Military training is a demanding experience. Service members test themselves mentally and physically by enduring extreme situations. The skills learned in these exercises put soldiers in a position to succeed on the battlefield, but they also remain valuable when a veteran transitions from the service into civilian life.
Veterans struggle to market their skills
For most, the switch from military to civilian life means searching for a new career. Veterans retain military attributes considered extremely attractive to employers: leadership, a strong sense of responsibility, and the ability to complete tasks under pressure. A report from the Society for Human Resource Management, however, found that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face a higher unemployment rate than other American citizens.
The struggle to find and maintain a post-military job may have to do with uncertainty in how to communicate what they know. According to a national survey of current and former service members, 90 percent of active-duty military personnel believe the skills they learn in training will help them earn a civilian job. However, less than one-third of veterans say they used these tools in their first civilian roles, and almost 40 percent said they didn’t use any of the skills learned in training.
“Service members acquire skills during their military careers that bring value and diverse experience to the workplace,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Garland Williams, who now works for the University of Phoenix. “But some men and women leaving the service may not know how to market their skills as they transition to civilian jobs, and may therefore take jobs that do not leverage their unique experience.”
There are efforts being made to assist veterans in their quest for employment. The federal government is encouraging companies to join the Veterans Employment Initiative, which aims to help 100,000 veterans get hired by the end of 2015. Part of the enterprise involves creating a government-wide plan that will develop skills of veterans to ease the transition to civilian life, according to GI Jobs, and it will market the talent and experience of service members to federal agencies to encourage the hiring of veterans. With this push, veterans should be in a better position to gain employment after service while still holding on to the skills they acquired during training.
Job placements aren’t the only way to thrive
Lawmakers and businesspeople have emphasized the importance of beginning this transition process early, and they have established a number of programs to enhance the options presented to veterans. However, it’s not always possible to plan for the transition, as injuries or other sudden life changes can disrupt plans. When this happens, service members must turn to available resources that are sometimes found in unlikely places.
The U.S. Olympic Committee works with several programs to provide support and opportunities to veterans who have sustained physical injuries while serving. More than half of those involved in Wounded Warrior programs participate in some type of sport, as it is an ideal way to embark on something new while using select military skills.
Dan Cnossen remains in active duty with the U.S. Navy, but he lost both his legs after a bombing in Afghanistan in 2009. After his rehabilitation, Cnossen mastered running on prosthetics before being drawn to the biathlon. Competing in the Sochi Paralympics, he credited his Navy SEAL training for being able to succeed in the sport.
According to NPR, Cnossen also leverages his military background to calm down quickly after expending so much energy—a critical ability when preparing to shoot in the biathlon—and fights being so in tune with his surroundings that it’s easy to get distracted. Cnossen’s skills have allowed him to overcome his injuries and chart a future path.
“I can move and shoot. I can be on a team,” Cnossen told NPR. “I can travel, train hard for a goal—seems like a pretty good transition.”
With so many diverse types of transition assistance available, service members can find a way to thrive in life after the military. Though it may take time for veterans to discover which course of action is right for them, they do have a wide variety of options for help with job placement and other endeavors frequently pursued during the transition to civilian life.
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