career transition from a known to unknown organizational culture and (3) a shift in status and role identity upon leaving active-duty military service to become a veteran. These multiple, simultaneous transitions created a shift in the reality they have operated in for over two decades. Throughout the transition journey, each participant experienced (1) learning—about themselves, the transition process, and their new reality; (2) a unique transition experience, based on their situation, level of family support, their transition strategy, and newly emerging identity (what they wanted to do and who they wanted to be); (3) leveraging their experience to overcome challenges that arose and (4) finally finding freedom in their new reality. It is a journey to becoming ‘full,’ where the multiple losses experienced in the multiple transitions get exchanged for the things that make new veterans complete in their new lives, careers, and roles as civilian workers and members of the civilian community.

Conclusions from Research. There is a need to understand military civilian transitions better. Including a description and conceptual model of the successful military retirement transition adds a data point in understanding the military civilian transition process from the perspective of veterans who have successfully transitioned. The uniqueness and complexity of the military civilian transitions described in this study and highlighted in previous research also point to the need for a holistic approach to transition that is tailored to address the individual needs of each new veteran. Reflection and the addition of arts-based elements played a facilitating role in the successful outcomes of the participants and a key role in data collection and analysis for this study. The study highlights several implications for further research to facilitate successful outcomes for transitioning veterans.