Advancing National Service

After Combat, These Veterans Are Trying to Fit in with Their Generation

August 1, 2014
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After Combat, These Veterans Are Trying to Fit in with Their Generation
Millennials veterans often have trouble relating to their civilian peers according to one study. Getty Images
Millennials that have served in the Armed Forces have an outlook on life that differs drastically from their peers'.

Most millennials would probably agree that their generation has had a tough break. They are viewed by their elders as lazy, they face a limited workforce and they are on the precipice of adulthood wondering how to make a difference. However, there is one group of millennials often left out of this equation working through the same problems and more: Veterans.

When millennial veterans return home, they are left working through their past while at the same time, preparing for their future with a group of people to whom they can’t relate.

As any twenty-something can testify, stepping onto a college campus for the first time is a nerve-wracking situation. It’s easy to get roped into a stereotype based on a first encounter, and, for veterans, that happens almost automatically. According to their peers, former soldiers are either aimless and hipster or psychologically wounded and suffering from PTSD.

Most often, neither is the case. It’s simply that the two groups are at different stages of life with different experiences.

Professor Joseph Arnett distinguishes millennials from what he dubs emerging adults. While a millennial defines a generation, an emerging adult is someone oscillating on the brink of adulthood.  Most millennials are on that line, whereas veterans have usually passed into adulthood already.

“I would expect that when veterans come out of the military, they feel like they’re already there,” Arnett told The Atlantic. “They’re not in this in-between state that most emerging adults find themselves.”

Crossing that line mainly depends on responsibility — something that has been ingrained in millennial veterans.

While veterans have higher sense of responsibility, they also have a different understanding of stress. For them, upcoming finals just aren’t stressful compared to combat.

James Cetto was an infantry sergeant in the Marines Corps who deployed twice, was shot at and killed five men. Now, he studies business at Framingham State College in Massachusetts. For him, stress is something that his peers wouldn’t understand.

“When I talk to college kids about stress, I don’t try to put my service out there,” Cetto told The Atlantic. “But finals come by, and they lose their f*** minds about how stressed out there are, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be nervous, but their lives won’t end if they get a B.”

Despite the differences, though, these millennials are all united by the same burning question: What is my place in the future? And that’s something that only time can answer.

MORE: This Veteran is Building Better Futures for Other Service Members

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