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Separation Anxiety in the SEAL Teams

by Liz Brown

There is probably a specific day my husband decided to leave the SEAL Teams. I don't remember.

I don't remember how the conversation started. I don't know if Rob declared "Honey, it's time," or if he casually asked my opinion on re-enlistment. What I do remember, looking back, is fear and joy.

You may have heard the SEAL Teams referred to as "The Brotherhood." Only those who wear the trident understand what it takes to earn it. And only those men understand the terror of leaving it behind.

Rob had been in for over a decade when he decided to separate. The joy I mentioned? It was mostly mine. Though I take immense pride in his career, the Teams could never guarantee his safety. To know he would be home, he would be safe, and our future children would know their father, bathed me in relief.

But I did worry about him missing his brothers. I worried he might mourn his identity because being a SEAL was all he had known since high school. The potential alienation was incomprehensible.

For Rob, the fear was for failure. His nightmare was that we'd be forced to move in with his parents, we'd flounder for a year, and then he'd crawl back to the SEAL Teams. He was terrified he wouldn't make it on the outside.

We fought back with deliberate planning and communication. If there were surprises, we were able to handle them because the lines were open. We did our homework. He met with friends who had gotten out of the military, and friends who were in the reserves. He went to TAPS. We got great gouge from The Member Life Assistance Program at the UDT-SEAL Association.

It was a wild time gathering med records, getting his DD214, and trying to sell the house. But Rob was OK. Being ready for the next step helped. The previous year he had worked with a psychologist to figure out who he was when not a SEAL. Some people have professions and go to war. Others are professional warriors. Rob had countless questions and worked for over a year to answer them.

The goal was to find peace.

My role in that quest was straightforward: Support him. Be patient. Make him feel like we had equal investment in the future. Let him know I didn't love him for what he accomplished as a SEAL, but for who he is as a man. I didn't just encourage him with words, I put actions behind them. It may not seem like much to help write a resume, or sit on the floor of the garage and help him sort through 12 kit bags of gear (what to keep and what to give to the new guys?), but it matters. All of it matters.

I said most of the joy was mine when Rob separated. Not all of it. Yes, he misses his brothers — there are no other men on the planet like them. There is a thrill to climbing that next ridge line, though. We found a quiet spot of land to cultivate Life After the Military. And you know what? Good things are starting to grow.