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The Return – A Field Manual For Life After Combat by David Danelo
Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2014, 148 pages
Non-fiction, Self-help, Military issues

Amp Productivity By Moving Through Exile

David Danelo lays out his philosophy for moving successfully from season to season with purpose. His book is directed toward combat veterans but there’s plenty of juice for busy professionals who find themselves in transition between careers and personal milestones. How do we move through a period of exile between what was and what might be? It’s a question everyone must masterfully answer or sink in the transition’s quicksand.

“An ending is a process, not a period.” David Danelo

What’s It About?

Author’s topic – The Return is about the combat veteran’s transition from war to peace, from soldier to civilian, from chaos to civilization. Danelo spends a great deal of ink on the philosophy of exile between seasons and how to successfully navigate the period between what was and what may be.

Main points

  1. Spiritual peace is the pathway through exile. We cannot achieve peace through politics, rather, it’s an individual quest to find order and freedom within the soul.
  2. Danelo takes issue with the divide between civilians and veterans. The obligatory “thanks for your service” misses the mark of the veteran’s purpose. They do it for themselves and their brothers and sisters, not primarily for the country’s population at large. He deftly uses a quote from Vietnam War and USMC veteran Tim Craft to illustrate the point: “For those that will fight for it, freedom has a flavor the protected shall never know.”
  3. Many veterans pursue entrepreneurship because it “requires an enthusiasm for risk that can border on insanity.”
  4. Danelo had a hard time finding community during his exile period. He learned to stop thinking he had to fit in somewhere.
  5. The author draws a bright line between transitioning and returning. A career or life transition involves repurpose of self and skills. The return is a spiritual cycle, staying grounded through a walk in opposite worlds, navigating a new normal and an “awareness of duality in war and peace.”
  6. War and peace are a stark contrast but there are parallels too.

Significant or interesting chapter or angle

Chapter 53 is my favorite part of the book. Danelo’s quote from T.S. Eliot is incredibly moving and expertly placed at the book’s prologue for maximum impact upon the reader.

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

This quote and Danelo’s explanation of beginning and endings is powerful. His philosophy for letting go of the past and looking toward the next season resonated with me on a spiritual level. I am an US Army veteran and a corporate casualty of the commercial real estate industry implosion in the late 2000’s. I can relate to the difficulties of moving past something incredibly fulfilling to uncertainty about what’s next. I, like the author, struggled to find a place where I “fit in” after my career as an officer ended. Nothing since has compared to wearing the uniform and clinging to that pleasantness may have prolonged my exile. At some level, I think I’m still holding onto the most meaningful part of my work life. And that has prolonged my suffering and exile. Danelo helped me move a little closer to a full return from active military service.

“Life is neither a line nor a circle. It is both.” David Danelo

My Critique

Purpose accomplished? Yes! Danelo paints a compelling argument for recognizing and moving through exile. But, much like the death of close friend, we heal at our own pace. The process cannot be rushed. The author gives us license to breathe and move through exile that is unique to each person.

Author’s qualifications to write about this topic. Danelo knows what he’s talking about, having served as a battle tested US Marine Corps officer, transitioned veteran and successful author.

Writing style – Danelo writes from a first-person perspective with deep compassion for returning veterans and all those moving through exile. He implores without lecturing, encourages without judgement and teaches without preaching.

“The spiritual realm, not the political one, is where the returning warrior must go when looking to find the way out of Exile.” David Danelo

Big takeaway – I found a lot of value in the four resilience structures on page 139. Danelo found inspiration from Jane McGonigal, a game researcher, who found physical, emotional, mental and social resilience to overcome serious head trauma. Resilience is a way of life, not an end goal. We seek to build resilience but it’s a lifelong quest toward mastery. I’m a big fan of building resilience. Resilience, Hard-Won Wisdom For Living A Better Life by Eric Greitens is an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about how to build the four resilience structures found in Danelo’s book. Learn more in my review of Eric Greiten’s book.

Big Disagreement – I wanted more love for military veterans who served in wartime and peacetime but never fired a shot at an enemy. A small fraction of the military has served in a combat zone and even fewer have engaged in combat. But many non-combat veterans face the same kind of exile Danelo speaks about. The loss of identity, purpose and meaning is just as real for those who were never deployed to a combat zone but still stood the watch in defense of freedom.

Recommendation and rating – I strongly recommend The Return by David Danelo for returning combat and non-combat veterans. It’s also an excellent resource for non-military professionals navigating their way through a personal or professional exile
Buy The Return: A Field Manual for Life After Combat on Amazon!

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions in this review are my own and have not been influenced by the author, publisher or any other person.

Michael Shelton helps busy professionals get their life's work done as a productivity consultant and the owner of Shelton Business Services, LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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