The 12 Biggest Regrets of U.S. Military Personnel

[July 6, 2018]  Occasionally most of us reflect back in time to the decisions we’ve made and have seen the biggest regrets we made.  Perhaps it was that we wish we had married that rich girl from the other side of town.  Or that we quit the military.  Our military members have regrets too and I surveyed them recently and I’m now, finally publishing the results.

I put out a survey of over 100 military members and received 73 responses.1  The results had a few surprises.  In a paper entitled “The Ideal Road Not Taken,” some Cornell psychologists did the same thing in a scientific study.  Mine was not scientific but there are similarities.

“In the end … we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”2 –, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, English writer and better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll

In the U.S. military, we are told to follow the rules and we will be successful, happy, and fulfilled.  Their answers fell into two large categories: 1) things they regret doing and 2) things they regret they should have done.  The majority fell into the second category.  Here are the results:

12 Things U.S. military members regret doing or not doing:

  1. Not having a combat tour of duty.
  2. Not accomplishing more and doing more things in their military occupational skill.
  3. Working too much and consequently spending too little time with the family.
  4. Allowing their emotions to interfere with.
  5. Not taking a difficult job that would later propel them to faster promotions.
  6. Staying in better physical shape by doing more and proper exercises.
  7. Not understanding or appreciating the multitude of opportunities.
  8. Not mentoring others.
  9. Not taking advantage of military or civilian schools.
  10. Not being sufficiently assertive.
  11. Failing to prioritize correctly.
  12. Allowing key military relationships to go unattended.

These dozen things were not all surprising to me.  The first one, however, took me back to the time I was a junior officer.  None of us wanted war but if there was one, we wanted to be part of it.  That was the whole point of being in the military – to be prepared for war – and so it seemed only logical that most of us would want to be there with our buddies and for the United States.


  1. The questions asked was: “What is your single biggest regret in life as a member of the U.S. military Armed Forces?”
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

29 thoughts on “The 12 Biggest Regrets of U.S. Military Personnel

  1. José Luis Rodriguez

    I regret not joining the military. Everyone I know has at least some time in the military and I miss the respect from not having the guts at the time to join.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Another good article as we slip into the weekend. Be sure you don’t do anything you will regret.

  3. Martin Shiell

    Failing to prioritize life’s wants and desires is a bigger one than most realize. Thanks for the list of 12.

  4. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I always tell my students that if they violate the rules of the school or ethical standards of behavior, they will live to regret it for the rest of their lives.

  5. Mike Baker

    I would suggest that lying for personal gain is a major regret. Many young people lie as easily as I drink coffee. Later in their lies catch up to them and has a negative effect upon their credibility and careers. Don’t lie is the leadership lesson.

    1. Forrest Gump

      Spot on, Mike. Too many people lie about things that should never even consider. My cousin used to lie and say I was handsome. That’s different than lying on your job application. However, there is a school of thought that any lie is as bad as any other lie.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      Yep, this is one of the bad ones.

  6. Darryl Sitterly

    One of my life’s biggest regrets is that my past is full of times when I did not stand up to bullies. Not those “perceived” bullies like many college students today think about but real bullies who beat up people, stole their money and terrorized my friends. I did nothing out of fear. That real fear, moral and physical fear, was overwhelming for me. I think many people are exactly like me. How sad I was. No longer, now I act!

    1. Kenny Foster

      Darryl, thanks for being so honest with us. I think many of us have the same regret.

    2. Mark Evans

      Yep, same here. I have the same regret.

  7. Scotty Bush

    Kinda like life’s regrets. Good post today.

  8. Wesley Brown

    Thanks for a great start to my morning, Gen. Satterfield. Well written.

  9. Joe the Aussie

    Just like my own list of regrets.

  10. Doug Smith

    🙂 Comprehensive list. Thanks.
    Most people never even think about reading such a list. I would suggest that it has value in that it lets us examine our own regrets and how we can act to avoid them.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Thanks Dennis, yes this was also a very good article.

  11. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Much appreciate the informative article this morning. I’ll add number 13, “Not making friends.”

  12. Jerome Smith

    Another good article today Gen. Satterfield. I was enjoying my coffee while reading it. Thanks.

  13. Max Foster

    My opinion is that this list is a classic. Regardless our profession or not, this applies to us because we are human.

  14. Army Captain

    As a current member of the US military, I think what you have is pretty accurate. The first one on the list about not having a combat tour is one I hear about all the time. That may surprise people who are civilians but being in the military is about going to war. It’s not that we like it, but that it is something we prepared for all our adult lives.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      I agree too that this is a big one.

    2. Georgie M.

      Yes, and thank you both for your service.

    3. Anita

      Good to get a military person’s perspective on this. Good job, Army Captain.

  15. Janna Faulkner

    I like the list and it would be similar to other occupations.

Comments are closed.