MJN Spotlight: Charlie Bell

Charlie Bell joined the Army in 2005 through the College Option Officer Candidate School. He was a field artillery officer, and served most of his time in Fort Bragg. During his first tour with the 18th Fires Brigade, he was deployed to Afghanistan. His second tour was with the 82nd Airborne Division, which included a tour in Iraq in 2011.

Charlie’s service ended in 2015, and he started law school almost immediately. Even though he had plans right away, his transition out of the service was not easy. For people who have spent many years in the military, Charlie said it can be difficult to find who you are. “Reaching the point in my life where I was no longer a soldier, it was hard to redefine [my] identity,” he said.

Charlie thinks it was the right decision for him to leave the army when he did. He is temperamentally fit for law school, but said there are certain things he misses about the military. “I miss airborne operations,” Charlie said. “It was so fun, I would love to have the opportunity to do it again.”

One difficult aspect of the transition for Charlie was the culture shock moving from military to civilian life. “Most people in the US don’t understand the military experience,” he said. He attributes this division partially to news coverage of the military, and partially to service members’ difficulty sharing their stories. “Most people, they don’t understand,” he said. “It’s not like World War II where everyone served.”

Charlie attends Georgetown Law School, and said there is a good veteran culture on the campus. He has been able to make friends with fellow veterans, but said it takes more effort to connect with people who have not served in the military. One instance where he realized the extent of the divide between veterans and civilians was when one of his non-veteran classmates told him about the work she had done in Vietnam. When Charlie heard Vietnam, he immediately thought about his mentor’s experience during the Vietnam War, and did not associate the country with the same things as his classmate. “We are just going to see the world a little differently,” he said.

For anyone who wants to go to law school after the military, Charlie said to take the LSAT as soon as possible. The process for getting into law school is very long, he said, which means it is important to start early. “Make sure law school is what you want to do,” Charlie said. “Its harder than the military, so you’ve got to love it.”

To anyone in the process of transitioning out of the military, Charlie said to use their experience to build networks. “There are a lot of opportunities out there, and a lot of your success in the civilian world depends on the strength of the networks you can rely on,” he said. The military creates strong connections between veterans that are readily available to those who have just left the service. “Recently transitioned veterans have strong networks within the military, but they don’t realize the network they have outside, [with] smart people in many fields,” Charlie said. “Make sure you are working those networks.” Military networks can translate into civilian opportunities. “Those connections from your time in service can turn into opportunities further down the road,” he said.

One of the most important things Charlie would tell a transitioning service member is that it is important to talk about what happened. “Don’t be afraid to tell your story,” he said. “Even if it’s uncomfortable, it’s important to help the people who don’t understand our experience to understand it a little better.”