You may find yourself with a void after leaving the structured environment of a military career. Whether you are taking time to decide on what to do next, retiring for good, or have a scattered new schedule, it is likely you will be missing all or some of the way of life you were accustomed to. Veterans tend to seek out hobbies that align with the military culture. In some cases, those activities may even translate to a job.
Here are some of the trending leisurely pursuits happening in today’s military and veteran community.
1. They PT — on their own terms
Remember those required unit runs and mandatory annual PFTs? If you weren’t an exercise enthusiast before joining the military, you may have developed an affinity for working out because it was an ongoing requirement of your job.
Marine veteran Lance Nelson loved working out, but never really thought of running as something fun to do.
“I was a gym rat, known for trying to get into the gym seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. I maintained some level of running fitness so I would be ready for our PFTs, but it was never a focus,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t until my second deployment that I realized people ran as a hobby. I noticed Marines in my squadron going out for their early morning runs … they all seemed to really enjoy it. It peeked my interest, so I started going out for runs on the desert trails.”
Three years after leaving the Marine Corps, and after an injury, Nelson got involved with endurance sports — from 5Ks all the way up to 50-mile ultramarathons.
“Those first few years out of the Marine Corps were crazy. I never imagined how hard it would be to transition back to the civilian world. I’ve been out for 12 years now, and I have finally accepted the fact that I will never be a ‘true civilian’ again, but during those early years, I spent most of my time trying to figure out life and sort of fell away from physical fitness,” he shared. “The introduction to endurance running helped to bring me back into the fold and created a nice balance in my life.”
Today, he documents his runs on his Facebook page, OxenTrot, named after his military call sign and his life as a runner. He says it is common to see veterans at the events, as endurance sports provide an outlet that aligns with skills gained in the military.
“First, it encourages discipline, dedication, and consistency. These are things that veterans are very familiar with and skills that endurance training can help keep sharp. Additionally, running long distances utilizes time management, logistics planning, and gear testing,” he explained. “I regularly see veterans out on the course doing amazing things, whether it is wearing shirts in honor of a fallen warrior or running while carrying our National Flag, to completing a race with a fully loaded ruck sack and gas mask. … You don’t have to look far to find a fellow veteran and, in all honesty, we have a tendency to gravitate towards each other anyway.”
2. They go outdoors
Service members have some experience with being outside. Cue memories of being in the field, living in rigorous terrain, and roughing it for undetermined amounts of time. Sierra Club Outdoors created a program specifically to encourage veterans and their families to get outside. The organization believes it helps with the transition process, while fostering “mental and physical health, emotional resiliency, and leadership development,” according to their website.
They organize outings in different regions of the country on a continual basis, such as hikes, ice climbing, and river rafting. Mabari Byrd, who is a regional coordinator for the Tri-State area, discussed what he observed from the veterans he met during a recent rafting trip in Texas.
“Watching them outdoors really exhibited a sense of calmness and also a sense of confidence, if that makes sense. The leadership that was instilled through their participation serving in the military shined through, but it also was embedded in their personality,” Byrd said. “During a lot of the exploration and the hikes, we would joke around and have fun, but also a lot of that leadership and attention to detail came through.”
3. They get creative
From photography to painting to writing, the healing powers of art therapy has become so evident that the Department of Veterans Affairs has pursued programming around it. Plus, private organizations are catching on. Here are just a few groups offering veterans an outlet to express themselves creatively:
- Veteran Artist Program
- Nebraska Arts for Veterans
- Veterans Writing Project
- American Healing Arts Foundation
4. They brew beer
Beer is a pretty popular staple at military functions. In recent years, brewing it at home or professionally has become attainable. Naval Aviator Ron Gamble, for example, got started after receiving a gift from his wife and now owns Veterans United Craft Brewery in Jacksonville, Fla.
“When I was a kid, my dad made wine, and back in 1999, my wife bought me a home brew kit for Christmas so that’s kind of what got it all going. A simple bucket with a little kit,” Gamble said. “Basically a hobby became a passion, which eventually led to a profession.”
Gamble served eight years active duty and four years in the reserves. He built six companies from the ground up before landing on his seventh — a startup brewery that employs several veterans. Prior to launching the business, he realized he had more to learn and attended brewing school in 2007.
He says for those looking to try out brewing at home, “It can be as simple as less than a 100 bucks to as elaborate as spending $6,000 … from one of these home brewers online.” Additionally, he sees several reasons why beer brewing would be a natural fit for fellow vets.
“Beer is a very communal type of beverage, usually when you have a beer you’re not drinking it by yourself — you’re drinking it with your friends and family,” he described. “I think it’s a very process-oriented activity. It’s a combination of art — creating the design, and then the process of going through a step-by-step regime and creating something from scratch. A lot of the military folks have been stationed all over the world, so they’ve been in places where they’ve had great beers and they just can’t find something here. And then there’s that sense of I’m creating something, I’m building something. That’s what the military is all about — how you can accomplish a task at hand given you may not have all the information. That’s what brewing is.”
Veterans United Craft Brewery offers guided tours and is also distributed at locations in Northeast Florida.
Life outside the military offers more control over how you manage your time. Even if you have entered a post-military career, you may be seeking some way to stay connected to the types of activities you were used to or ones that allow you to use your skills. There are a number of organizations offering opportunities to connect with other veterans through these trending hobbies, and social media is an easy tool to find structured meetups in the local area.