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Focus Your Transition on Taking the High Ground

Handshake in white cuff shirt.

In 2006, during our nation's two longest wars, Generals David Petreaus and James Amos took the hard lessons we learned to date in Iraq and Afghanistan and rewrote the Army and Marine Corps' counterinsurgency manual. The revised field publication outlined a new strategy for how to fight and win an insurgency in the 21st century. Despite the revisions, the new strategy centered on a familiar principle that transcends centuries of war: taking the high ground.

In previous wars, the high ground, or the most advantageous place to be on the battlefield, was an elevated piece of terrain such as a hill or a mountain from which a unit could best defend themselves, build up their forces, and then advance to the next objective.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but conventional conflicts. We can't battle Al Qaeda the same way we did the Germans in World War II. Sitting on top of a hill with superior firepower is no longer an advantageous position. In fact, it's actually counterproductive when fighting an insurgency or an enemy that blends in with the local population. Generals Petreaus and Amos argued that the "high ground" in this type of asymmetric conflict isn't any type of terrain but rather the indigenous people.

In order to win this "terrain" we have to come off the hill and immerse ourselves in the community. We need to create relationships with the local people, understand their fears and needs, provide security, and show them that working with us is more prosperous than siding with the insurgents. We have to win their hearts and minds.  It's personal.  It's face-to-face combat.  The only way to win the war is to create one positive relationship at a time.

Your military transition is like fighting an insurgency; you can't just sit at home behind a computer and fling emails at people, nor can you depend solely on the traditional formal tools of job-hunting such as answering ads, posting resumes, signing up with recruiters, and going to job fairs. There is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that informal tools like networking are far more effective in a job search. You have to get out there and build relationships with the people in your community, ask questions, discover new opportunities, learn about different career paths, and figure out how you're going to continue to live a life of service and honor.

The high ground in your military transition is the people in your local community. Win this "terrain" and you'll have the information and opportunities needed to figure out the best next step in your life and career.

Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York.  He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.

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