The Most Difficult Decision of My Life: Returning to Civilian Life & Flawless Execution


I remember lying there for hours, staring at the ceiling and thinking – stressing – through the thousands of possible outcomes.

Here I was, a combat-tested and proven fighter pilot with almost 2,000 sorties under my belt. I had survived multiple deployments, a handful of major inflight emergencies, and numerous missions where life and death decisions were made in a split second…

What was wrong with me? I DON’T GET NERVOUS! I DON’T HAVE ANXIETY ABOUT ANYTHING! But this time, I was more than nervous; I was more than anxious.

I was scared.

That day, I had made the most difficult decision of my life. I had decided to separate from the United States Air Force and return to civilian life. With that one decision, my world had been flipped upside down.

The questions flew through my mind:

  • Where would we live? Should we move back home? There aren’t many jobs there…maybe somewhere else?
  • What would I do? Airline pilot? Schoolteacher? What am even I qualified for?
  • What if I can’t find a job? How does unemployment work? Will the Air Force take me back?
  • Do I have any valuable skills? I can fly airplanes…anything else?
  • How long can we survive on our savings? Probably not that long…
  • How much is health insurance? More importantly, what IS health insurance?
  • What do civilians wear to work? Suits? Does my suit still fit?
  • Plus many, many more!

Looking back on that night, many of these concerns seem silly, but at the time, they were frightening. If you have not served in the military, this may be difficult to comprehend.

You see, the military does an excellent job of indoctrinating and training new recruits. Think about that for a moment, this organization plucks 18-year olds from their childhood homes and molds and builds them into soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines in the world’s greatest military. The process to create these amazing soldiers takes years.

However, when these warriors eventually decide to return to civilian life, they are given a 5-day course on “How to be a civilian,” a stack of paperwork to turn into some mysterious organization called the “VA,” and a firm handshake from their supervisor. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, post 9-11 veterans have a 7.2% unemployment rate vs. the national average of 5.5%. With their extensive training and leadership experience, this shouldn’t be the case!

As veterans, most of us are woefully unprepared for the transition to civilian life. The Department of Defense has made great strides over the last decade improving their transition programs, but there is still much to be desired.

After surviving my own terrifying transition, I was grateful to be hired by an amazing organization named Afterburner.

Afterburner is a team of current and former fighter pilots, Navy SEALs, and other elite military professionals. We utilize a specific methodology to achieve success in our complex, dynamic, high-stakes military environment. We bring that same methodology to corporations around the world to help them connect strategy to execution, remain agile in an ever-changing marketplace, and accelerate the performance of the entire organization. We call that methodology Flawless Execution®.

The Flawless Execution® process is pretty simple: Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief. Repeat this iterative process over and over and you will see rapidly accelerated results. The methodology has been proven effective thousands of times within world-class organizations and Fortune 500 companies. However, the process is so scalable – so universal – so simple that our founder and CEO, Jim “Murph” Murphy, decided to apply it to the military transition process.

In 2013, Murph, Will Duke, Roger Nixon and other team members created the Afterburner Military Transition Seminar. A team of Afterburner facilitators would travel to each military installation and provide a FREE program for anyone that wanted to attend. We would apply the Flawless Execution® model – particularly our 6-Step Planning Process aligned to a strategic High Definition Destination (HDD) – to each participant’s individual transition plan. The program would remain free for veterans due to the generosity of our amazing corporate sponsors. As a new hire that had recently survived my own transition, I was excited to be a part of this team.

Flawless Execution In Action

Since that first program in 2013, we have worked with almost 2,000 veterans and their spouses at over 20 different military installations. At the end of each program, participants walk away with:

  • The Foundation of an Executable Career Plan
  • A Personal Value Proposition
  • A course in transitioning from the military to the business mindset
  • A copy of our transition guidebook “Down Range”
  • Much, much more

The results of the Afterburner MTS program have been astounding. At the end of each program, we ask veterans to debrief us, and our average score is a 9.55 out of 10. More importantly, instead of suffering through sleepless nights and anxiety attacks like I did, our participants are actually excited about the future!

The time is right for veterans to Flawlessly Transition!


David “Finch” Guenthner is a 2003 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a current member of the Montana Air National Guard.  While serving on active duty, Finch accrued almost 2000 hours in the F-16C Fighting Falcon and the T-38C Talon (a fighter/bomber trainer).  Finch has Flawlessly Executed 80 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was awarded 4 Air Medals for his actions.  Based on his performance, he was selected as one of just ninety Air Force representatives to handle the movement of Air Force One.  In addition to providing world-class consulting services for Afterburner, Finch is also a contributing editor for a not-for-profit, non-partisan website that hopes to spur responsible change in our federal government and make it more responsive to the needs of the people.