Christian Dobson, 34, left the Royal Navy in 2014 after serving for almost 10 years. He now works for an engineering company and is studying part-time for a BSc in Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Robert Gordon University.
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"Initially, I planned to remain in the Navy for a full career. I trained as a Mine Warfare Specialist. Unexpectedly, though, I was given the opportunity to transfer to the Royal Navy Photography Association due to the large portfolio of work I built up over the years. However, because of cutbacks the transfer did not go ahead, which ultimately informed my decision to leave the Navy, giving the required one year's notice. In my final year I served a full Gulf tour, my third, and it was difficult to get proper advice on resettlement and the transition into civilian life while I was on board ship.
"On my return to Faslane after leaving the Forces, I attended a health and safety management course and was visiting my sick father in between the sessions. I returned home one Tuesday and my dad died on the Saturday.
"Grieving for my father and without a structured resettlement package, I didn’t know what to do. I was ready and able to work and felt I had so much to offer but couldn’t seem to find a direction for a future career. Effectively, I was now unemployed without an income and with a mortgage to pay and a life to live. Although I had a number of GCSEs and A levels, I did not have a professional qualification, which is the minimum requirement for any engineering job. Luckily, I applied for a job with a firm which makes sensors for Remotely Operated Vehicles, which reflected my experience in the Navy. Normally, the firm employs university graduates, but agreed to employ me because they valued my positive attitude and work ethic – plus I had knowledge of sonar systems from my military career.
"Employment in ‘civvy street’ meant a salary cut, but I was excited at the prospect of my future career. As a member of the Armed Forces you become used to a certain lifestyle and a guaranteed salary for socialising, holidays and shopping. Even being single and without the responsibilities of providing for a family, it was still difficult. It took me about a year to learn how to budget within my reduced salary.
"The first 18 months of civilian life was very difficult at times. I missed being part of the Navy every single day: the tight daily structure; the predictability of my work, following orders; the camaraderie of friends on board ship; the focus and purpose. After so many years in the Armed Forces I was not only experiencing the feeling of being displaced but also realised that I was, in fact, institutionalised!
"Although I have usually been very careful with my money, I would have welcomed some preparation for life outside the Navy, especially financial advice about prioritising my spending, budgeting and managing my expectations - a financial health check prior to leaving the Navy. On reflection, I wish I had paid off my credit card debt and saved more.
"Help from an advisor or a mentor would have allowed me to check I was on the right track searching for jobs and explained about the civilian workplace and how attitudes differ from those on ship. Ideally, it is best to talk with someone with experience and knowledge of how the military operates, someone who understands about comradeship and camaraderie and the effect of the loss of such relationships.
"Once I got in touch, SSAFA proved invaluable, helping me with financial assistance while on resettlement training which enabled me to survive for a couple of months. After having been a professional so long, I was reluctant to ask for financial help but at the time I felt I had no other option.
"About a year after leaving the Navy I decided to seek counselling to deal with feelings of anxiety brought about my feelings of displacement, as well as my bereavement. Despite support from my family, formal counselling proved invaluable - the general, civilian population has little or no understanding of life in the Armed Forces and the huge implications of leaving.
"I am very proud to say that, despite all the many difficulties and drawbacks, I qualified last year with a Higher National Certificate in Electrical Engineering. My overall resolve to succeed in life is partly due to the discipline and work ethos I learned as a serving member of the Royal Navy and I will always be grateful for that."