Helping veterans have a constructive transition from Active Duty and the Guard/Reserves is always difficult. Whether it is moving into the classroom or the workplace, these steps help make the transition process just a little bit easier.
Transitions Are Always Difficult, But They Can Be Immensely Rewarding. The transition from combat and the military to a peacetime setting can be eased when the military experience is viewed as an opportunity for the veteran to expand their skills and abilities in the business workplace. There is additional complexity to a military veteran’s immediate return from combat. The combat veteran will be undergoing two large transitions simultaneously: the transition from combat to peace, and the transition from the Army to the civilian world. This process is quite challenging and calls for a great deal of structure, understanding, and confidence in order for it to be done correctly. Here are some points of advice to help veterans make a successful transition.
(1) The Value Of Military Skills In The Workforce. In order to be successful in your second career, you must be able to bring your military training and experience to your civilian employment, so you can make a bigger impact within the business organization and increase your value to the organization. In the business world, the bigger the splash you make, the greater your chances of promotion and additional opportunity. A keystone for your success in business is to fully leverage all of your military training and experience in the corporate business world to make a bigger difference. Once you demonstrate your skills fully, the hiring marketplace for your skills will improve both inside and outside your company, even in a down economy. Employers of veterans often look to them to solve big challenges and take on additional responsibilities, thanks to their “can-do” attitudes and performance under-pressure skills. All veterans inherently recognize that the military-to-civilian transition is difficult, especially in the workplace. The key point of struggle is that recognizing the problem is not enough. Veterans need skills, tools, understandings, and approaches today to accelerate their careers and their employers’ business results.(2) What Are Your Plans And Goals? The military provides a great deal of social and professional structure on a daily basis. The fact that Army life is so structured (physical training, breakfast, training, work details and so on) actually helps reduce a great deal of stress because even after the return from combat, there is a daily structure to help guide you through life. Even for the most senior military veterans, there is a whirlwind of change and a complete lack of structure once you are released from active duty and return to the civilian world. Freedom is a great thing, but too much unstructured time can be a downfall that leads to excessive TV, video games, eating, solitude, and alcohol. Military veterans need a plan to create structure and discipline in their daily life so they do not lose focus on their goals. I advise veterans to create a list of what they want to do: exercise, see friends, sit in on classes at a college, work a part-time job, start a small business, or take on a constructive hobby such as photography or hiking. Having a daily structure built around goals makes the combat-to-civilian transition immensely easier, more productive, and much less likely to be derailed.
(3) What Is Your Story? Recent military veterans, since the start of the First Gulf War, make up a small percentage of the U.S. population. Veterans inevitably encounter the all too frequent and inane questions of: “How many people did you kill?” “Why are people still at Guantanamo?” “Where is Iraq?” “Are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan?” (The last is my personal favorite) It is best to have a set of practiced responses to these questions and others instead of becoming angry or despondent at people’s apparent lack of knowledge or concern. The vast majority of civilians are exceptionally proud of the military and its performance in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem that neither Douglas nor anyone else can solve is the growing gulf between the majority of Americans without military experience and the U.S. military veteran. A preset story that is simple and well described or some humorous anecdotes will greatly help veterans explain their time in combat and make them more comfortable doing so. This will not close the experience gap, but it will make a veteran more at ease explaining their time serving the country to an audience that knows very little about the military.
(4) Take Some Time To Explore. The literal descent from combat to the civilian world can be exceptionally disorienting. I advise veterans to structure their time, but to also take some time to explore the world that they have been away from. Traveling, doing the Outward Bound program for veterans (www.outwardbound.org), starting a small business, or taking a few college classes prior to full-time enrollment are excellent ways to try things out, explore and make sure that your next path in life is one that you want. Immediately going from combat to the civilian world to a job or the college classroom can at times be too much. A three- to six-month period to get comfortable, get sorted out and explore your options before jumping in is an excellent way to help make the combat-to-civilian transition a success.
(5) Understand Your Daily Risks. With the newfound freedom of the civilian world, there are plenty of things that can derail the successful career plans of a veteran. Alcohol, drug use, fast cars and motorcycles, men and women more interested in your bank account than you, and personal financial mismanagement are just a few of the dangers to which recent military combat veterans have succumbed. The transition from combat to the civilian world will be difficult, and there will be residual effects from combat exposure such as combat stress and the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the use of counseling, veteran-to-veteran conversation, exercise, a good diet, and programs that teaches military veterans stress-mitigation techniques all help reduce risky behavior and make for a much more successful transition.
(6) Do Not Be Afraid To Ask For Help And To Help Others. There are hundreds of resources to help military veterans process Veterans Affairs claims, treat stress, and find employment, and there are college programs to help veterans make the transition from combat to the classroom. In addition, military veterans are fantastic leaders, so there is space to help with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, shelters for homeless veterans and existing veteran’s service organizations. The ability to accept help and offer to help others is a skill that I have been amazed at in recent combat veterans.
Every veteran when they return from combat will have to chart their own course. Others and I have offered the steps and advice that we wish we had known about when we came back from combat. The experience of combat veterans is universal in that combat has changed us, but we are all seeking to use the experience of combat and what it taught us to improve our daily lives and the lives of others. Combat veterans are changed by their combat experience, but they can use it to better themselves and to ensure that they have a fulfilling, happy, and satisfying life.
About Chad Storlie
Chad Storlie is a US Army Reserve Special Forces officer with over 20 years of service in infantry, special forces, and joint headquarters units. He has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.
Chad is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. Chad has also taught marketing at Creighton University, developed Combat Analytics -- a counterinsurgency assessment process -- and written articles that have been published in the Harvard Business Review blog and several military journals. Chad holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.
His new book is Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career. Chad advises Afterburner, Inc as a Military Transition Specialist in the EMBED Division to teach and assist transitioning military personnel how to apply military skills to their next careers.