Finding Purpose

History, Philosophy, Theology and Classic Wargaming

Retired Military Field Grade Officers Finding Purpose

Finding Purpose

My mission here is simple, to help people like me, retired military field grade officers, navigate life after service and find happiness, fulfillment and purpose.

I write to a small population, retired military field grade officers. Folks that spent twenty-plus years in the military and retired in the ranks of Major through Colonel (Army, Marine Corps and Air Force) and Lieutenant Commander through Captain (Navy and Coast Guard).

Just like every other demographic within the military and veteran community this small group shares some of the general characteristics and it differs in some ways from the general veteran stereotype. The fact is, this group does not fit neatly into what most articles, books and opinions define as a veteran, we have different needs, challenges, concerns and opportunities.

I have chosen this cohort because historically, since the time of Napoleon, this level of rank and responsibility have been associated together.   Certainly, there are differences in where one sits at the table, but the echelon and experience are the same.  I include in this number Chief Warrant Officers Four and Five because frankly in the US Army and USMC these are really just the equivalent of Naval Limited Duty Officers. I discount the current trend of using the term “senior Leader” to denote some mythical additional tier of rank that does not equate to the historical narrative or well-established doctrine.

In post-retirement military terms, retired military field grade officers have much more in common than not.  At the top end of the spectrum, only a few Colonels can command an immediate senior role in a Fortune 500 company (e.g. the Big 9 Defense contractors) in the way many Flag officers can.  Senior manager, VP etc. are within reach but far less likely as the enviable golden parachute available to many well-placed generals and admirals (again speaking of Fortune 500’s, I am not talking about SVP at some regional gig).   At the lower end of the spectrum, senior manager and VP are accessible to some Majors in very large corporations, but seldom if ever immediately.  When seeking employment right out of the service, the middle of the bell-curve is often looking in the same places. This group still operates in the same space, perhaps different chairs at the table in employment terms but a shared space just like while in the military.

(The above is an oversimplification of a complex topic I intend to address in detail later.  My point is two-fold.  First, the majority of this group that seeks post-military employment targets the same types of jobs. Therefore, most are in the same boat.  Second, and more importantly, considerations of employment ought to occur after an evaluation of the entire purpose of retirement taking into account happiness, fulfillment and real needs.)

In terms of shared experiences outside of the employment sphere, retired military field grade officers have even more in common. The rank of Major is the first that I would consider being almost automatic financial independence mode.  I know, there are hundreds of examples of others that achieve this goal at other ranks, and they should be praised.  Those folks were simply smart with their money.  At 04 and above it is harder to mess that up.  This presents opportunity.

Why be so “exclusionary”?

Noncommissioned officers stick together and take care of their own, there is plenty written that applies to them in transition.  Likewise, the general veteran transition advice that fills most search results applies in various ways to both junior enlisted and company grade officers (e.g. get certifications, polish a resume, focus, network etc.), as that group generally must seek employment. Flag officers have their own thing, they either achieved enough influence during their career to secure a comfortable position with a major corporation or educational institute or they are utterly unemployable – I can provide advice to neither of those categories.   Field-grade officers, however, just do not fit neatly into the needs, difficulties and opportunities of any other group.

Besides, I can only write from my own experiences and observations.  Thus, this is not exclusionary, it is serving an underserved population with experiences that are real to me.

In the years prior to my own retirement, I watched folks in this cohort transition out.  I kept up with some of them and noticed certain trends related to what people did after, obviously not a scientific study and perhaps skewed by my personal bias.  My own transition, beginning with sitting in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and noticing what I perceived as good and bad outlooks among fellow field grades brought me back to those previous observations.  Why do some of us find happiness faster than others?   What are our unique challenges?   What are our unique differences for those that might seek to employ us?  What opportunities do we have?   These are some of the questions I hope to investigate here.

So that defines who I hope to share with but how many of us are out there?

Seven percent (7%) of the total US population ever serves. [1]  Only 17% of those that serve make it to a 20-year retirement. [2]   Of those that serve, only 5.59% fall within the demographic of field grade officers. [3]  If we include Chief Warrant officers four and five in that number, a reasonable inclusion, the percentage increases to 7.1%.   As of this article, the US population is 326,752,306. [4]  Seven percent of that is 22,872,661.   By my rough monkey math, this leaves about 1,278,581 as a potential audience for my words.   Alternatively, I could have utilized the Statistical Report on the Military Retirement System by the Department of Defense Actuary and arrived at a number of 423,356. [5]

Bottomline the population that might be interested in what I have to say here is small, just taking those numbers above, retired military field grade officers comprise just .13% of the US population.  This is a small and unique group.

What if we expand that circle a bit?

Considering all of the items written and posted about veterans in general – topics and advice that does not always directly apply to retired military field grade officers specifically – might friends, associates, family and potential employers also be served occasionally by a discussion related to the uniqueness of this very small demographic?  Perhaps as a way to clear up misconceptions and open more authentic dialogue and opportunities. I hope so.

Join me, contribute ideas in the comments or via email, correct me where I am wrong and point me to the information I miss.  I hope the writing presented here serves the intended purpose.

retired military field grade officers


Barry Lee Clark, Major, USA (Ret)


[1] What percentage of Americans are military veterans?

[2] The Need to Reform Military Compensation

[3] 2015 Demographics: PROFILE OF THE MILITARY COMMUNITY pg.53

[4] U.S. Population (LIVE)

[5] Statistical Report on the Military Retirement System MRS, pg. 54

Barry Clark