21 November 2014

The Uncommon Qualities of Military Members

In the midst of all the noise that tells Veterans that they have to translate their military occupation into civilian speak, how they must learn to dress, and how they must relearn how to communicate in a professional environment, there is one thing that does not get enough attention: The innate ability of most Veterans to adapt to almost any situation that they find themselves in, known by the buzz words “soft skills”.

As I left the service, most of my days were filled with the fear of feeling lost, not knowing how to navigate the day-to-day challenges of a corporate job, and being unable to keep up with the steep learning curve associated with my work. While all of those were legitimate fears, and ones that I had to tackle head on to keep ahead of, it took me a while to understand that in some areas, I had the advantage.

Soft skills are generally defined as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Given that the general narrative is that Veterans have trouble fitting in, this would seem to be the antithesis of what we are good at. I would argue that the narrative around this is generally wrong. Almost all of the Veterans that I have interacted with outside of the service have been very adept at interacting with people of all backgrounds and persuasions – and this would make sense. The military is one of the most diverse and inclusive workplaces in the world, presenting the need for service members to learn how to get along with men and women of all walks of life in a myriad of unique and stressful situations.

The reason I am driving at this particular skill set is because it is not nearly as common as you would think outside of the service. The ability to walk onto a project or team with patience, humility, and the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in the team around you is actually quite rare, but a personality trait that the military hones in us because of its absolute necessity in most operations.

So how does this give Veterans an advantage in looking for work?

If you put those skills to work in researching the company that you want to work for, it will help you identify the kind of person that works within that organization. This will then help you assess expectations, and become more accessible in the interview process. People generally hire people that they like when all other things are equal – using your soft skills that the service cultivated in you will certainly help you be more genuine, easy to relate to, likable, adaptable, and in the end – hire-able.

Highlight these qualities in the interview process, and give quantifiable examples of where you’ve used them and how they were of benefit to the team you were a part of. As much as an employer wants to hear about your qualifications for the position, they are also going to be very interested in how you may fit on their team, and that has nothing to do with where you got your degree, or what you did for a living for the last five years.

Having been on a faster developmental timeline in this department doesn’t make you better than your civilian counterpart. It just means that skills that take a long time to develop in civilian society were cultivated in you at a much faster pace (out of necessity), and you know how to utilize them better than your peer group in many cases. Maturity, patience, logical thinking, and the ability to see things from others’ points of view are all part of this skill set; put it to work for you, and don’t discount its value in your post-military professional journey.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

19 November 2014

How Long Will Our Military Be Fighting Ebola?

As more soldiers recently deployed to Western Africa to support the fight against Ebola, there are still many questions that surround the deadly disease. After seeing the facts, does your perception of Ebola change? How long will our military need to continue supporting efforts in Africa before it is contained?

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

17 November 2014

Stolen Valor: The Ultimate Sign of Disrespect

Being in the military entails so much; it is about camaraderie, service, and honor.  If you pretend to be a lawyer, doctor, or police officer it is punishable by law but if you pretend to be a service member, nothing happens. Lately there seems to be a lot more people pretending to be service members when in reality, they are impostors. For those who have served, this is the ultimate sign of disrespect and it is unforgivable. Stolen valor is a very serious matter.

Why do they do it? It’s simple - to reap the benefits of being a service member.  They want to get the attention and gratitude of those around them without actually doing anything.  What would be the best punishment for these individuals? Some suggest public humiliation, community service, jail time, or fines. Under the Stolen Valor Act, if someone receives any sort of money or personal gain while impersonating a service member he/she can be charged for fraud.  Is a fraud charge enough of a deterrent to stop impostors?

For those who have served and suffer with PTSD or battle wounds, to see “pretend veterans” is no laughing matter.  As long as people are able to buy uniforms and medals online, they will continue to get away with impersonating service members.  You shouldn’t be able to just buy these items by clicking your mouse. When you serve in the military, you must earn that honor and dignity, you cannot just buy it.  How can the military community as a whole come together to stop stolen valor from happening?

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

14 November 2014

Individual Ready Reserve Call-up While Downsizing?

The other day, a co-worker of mine sent me a link to an article by Andrew Brennan titled “Welcome to the New ‘Back-Door Draft” dated 22 October 2014.  I followed the link and it went to the New York Times.  The article talked about a new “stop loss” that went into effect from a recent Executive Order signed by the President.  At first glance, I thought it wouldn’t be possible.  The article talked about initiating a stop loss for Soldiers in the midst of a major downsizing effort.  This didn’t make any sense to me.  Why wasn’t the media all over this?  Why weren’t the Service Department heads all over this?  

So I did a little bit of research.  The Executive Order that the author was referencing is titled “Ordering the Selective Reserve and Certain Individual Ready Reserve Members of the Armed Forces to Active Duty.”  The President signed it on 16 October 2014.  The Executive Order reads in part that the President has determined “it is necessary to augment the active Armed Forces of the United States for the effective conduct of Operation United Assistance, which is providing civilian-led humanitarian assistance and consequence management support related to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa.”  It doesn’t mention anything about a “stop loss.”

In reporting, as in life, words are important.  I understand that authors and newspapers are both in the business of making money and getting the facts straight, so headlines are their selling point.  As a service member, any article on a newsstand stating “New Back-Door Draft” would catch my eye.  I remember when I attended basic training back in 1990; there were Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) call-ups in the barracks next to ours.  They were some disgruntled individuals.  I also remember serving in Afghanistan with a retired OH-58D Kiowa pilot who was called back into service due to personnel shortages.  I also served with many Soldiers in our Squadron in 2004-2005 who were serving under the “stop loss” at that time.  Stop loss is painful.  Calling up the IRR is also painful.  My question is this: why call up select persons from the IRR to serve on active duty in support of Operation United Assistance when we are sending active duty Soldiers home on a daily basis as part of the downsizing, reduction in force, or whatever title you would like to call it?  Isn’t that counterproductive?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to slow the downsizing effort to make sure that we have enough Soldiers so that we can deploy in support of global missions?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to slow the downsizing to ensure that we have a ready force for contingency operations, like Operation United Assistance?  

Let me leave you with one more thought to chew on.  Theoretically, the Army could relieve someone from active duty - let’s say they didn’t make the cut with retention caps.  This Soldier could then be called back up from the IRR to active duty and then deploy.  What about someone who gets discharged from active duty through other means?  Maybe a Chapter?  Could those Soldiers be recalled through the IRR?  It just seems to me that we could be ensuring our Force is manned properly using a more efficient way.  What do you think?  

 Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

12 November 2014

How Does Alcoholism Affect Our Military?

Men and women in military service use, and abuse, alcohol more than their civilian counterparts. Is there something that can be done to decrease alcoholism within the military? 

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

10 November 2014

Celebrating The Military’s Women

This Veteran's Day, I am thinking about the incredible women in the military that inspire me. Admiral Michelle Howard, the highest-ranking woman in Naval history. Maj. M.J. Hegar, a commander of an Air National Guard helicopter who completed over a hundred search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan. But most of all, it is the women in my unit who show me what females in the military can achieve. 

Historically, war was what defined manhood. But when I look around every day, I see something different. In 2014, we have women becoming Marine Generals. We have female pilots, translators, and Commandants. These are women who know how to take the lead. 

The women who truly opened my eyes to what is achievable are the ones I serve with, and they make me so proud. Less than 1% of Americans are in the military, and women are only 14-18% (depending on the branch) of that 1%. So I feel an obligation - and an exciting opportunity - to reach out to these women. 

That is why, along with four other "Founding Mothers," I started a Lean In Circle for women in the military. Circles are small peer groups who meet in order to learn and grow together, and that is exactly what we do. We work together to empower the military's female leaders of tomorrow. We guide and mentor junior women and encourage them to embrace leadership in a field long dominated by men. For example, my fellow Circle member and I went to the University of Minnesota to participate in a panel on Non-Traditional Career Paths For Women. We were proud to stand beside female firefighters and police officers to show female students that there is no job they can't do, and no place they can't go. 

We also work to strengthen the ties of military women across the globe. We formed the Lean In Military Network - a group to get women stationed around the world connected and talking. There are so many ways we are building a community, whether it's chatting on Facebook or finding each other through RallyPoint - the military network that is a powerful new tool for active service members and veterans alike. Whether it's sharing advice or trading stories about what it's like to go to your son's parent-teacher conference in uniform, I feel more bonded with these women than ever, and I’m proud of the ways my Circle is bringing them together.

This Veteran's Day, I am celebrating the women whose service makes our military and our country a better place. I hope you'll join me. 

Erika Cashin is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and the founder of the Lean In Northern Lights Circle in Minneapolis, MN. To learn more about how you can join a Lean In Circle, go to leanin.org/circles.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

Education: It’s a Veteran’s Choice

AVP, Military Relations, American Military University

Those who serve in the military are expected to lead people, operate sophisticated equipment, and routinely make decisions under pressure. Why then, do some lawmakers consider these same highly trained service members to be naïve when selecting a college of their choice?

The education benefits offered to active-duty members and veterans are the best in the nation. In fact, these exceptional educational incentives are a major recruiting tool and one of the top reasons why individuals join the military. In 2013, approximately 272,000 active-duty, Guard and reserve personnel used Tuition Assistance benefits to enroll in over 800,000 college courses; over one million veterans used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

With such a large volume of students using federal funding for school, it is quite understandable for members of Congress to be concerned with abuses and return on investment for the funds that are expended. Unfortunately, the quest to uncover unscrupulous practices and abuses has unfairly targeted an entire segment of higher education; namely for-profit colleges.

Although traditional state schools and non-profit colleges offer a wide range of educational alternatives to include flexible scheduling and online classroom options, for-profit colleges are attractive options for career-minded veterans who desire a wider variety of cutting-edge degree programs.  According to William G. Tierney, Co-Director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education, University of Southern California, the benefits of for-profit education goes beyond flexible scheduling and online classroom options. For-profit education is uniquely positioned to partner with employers because focusing on careers is built into the fabric of for-profit education. They can respond more fluidly to booming, emerging fields because of their willingness to embrace new forms of learning like competency-based learning. 

There are thousands of veterans successfully attending for-profit institutions. Many earned degrees at for-profit colleges while successfully applying for advanced degrees at state or non-profit private colleges and universities. Many of these veterans who complete their degrees with for-profit institutions are experiencing positive outcomes. In fact, four out of five of the top providers of education serving members of the Department of Defense are for-profit colleges (Bilodeau, 2014). 

We can all agree that veteran benefits are important for our nation to attract and retain the best and brightest to the military. We can also agree that our leaders are placed in a unique position, especially considering public outcry regarding some nefarious treatment of veterans. However, painting an entire industry with a broad stroke has far more reaching implications than just education. How and where veterans should use their hard-earned benefits should be left up to those who have served. Veterans have earned the right to be trusted to make the right decisions about their benefits.

OUSD Voluntary Education Program Update: Dawn Bilodeau. February 2014.

About the Author 
John Aldrich is the associate vice president for military and community college outreach at American Military University (AMU). John’s past assignments for AMU include serving as director for military outreach, west region senior manager for military outreach, and education coordinator, California and Hawaii.

Prior to joining AMU, he served as an education services specialist for Marine Corps Base Twenty-Nine Palms California; director of career services and job placement at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort, South Carolina; education specialist for Navy College Programs, Sicily, Italy; academic advisor for undecided students and student athletes at the University of Rhode Island; and as a Naval Hospital Corpsman, Fleet Marine Forces.

John earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Sciences and Services and a Master of Science in College Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island. 

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

07 November 2014

General Casey: 6 Keys to a Successful Transition

I think there are 6 keys to a successful transition:

1) Don't sell yourselves short!  Any time you start something new, you always feel a bit uncomfortable as you get the feel of the new environment and learn its acronyms.  But the reality is that you already have the skills that CEOs are looking for.  The Conference Board, a business intelligence company, surveyed a group of CEOs several years ago, asking them what skills they were looking for in their employees.  Here's what they said:  good work ethic; good values; ability to work as a member of a team; good written and oral communications skills and ability to solve complex problems.  Sound familiar?  You've already got the hard to train skills.

2) Learn to ask for and accept help.  You've come from an environment where it was all about the team and not the individual. Your training taught you to be part of a team, so it feels awkward to ask for help for yourself.  Get over it!  There are plenty of folks and organizations out there from both the public and private sector that are looking to make your transition back into society easier.  It's OK to use them.

3) Build and use your network.  One of the things I hear most as I talk to transitioning vets is, "What I really miss is the camaraderie."  Over your service, you built bonds seared in combat that you will never forget.  Yet we seem to go our own ways when we leave the service and lose track of our comrades.  The U.S. military is a band of brothers and sisters that should be as strong supporting each other after we leave the military as we are when we are in it.  That's where networking comes in.  I don't have to tell you all about the power of social networking, but staying connected can reinforce your sense of still belonging, help you through your transition, and help you find a job.  Platforms like RallyPoint will keep you connected, in touch, and maybe even employed.

4) Stay fit.  Any time you go through a transition, it can be stressful.  Staying physically, mentally, and emotionally fit takes work, but it will keep you resilient and help you get through the process.  Make time to get the gym during the week, and if you know you are having trouble with something, get help quickly.  You'll be stronger and more successful if you do.

5) Graduate.  You succeeded during your time in the service because you persevered through some incredibly difficult situations.  Your country and your family need you to take full advantage of the GI Bill to get the education you need to move this country forward.  We need leaders with character and competence in both the public and private sectors.  You can't be one of those leaders unless you graduate. You’ve always finished what you started so don't stop now.

6) Be Bold.  My favorite quote is the one from Theodore Roosevelt about the "Man in the Arena."  Don't let your "souls be counted among those cold and timid ones that know neither victory nor defeat."  Nobody succeeds all the time, so everything you try won't be a huge success; but if you learn from your mistakes, do your homework, adapt and keep moving boldly forward, you'll be surprised what you will accomplish.  

Good Luck!

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

05 November 2014

Service Members: Effects of Energy Drink Consumption on Sleep

Many people rely on energy drinks to keep themselves going during the day, and Service Members in combat are no exception. The effects of these drinks, however, seem to be detrimental to both health and performance. Is there a better alternative to these energy drinks?

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

03 November 2014

How do you know if a company is truly “Veteran Friendly”?

I hear it all the time, and have spent a fair amount of time complaining about it myself.

How do you know that a company advertising itself as “Veteran Friendly” truly is? What indicators can help you make an informed decision when looking for an organization that will truly value what you have done, and what your potential is?

As it turns out, there are a few things that will help you differentiate between the companies paying lip service, and those that spend a great deal of time and effort to acquire Veteran Talent.

1.       Government Contracting - Are they government contractors? Do they have a legal obligation to adhere to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) regulations and laws? If they are, then chances are they take the hiring of Veterans and other diversity groups quite seriously and have a program that focuses solely on bringing that particular talent into the organization.
2.       Advertising vs. Programs - How big is their advertising push for hiring Veterans? The bigger and flashier, usually the less substance there is to the program, or the positions they are hiring for are not ones that would provide you with a career – but more with just an hourly job. There is a big difference between those two things, and it’s very important you find the companies that want to invest in you and your potential over the long haul.
3.       Online Tools for the Veteran - What kind of online presence do they have for Veteran hiring? Do they have a careers page for Veterans? If they do, how much substance is there to it? Do they have a valid skills translator? Do they target specific job functions that they know Veterans are historically successful in (i.e. Supply Chain, Operations, Auto Repair, Human Resources, Loss Prevention)? Or is it just their basic careers page regurgitated with some Veteran themed backgrounds?
4.       Their Partners? - What kind of Veteran organizations are they involved with? What kind of conferences do they attend? Do they work with local Veteran organizations, or just big name national ones? The companies that are best at acquiring Veteran Talent are ones that have tiered programs that address the Veteran population holistically when it comes to career fairs, Veteran non-profits, etc.
5.       Hiring History and Culture - With all the advertising campaigns and news releases – which companies have quietly spent their budgets hiring large numbers of Veterans in the previous year? Have they set hiring goals for the coming year? What other benefits do they offer to get young Veterans working on making the transition from service successfully?

These are some of the things you should consider when trying to discern what is valuable in all the static and noise. The sad truth is only about 25% of the Veteran organizations and Veteran friendly companies I have come into contact with actually have groups dedicated to specific hiring goals, or provide a service that actually gets Veterans hired. This particular market suffers from a gross over-saturation at the moment, and it most likely won’t get any less saturated in the coming few years.

While flash and advertising is great – take a minute or two to find out who is really dedicated to making the needle move on Veteran unemployment. It can be difficult to figure out - but as with military culture itself - it is rarely the flashiest or loudest group that is knocking out the most important work effectively.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.