The author, a former U.S. Air Force captain, is a job readiness and training manager with the Nebraska Veteran Leader Corps program.
When someone asks me what I did in the Air Force, I pause and say, “I was a nuclear missile operator.”
I pause because I have been asked enough times to know that the response is usually, “Oh … OK,” followed by a blank stare. Even my closest friends and family still don’t understand exactly what I did in the military.
When I left the Air Force and started applying for civilian jobs, I was faced with the challenge of telling a human resources representative what I did in the military without getting that blank look.
I’m not alone. Only one in 600 corporate HR representatives has any military background, and with 1.2 million veterans projected to return to the civilian work force in the next four years, this is an issue for veterans entering corporate America.
It can be difficult to effectively convey what a veteran did in the military to a civilian business culture. But when you dig a little deeper, a veteran’s overarching qualities, skills and abilities are exactly what a business needs and wants.
For example, I was trained to rapidly launch the world’s most destructive weapon: a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. I worked in underground nuclear-hardened command centers for days at a time. It was not your typical workplace, but it was an interesting, important and let’s just say “unique” job — as are all military jobs.
Launching nuclear missiles was the wartime component of my Air Force career, but what I did on a daily basis was manage personnel, procedures and facilities; provide extensive operations, training and logistics support, as well as program development, implementation and evaluation. Not to mention that everything in the military is performed to the highest standards with attention to detail, performance under pressure and dedication to the team.
A veteran applying for a job already has held multiple leadership positions full of responsibility and management duties, but in the military you don’t write résumés or go to job interviews. Vets have the skills a company needs without knowing how to showcase those skills for the civilian hiring process.
Another problem is simply connecting with local veteran resources. The military mandates transition classes and counseling, but these services are provided on the base where you are stationed, which is not necessarily where you end up. Many veterans move back home and are unaware of local resources available to them.
I separated from the Air Force in Wyoming, moved to Ohio for school and then back home to Nebraska last year. I had no idea what local resources were available to me as a veteran. Now I work for the Nebraska Veteran Leader Corps, which does exactly that: connect veterans with available local resources and services in Nebraska.
First, we provide resources to prepare veterans for a civilian business employment culture. This includes assessing military skills and translating them to civilian careers, providing résumé critiques, plus job interview coaching and strategies specific to an individual veteran’s needs.
Second, we recruit employers to include veterans in their long-term strategic hiring plans, educate employers on federal and state benefits of employing veterans and train employers on unique issues facing veterans to dispel costly stereotypes of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Third, we provide veterans focused and local opportunities for service. This community engagement is really the keystone of our programs because community service is more than volunteering. It is a natural net- working opportunity. It is a chance to meet other veterans who have transitioned out of the military, work with local business owners and make connections in the community.
The challenges of transitioning out of the military can be complicated and daunting. But the integrity, service and high standards vital to a military career correlate to a successful civilian culture.
Community involvement, business support and veterans’ persistence and preparation can provide the framework for successful transition.