Why are you getting out?

“Why are you getting out?”  This has got to be the number one question people have for transitioning officers… whether it’s your chain of command, peers, or potential employers, inquiring minds want to know!

When talking to your boss, I’d recommend honesty, with social tact.  With your peers, you can be more candid.  But with potential employers, tread carefully.  Don’t take it as an opportunity to slam the military.  Express gratitude for the opportunities and what you’ve learned, but focus on why a post-military career truly interests you, will fulfill you, and meets your needs better than the military could.

Officers are leaving the military at a high rate for a number of reasons.  In one poll, 82% of veterans said they left the military because of “frustration with military bureaucracy.”  But there are even more stated reasons to list…

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The Value of Your Military Experience

The other day, I had a friend tell me on Facebook that it was exciting that I was going civilian, but that he felt like he didn’t have any valuable “civilian-world” skills other than leadership.  I couldn’t believe he was selling himself so short; he’d attended a service academy, one of the country’s premier leadership institutions, and served successfully as an Army officer.  If he wanted to get out, I’m sure he’d succeed!

I think it’s common for veterans to sell themselves short in this regard.  It’s hard to get civilians with no military experience to relate to us, so we assume it will be hard for us to relate to a civilian career.  After all this time in uniform, a business suit seems uncomfortable in more ways than one.  But while the jargon/environment may be different, the skills we’ve acquired during our military service are actually invaluable.

Some of the things we have to offer:

  • grassroots leadership
  • ability to make decisions under pressure
  • ability to adapt
  • ability to prioritize
  • risk management skills
  • discipline and work ethic
  • integrity
  • understand technology in the workplace
  • cultural inclusion and teamwork
  • ability to delegate responsibility
  • confidence
  • real-world experience
  • security clearances

It seems like Corporate America has already figured out that the military is a great place to find leadership and experience when they need to fill job openings… give yourself the credit you deserve!  If you want to be a leader in the military, you can do it.  If you want to be a leader in the corporate world, you can do that too.

Articles I read:

“Battle-tested: From soldier to business leader”, Fortune Magazine, March 2010

“Military vets: MBA job recruiter’s dream candidates?”, Fortune Magazine, July 2011

“How Military Veterans Are Finding Success in Small Business”, Entrepreneur, February 2012

“A vanishing breed: CEOs seasoned by military combat”, USA Today, January 2005

“Do Officers Make the Best CEOs?”, Military.com

“The Value of Veterans”, Military.com

Why You Should Stay In (For a Little Longer)

There seems to be an annual mass exodus of officers in the spring… it’s the end of their year group’s post-college contracts, and they’re in a huge hurry to get out.  And even though I’m one of them, I’d actually recommend that you not join the herd.

Ever heard of the Post-9/11 GI Bill?  As of August 1, 2011, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will cover up to 100% of public school in-state tuition and fees, up to $17,500 annually for private schools, and a basic housing allowance stipend at the E-5 with dependent rate.

If you’re a service academy grad, you don’t qualify for these benefits unless you serve beyond your initial obligation.  And I understand you may not want to spend an extra three years in the military to earn 100% of those benefits to pay for grad school.  But did you know you can stay in just a few extra months and earn up to 40%?  Yup, delaying your REFRAD for at least 90 days past your initial commitment will yield 40% of those benefits.   That means big $$$ if you’re planning to pursue higher education after your transition.

So do your homework, and read up.  If you’ve already put in your REFRAD paperwork, it’s (usually) never too late to pull it back and extend it.  It could be beneficial to your future and your family.

Success Story: Mark

I met Mark during my second deployment to Iraq.  We both were Army brats whose fathers left active service during the Clinton-era cuts, watching them complete their military careers in the Army Reserves while starting civilian jobs.  Mark, however, was not a traditional active duty Army officer like me.

Mark joined the Army Reserves as an Automated Logistics Specialist, attending both Basic Training and AIT.  He then attended college and completed Army ROTC, earning a commission in the National Guard.  A shortage of active duty officers allowed him to be placed on active duty orders, bringing him to join my unit in time to deploy to Iraq.

During his time as a logistics planner for our Brigade Combat Team, Mark remained on the fence about whether he wanted to remain on Active Duty or to leave upon completion of his contract.  He had close friends and mentors in the unit, and learned a lot about contracts, vendors, and business.

“More importantly,” he emphasizes, “[it] allowed me to support soldiers within our Brigade and see a direct, positive effect on them.”

Mark remembers eating at the DFAC during the deployment with a friend, discussing plans for mid-tour leave, or R&R.  They happened to be sitting beside some of the other Brigade Staff , including our notoriously emotionless Brigade Executive Officer.

“The Brigade XO turned to us and asked us where we were going for leave,” Mark said, “We told him, ‘Australia, Sir.  We’re going to see a lot of the cities, and we’re going to go cage diving with great white sharks.'”

The Brigade XO’s eyes lit up and he actually smiled.

“That’s great!” he said, “You know I always wanted to be a marine biologist and travel the world.”

Mark recalls the man’s eyes quickly dimming, his smile disappearing, as he ended, “And then I got wrapped up in the Army.”

“I knew from that moment,” Mark said, “I was getting out.”

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Army Drawdown: What Current Officers Need to Know

Everyone (still serving) is talking about the Army drawdown… will it be reminiscent of the Clinton-era personnel cuts?  How many will be cut?  Who is at risk?

There was a great article published in The Army Times about this very topic, and it specifically addressed how these changes will affect the Army’s officers, and possibly their career futures.  As a former human resources officer, I’ve been fielding frequent questions/concerns from friends over these upcoming changes.

Most of the cuts are going to come from the enlisted side.  They are the largest, and so they contain a lot of the folks that will be eliminated by misconduct, overweight/PT failure, tenure rules, etc.  But that doesn’t mean the officers are safe.

Promotions are going to be tougher.  It used to seem like a pulse and an APFT could get you promoted.  Now, there have been adjustments to evaluations and boards to ensure the best officers get promoted and the others get passed over.  And after being passed over enough times, that leads to involuntary separation, the Army’s version of a pink slip.  Mostly this seems to apply to senior Majors, where the selection to higher ranks is more exclusive, but the lower ranks should pay attention too.  My father was a senior Major when the 1990’s cuts were happening, and my entire family was affected.  Being an Army officer used to mean job security until retirement, but as the needs of the Army change, so do its ranks.

I don’t think anyone should hit the panic button yet.  It’s too early, and all changes take time.  But if you’re on the fence about staying in, take this into consideration.  And don’t slack off on the job; your performance is of ever-increasing importance!