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Shedding the Cocoon and Making a Boom.

Military to Civilian Transition

Many military retirees face the honor and welcomed time with a combination of joy and trepidation. I have had many service members mention they will lose that cocoon they have been wearing for 20-30 years. The uniform does more than define rank, it is also the connection to a team, one that senior military build to accomplish things. Teams in the military are not like teams in the civilian world, civilians may have months to gel. A military team must be at constant mission readiness, regardless of their time together of 4 days or 5 months. The thought of losing that type of environment which is constantly "mission ready" is a scary new world. Civilians not in the know, cannot comprehend how quickly a military team will gel and operate at a shocking efficiency rate. Simply taking off the uniform negates their participation in those amazingly highly efficient teams.

Military retirees depart with such a depth of experience it is difficult to filter through and chose a path which blends the best of their skills and experience. Having the retiree draft a 4-6 page chronological resume with the quantifiable results from their evaluations and awards is a great start. This exercise accomplishes a few things:

  1. Clearly points out that the chronological resume format may not work for most 20-30 year service members.

  2. Provides them with a better understanding of the breadth of the skill sets possessed to accomplish all that has been listed.

  3. Brings to the forefront a skill set, position or role that was particularly enjoyable and rewarding.

Many times a service member will look at retirement as the transition from logistics to logistics, when in retrospect the 5 years spend re-classifying over $500 million in salaries and thousands of soldiers into non-combative careers was the most rewarding and challenging period in the 20+ year career. Not all career epiphanies happen within the three days of a workshop, but many get a better understanding that it does not have to be logistics-to-logistics for a successful transition.

Many retirees approach the process from the back end first and that is drafting that pesky resume, which everyone wants to see prior to speaking to them. One of the most frustrating activities is seeing a 25 year service member try and shove exceptional skills and accomplishments into a two page chronological resume. It typically takes more than two pages just to list where they have been, versus what they have accomplished. Many senior military members initially look at career research as something for college students and 3-5 year "separatees." In reality, career research applies more to a person with a mass of accomplishments such as, leading, training, and mentoring people in a unified process. The majority of career fields actually support combat tactical activity. Many senior military may have been tactical or hands on at one time, but as their experience broadened they move behind the wire and direct processes and activities to prevent issues and improve the overall tactical process. This maturation process is no different than the Director of Sales, providing strategic support and process analysis to field sales, after ten years of sales and sales management in the field.

For many senior retiring military the input, advice and counsel provided to upper/executive management is another tool that many times is taken for granted. Also, senior leaders are tasked with managing/directing any type of division/department due to overall mission operational needs. So a senior flight operational director may be tasked with preparing an overall emergency preparedness plan for the entire facility, interfacing with the local community. This ability to move from mission and vision to operations is a highly desirable tool, especially in the corporate world where specialization abounds. Flexible leaders that are able to walk out of a senior executive briefing and comprehend its applicability to the ground level workforce an unusual trait. The military molds, trains, mentors and creates its talent from the internal workforce. Many corporations bring in multiple tiers of leadership without the direct workforce contact or experience. The result can be a mismatch in culture, values and vision, causing turnover at a variety of levels. Turnover in the military is planned, hence many senior military have worked out of their “specialty” for years on projects or areas that needed improved direction. The combination of these attributes are hard to quantify to civilians who operate in more traditional models. The earlier example of a senior logistics director re-assigned to re-classifying over $500 million in salaries and thousands of soldiers into non-combative careers is an actual example. One in which the service member chose that 5 years to start researching for civilian careers.

Another area that military will neglect is their direct budget responsibilities. Senior military may be directing hundreds to thousands of service members with salary budgets ranging from $2.5 million to $250 million. It is very typical of all military to understand and list the equipment under their purview, but few understand that civilians add salaries and benefits into all budget calculations and experience. A prime example of salary valuation, many service members are selected to train as most training is done “in-house.” Those selected are chosen based upon their technical expertise, but also their ability to create a curriculum and settings that will succeed in well-trained service members. A service member's ability to and success at training is a highly valuable trait in the civilian human capital world.

The two greatest misconceptions of civilians in a service members retirement is:

  1. Over estimate of their pension.
  2. Under estimate of the broadened set of skills and experience available to a potential employer.

Many civilians do not understand the rigorous testing and training that must be accomplished to remain in today’s military. Service members with over 20 years in the military bring an enormous amount transferable skills to any industry, especially the ability to lead, manage, and direct people to meet short term goals and corporate missions.

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