Meghan M. Biro| Forbes
It’s almost November 11th. Pop quiz: does the holiday honor Armistice Day, the day when WW1 officially ended (although hostilities continued for some time)? Does it mean Veterans’ Day, the US recognition of Armistice Day meant to honor all veterans of all foreign wars? Or Is it just a day off between Halloween and Christmas, without the pesky relatives?
It’s why you hear drummers practicing in the distance as you sit in your city apartment or country home. There are always wars, always veterans, always heroes, but there aren’t enough of us to recognize their sacrifice. And right now, they particularly need our help as they navigate the course from military service to civilian life and new careers.
I travel quite a bit these days. Walk through a major airport and you sometimes see military people eating alone, sometimes at the lowest-cost burger joint in the place. Go into a doctors’ office, especially here in the elite Northeast and many other places across the country, and you’ll see a military officer waiting his or her turn calmly while all eyes slide away from contact, as well-dressed parents block their kids’ view of the person in uniform. I’ve seen this happen and not many years ago – as in recently. I would like to think we are far beyond these old school stereotypes; sometimes they are alive and well.
A year ago I would have called it awkward but unavoidable. Now it’s seeming more like a scandal in process, largely because we have still not, as a nation, formulated a way, as a country and a people, of bringing our veterans back into the fold of day-to-day life not only with honor, but also with dignity, and paying jobs.
Some companies have taken action, notably Jobvite, with its Apps for Heroes initiative; Johnson & Johnson; J.P. Morgan Chase, and Amazon, all of whom have pledged to employ returning veterans. Of course the government is in the mix with the Defense Department’s Military to Civilian Skills Certification Program, designed to provide vets with work certifications and credentialing necessary to secure private-sector jobs after long military stints.
How can we bring people back home? How can we recognize their service to our country, and us, with honor without conflating this simple and gracious recognition with our own personal and political beliefs about war and militarism? Creating jobs is not about politics – it’s much larger than this and impacts all of us.
It is really pretty simple. Soldiers are people in uniform. ‘People’ is the key word – they are our brothers and sisters and friends and leaders. We may not agree with wars, politics and military budgets, but we can at least agree on this: we are all human.
It turns out many CEOs, who are people by the way, have military backgrounds or training. The founder of FedEx, Frederick Smith, was a marine forward air controller in Vietnam. Smith came from a well-off family and went to Yale before Vietnam. But it was in Vietnam that he came to understand logistics. He went on to found FedEx in 1971.
The military trains people for complex tasks that seem simple in day-to-day life. We think nothing of fixing a drain or putting in storm windows, but imagine the task of repairing fighter aircraft in the field. Many of the skills required are the same – inventory management, planning, supply chain management.
Or repairing a vehicle in the field – machining, welding, supply chain management. Or moving food and medical supplies to forward lines – negotiation, supply chains, people management, security assessment and management. Setting up IT and communications links between forward lines and supply lines? All skills necessary in many IT roles– and skills in which our veterans have been trained that are valued in technology roles.
We learn job skills from many experiences. Military service is one, and one we should recognize as a resume-worthy citation.
Here are five key skills veterans may have which other job applicants may lack:
1) Leadership Platoon leader, group leader, team leader: military veterans work in a highly team-oriented and hierarchical environment. This means they know how to take orders – and when to give them.
2) Grace under pressure If you’re on the front lines in a war, you need to stay calm and function under extreme pressures. It makes some HR and management calamities look trivial – after all what we do is HR/people management, not ER.
3) Performance and results-oriented When you’re in uniform you have a mission, one on which lives may be dependent. Performance and results are non-negotiable. You know how to get things done and you do them.
4) Self-sacrifice I talk a lot here about self-awareness but not often enough about self-sacrifice. Leaders in the military have to watch out for their teams first and themselves second, which is a leadership scenario not always encountered in the Fortune 500.
5) Communication and goal-setting Effective communicators build teams. Leaders set goals and teams accomplish them. You can’t have one without the other.
How can we bring our vets back, find them jobs and acknowledge their service and sacrifice? By treating them as humans first. By recognizing skills for their value, not judging them for where they were acquired. By being bigger hearted, by rejecting small-minded and simplistic views. By being real people working with real people.
It’s almost November 11th – Veteran’s Day. You don’t have to serve in the military to understand the importance of military service, and of treating veterans well. Being a leader means truly understanding and being educated on the angles. So open your hearts, minds and job openings to veterans and their considerable skills and training. Do your part. And work for peace. Honor these leaders by taking action and making a real difference.