16 September 2014

New Legislation Helps Veterans Attend College

George M. Vukovich, Director, Veterans Relations at American Military University:

A recent article on Money.com, “Why Veterans Will Soon Save Thousands on College,” provides promising information for veterans and their family members as they transition from the military to civilian life, college, and beyond.

As a retired Marine and advocate for veterans achieving higher education success—I truly appreciate the congressional effort to enact new legislation to assist veterans by immediately classifying them with  in-state residency standing for higher education tuition purposes. Most states historically maintained stringent standards of 12-month residency before service members become eligible for lower in-state tuition rates, which placed undue financial burdens on many veterans and their families. However, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 changed that situation.

Starting in fall 2015, veterans and their family members will be able to automatically pay in-state tuition rates at any U.S. public university. That’s exciting and welcomed news. The new legislation is very promising, impactful, and worthy of continued discussion threads in order to help spread the word throughout the veteran community.

Coupled with the GI Bill, the in-state public tuition legislation will enable veterans to attend school without facing huge out-of-pocket payments through student loan repayment.  There may be cases where some costs are not covered—such as enrollment in nursing or engineering programs—but additional funding may not be required for the vast majority of veteran students. 

This is another welcomed benefit for veterans to help them meet their educational goals and prepare for their careers. And they have the option to go to an in-state college or complete their education at a quality online institution—giving them a wide variety of flexible options no matter where they're located. 

The mobility factor of online education is growing in popularity, especially for working adults with limited time. The convenience, flexibility, and quality of instruction often present the ideal option for veterans balancing career goals, raising families, and wishing to connect online with other likeminded professionals and service members.

For a better understanding of how valuable this new legislation will be for veterans, review the CollegeBoard’s Trends in College Pricing report which breaks down the average in-state and out-of-state rates, or this helpful comparison chart posted by The Pew Charitable Trusts

Thankfully, our elected representatives have made veterans initiatives a focal point in recent years.  Let’s all do our part to help circulate this information to help our veterans find greater success in life!

George M. Vukovich is a retired Marine Corps. Gunnery Sergeant and proud father of two college graduates. For 12 years he has willfully served American Military University and the thousands of military and veteran students who are investing time and effort toward their degree. George is also a former President of the Virginia Advisory Council for Military Education (VA-ACME) and served the Board of the Council of College and Military Educators (CCME).

15 September 2014

Military Transition Training Needs Transformation

The military has transformation down to a science. For hundreds of years, it has transformed our citizen civilians into citizen warriors. The Marine Corps’ Recruit Training program is thirteen weeks, the Army’s basic training program is ten weeks long, and the Navy’s is eight. Newly minted service members then attend training in their primary military occupational specialty (MOS). These schools range from 6 weeks to several months. In fact, from the day I checked into flight school to graduation was 25 months. And I have to admit: my military training was transformational. I’m different for having gone through it.

This training adequately prepares us for our official military duties, but the truth is most of us will work after the military. In fact, the majority of Marines serve less than six years! One would think that significant effort would be put into returning soldiers back to society.

In late 2012, the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) was replaced by Transition GPS. This replaced the mandatory three-day program with a mandatory five-day program. The most successful transitions I witnessed were planned years in advance and took longer than five days to design!  But this five-day period often comes in the last 6-12 months of someone’s service and amounts to “too little, too late.” 

I don’t even want to guess how much the course redesign cost, but we do know a few other cost figures. For Fiscal Year 2014, the DoL budgeted over $250M for veteran transition programs, including $14M for the Transition GPS. Every year about 160,000 service members transition off active duty (not including National Guard or Reserve), so that means the DoL spends about $88 per service member on outbound training! The other $236M is spent fixing the repercussions of a broken transition mindset.

In late 2012, I attended a Transition GPS test session. I can say it misses the mark. Not once during the session did we talk about the “gig” economy or the sharing economy, both of which constitute the new employment landscape. Veterans will quickly learn about this tectonic shift when they are out of the service, but why not start early? 

Beyond that, this is a fertile space for veteran entrepreneurs to innovate and start businesses. There are a myriad of online services that disaggregate a lot of the back office functions that often deter enterprising young people from starting business. 

Employment is just one area where Transition GPS falls short.  Education is yet another. During the transition program, young enlisted were encouraged to join local community colleges then attempt to transfer into full four-year universities. That plan is appropriate for many, but no mention was made of Massive Open, Online Courses, or MOOCs.

Software is changing the way we fight wars and it changes the way we work and educate ourselves, but Transition GPS remains anything but digital or Web 3.0. Transition GPS does not prepare transitioning warriors because its foundations are rooted in 20th century employment and education paradigms.

Ways Ahead

First, senior leaders at EVERY level in every service must acknowledge that most of their troops will work after the military. Transition prep should be a continuous and often addressed issue.  

Second, design a transition program that lives in the digital age. One that spans more than five days and involves in-person training, experiential learning, and online education. 

Third, the DoD and DVA should support and promote a strong alumni network like universities and private firms. Paying for and supporting an online platform would go a long way. These networks can be leveraged to support field based transition experiences and to place transitioning talent into roles that fit.  

These are just first steps. The goal is to change the way that we, in the service, think and talk about “the transition.” That we do so in a way that is rooted in real-time and infused with our values, a way that is as transformational on the way out, as our experiences are on the way in.

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.

14 September 2014

September 14: Top 5 Discussions

13 September 2014

U.S. Pushing for a "Great Power Relationship" with China


In a meeting on Tuesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice raised concerns on the Chinese fighter intercepts, stressing these intercepts could prove to be extremely dangerous and must be taken care of immediately.

Overall, the meeting in Beijing was focused on laying the groundwork for President Obama’s upcoming trip to China in November. Obama is set to visit the leaders’ summit of Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and also meet the President of China, Xi Jinping.

Rice took the opportunity to address concerns about a probable collision between U.S. surveillance jets and Chinese fighters. Over the past two weeks, the U.S. had already asked China to take this issue into account before an accident causes a problem in their political relationship.

Hainan Island is the base for Chinese submarines and naval airfields. Washington reported on August 19, a U.S. plane and a Chinese fighter jet passed by closely over the island, detailing how the Chinese pilot exhibited reckless behavior. The Chinese government refuses to accept any recklessness on their pilot’s part. China believes the surveillance over their coast can be a possible threat to their security. Therefore, they will consistently respond to the U.S. flights to ensure their security.

Rice pointed out to the top general of China that the two countries already face challenges where their relationship is concerned and, therefore, must avoid further complications. So the two countries decided to try to resolve the issue confidentially. U.S. officials say the Chinese appear to be taking our concerns very seriously, but we have no other details on China's part.

The U.S. concerns are justified. A collision occurred between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. surveillance plane in 2001 near Hainan. Consequently, the Chinese pilot died while the U.S. jet landed on Hainan where the crew faced interrogation. Needless to say, this has negatively affected the relationship between China and America.

Rice covered a wide range of topics in her discussion, including economic ties between the two nations and the democracy in Hong Kong. Xi pointed out the gravity of the challenges faced by the two nations and emphasized we must work together to overcome these challenges. He wants the two sides to speed up negotiating a bilateral investment treaty, securing military ties, building communication and coordination on climate change, and fighting against terrorism.

We have maintained a relatively friendly relationship with China, despite rising tensions. For the first time this year, the Chinese naval force participated in the annual multinational drills that the U.S. hosted in Hawaii.

Maintaining productive ties with the world's second largest economy and second most powerful military is very important for the U.S. to convince skeptical Americans that Washington hasn't stopped pushing for America's interests. How do we ensure we are moving forward with China? Can the U.S. and China come together with the same goals in mind?

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

Image Copyright: Reuters

12 September 2014

Networking: A Necessary Evil Veterans Struggle With

Before I was a veteran, when I was on the computer my girlfriend would ask what I was doing and I would answer, “I’m playing Facebook.” Now that I am a transitioning veteran the usual answer is, “I’m playing RallyPoint or LinkedIn.” That game analogy has helped me be able to start professionally network since it was so foreign to me as a transitioning veteran.

Let’s face it, the military breeds us and gives us all the skill set to be a huge success in corporate America, but the culture causes us to be completely inept at networking. We are usually very humble, focused on service to others, do not usually ask for favors, and don’t like to promote ourselves. Normally the system lets our performance and actions speak for us. We struggle to speak for ourselves- at least I did.

Terms like 'personal brand' and 'elevator speech' were completely alien to me. I wasn't sure what my personal brand even was, I only knew that I was a United States Air Force Officer. In case you are wondering, your personal brand is your story and what skills you have to bring to the company. An elevator speech is how you can express your personal brand and story in less than 30 seconds (the estimated time you have with someone in the elevator). This is actually pretty difficult.

You are trying to be relatable, memorable, precise, calculating, and personable all while being charming and charismatic within a short period of time in order to meet one goal: to make a connection. This is what networking boils down to. From the very beginning, networking challenged my way of thinking. I always viewed it as “what can you do for me?” but in reality it means “what can we do for each other?” The connection or relationship has to be mutually beneficial, otherwise it is not really networking.

So in the end, networking is still a necessary evil in my mind. Regardless of how you feel about what I said or about the situation in general, the facts don’t lie. According to a report from ABC News, “80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking.”

It is all about who you know. When you think about it, it does make sense. Would you rather vouch or trust a resume with a name you have never seen, or a person you made a legitimate connection with? That is when networking makes a difference. Creating mutual professional relationships now can make all the difference now and in the future. The benefits are clear and that is why I continue to play RallyPoint and LinkedIn on top of my regular dose of Facebook...no matter how much my girlfriend busts my chops for it.

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.

11 September 2014

9/11 A Turning Point

We’ll never forget the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We should also make it a point never to stop supporting our troops—the men and women who protect us from the evil of that horrific day.

I checked into my first unit on 9/11/2001. I had just moved to California and was planning on checking in on 9/14 on a Friday, so I could easily get away for the weekend. My apartment didn’t have any furniture, nothing was unpacked, and all my household goods were in my car when I heard the news. Right away, I put on my uniform and went to check into my unit.  I remember, pretty clearly, thinking “they finally did it”, referring to Al Qaeda,  and it’s time for us to do our job—what we’ve been training for. Most of us in the military prior to 9/11 knew that an attack against our nation could happen any day. After all, the WTC was first attacked in 1993. The attack in 2001 was the second attempt. 

Driving on to Camp Pendleton, nobody knew what was going on. I was asked to get out of my car and I was frisked in my service uniform (standard for Marines checking into units) at the gate because my car wasn’t registered, and the base was implementing THREATCON Delta for probably its first time. After I was cleared, I reported to my unit and introduced myself to the commanding officer. We had a very quick welcome to the unit, and he headed off to a briefing. It was very surreal and intense.

As somebody who joined before 9/11, I can recall that most civilians never spent much time thinking about the military prior to that day. Service members were rarely thanked for service when in uniform… Many of my friends even questioned why I would want to join the military, and it was difficult for them to understand the pride we shared in our service. 

Immediately after 9/11, everything changed. The military received more funding and became “popular.” The public would recognize us in a variety of ways. I used to run in my USMC shirt with a small and subtle American flag on it… Suddenly after 9/11 when I would go running,  people would wave at me and encourage me as I ran by them. I had to stop wearing the shirt to avoid drawing attention.

When we deployed in January of 2002, everyone in the military had a shared sense of purpose. We were 100% focused on the mission and excited to be in a position to defend our country. Although our deployment to Southeast Asia was prescheduled, we were excited to deploy and be closer to the war.

For years we enjoyed very strong civilian support. During that period, I came back from deployment in July 2002 and then deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in February 2003. There was definitely a sense of duty, of everyone fulfilling their turn to serve. There was also a very strong connection between the military and the rest of the population.

Some Soldiers deploying today to Afghanistan may have been in kindergarden when 9/11 happened. As the wars became protracted, America’s sentiments towards its military began slipping back into pre 9/11 status. It wasn’t until 2009 when I left active duty that I recognized how far the disconnect between the community and the military had become. People asked me “Are we still in Afghanistan?” “Are we still in Iraq?” when we were suffering casualties there every day. It’s important that we remember we’re still fighting some of the old conflicts as we dive into new ones. 

It is best to show support to the military not just in times of crisis. Crises come and crises go, but the military is always here, and always ready. We shouldn’t slide back into complacency, or wait for the next conflict to come around before we give the military the recognition it deserves. The best way for civilians to show their gratitude is not with “thank you” and military discounts (although those are appreciated), but to be informed on the issues and remember that military sacrifices are ongoing. As the President made bold decisions just last night about an increased US military campaign against a new enemy emerging in the Middle East, I have to wonder how many Americans woke up this morning even aware that its military has been committed to an escalated conflict.

We don’t expect civilians to understand what it’s like to be in the military, or even why some of us choose to serve. We’re not looking for more handshakes or more pats on the backs. We need to feel supported in our mission, and not just in time of crises.

Join the conversation here and connect within the military community.

10 September 2014

Leadership: An Ever-Evolving Process

For those of us in a leadership role, whether it be a fire team leader, NCO, or officer, one of the things I’ve learned early on is the fact that it is ever changing and evolving. It’s an active process that carries a weight on many different fronts, from social skills, to management, to learning, and lastly, to respect on both sides of leader and follower. One of the biggest pitfalls that can befall a leader is lack of situational awareness.

Think about it. As a pilot and flight instructor, I’ve been flying for over three years. I can tell you without a doubt that not one single flight is exactly the same as the last one. Some are very repetitive, some are boring, but the weather is always different, the routing, the payload, etc. Now, go back to your latest project, endeavor, or objective that you were tasked with? How much effort have you put into planning, preparing, executing, and completing the project? Were these efforts quantifiable, measurable?

I define situational awareness as being constantly aware of all aspects as they develop and change. What is the SITREP, what do we do about it, and how do we go about executing? Applying this thought process can do wonders throughout all aspects of not only military life, but civilian fields as well. It makes you an asset. You think on your feet, you are dynamic, and worthy of not only the leadership entrusted to you, but some of the respect from your peers on both sides of the chain. 

Try putting this into effect on your next training, project, or objective. See where it gets you. 

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.

09 September 2014

Financial Success: Living on a Budget Pt. 2


So you are ready to create a budget and become one step closer to reaching your financial goals.  When you have a budget you can keep better track of where you are spending your money. That $2 dollar cup of coffee you get everyday before work adds up to be $500 dollars every year. This is where a budget comes in handy. It forces you to look at where you are spending your money and how you can better spend and, most importantly, where you can save.

Here are tips on living life successfully on a budget:

Get Started: You have to start somewhere, so make a spreadsheet. This will help you keep track of everything and give you a reality check by looking at the hard numbers. You want to include your take home income along with your spouse’s. Next, outline your fixed costs: mortgage/ rent, car payments, cell phone bill, cable, internet, student loans, utilities, etc.

Look at Your Variable Expenses:  Eating out, gas, and shopping are all considered variable expenses. Keep all your receipts , so can see how much you spend and set an amount you can stick to. Eating out all the time or constantly shopping means less money for you to save. 

Weave Your Safety Net:  You want to build up an emergency savings account to cover unexpected expenses, which will happen. Treat it like a bill, so every month you add $100 dollars  (or another amount) and watch it grow. With this, you won’t have to scramble when your car totals or when your child needs braces.

Get Creative: Use any way to help yourself save, even for smaller purchases.  One way is using envelops--write what you are saving for, such as that special set of golf clubs, and every paycheck tuck a little money into them. Sometimes it is easier to save money when you have a tangible goal.

Break Up the Bills:  Another great thing about having a budget is you can keep track of your bills and when they are due.  Have a lot of bills due at the end of the month? Try splitting them ahead of time. That way, you have steady payments instead of all at once. This is a great option to prevent yourself from outspending when bills aren’t due.

Pay Down Debt: Interest will only build up if you don’t pay off your debt. So focus making larger payments, so you can fight those interest rates. Once your debt is gone, it’ll be a lot easier to save.

Share the Responsibility: Get your spouse on board with budgeting. It’s a lot easier as a team, and you can keep each other in check when it comes to spending.

Set Limits: It’s hard, but set a limit  on what you spend for birthdays and holidays. Focus on few, well-thought gifts and combining it with sales, rather than on quantity.

Separate the Money: Sometimes making your money more out of reach is the best way to get used to saving. You want to make sure that the money is not in your checking account. Most banks will let you have multiple savings accounts, but just having one is enough.

Tighten Up the Belt: Once you’ve tracked your expenses, you can start analyzing what you spend on. You can always find ways to cut costs. You can limit how often you go out to eat. You can buy fewer groceries if you find yourself throwing food away. If you find you can’t resist a good sale, then don’t put yourself in situations that’ll tempt you.

Remember, your budget is for you and you are allowed to change it. You might have to play around with it at first and in time you will learn how to better manage your money.  Always remind yourself why you are saving and what it will do for your future. Keep yourself motivated, and budgeting will become easier over time.

How will you get started with budgeting? What tricks do you use to help yourself save money?

Comment below or join the discussion here and connect within the military community.

08 September 2014

Build a Network: No Resume Required

I recently received a survey that asked a number of questions regarding what areas I felt transitioning military needed assistance in. There was a theme that emerged to me after taking the survey – there is this belief that: 

a) We need financial assistance and education.
b) We need assistance writing resumes and conducting job searches.
c) We all want to start a business.

I'm not sure why the civilian world believes we are all clueless about financial matters (at least the perception that we are more clueless than the general public), but that's another topic for another day. What I really want to talk about is writing resumes and job searches. Yes, this blog has had several posts about both as does a number of other online resources for transitioning military. So, I won't bore you with more of the same as I'd rather offer a somewhat contrarian viewpoint.

First, a side story. I had been self-employed for about five years until one day a client of mine called me up to see if I would meet with a friend of his who was looking to hire a programmer for his company. I told my client I was not a programmer - he insisted on the meeting and I eventually relented. When I met with this friend the first words out of my mouth were “I'm not a programmer.” At first he seemed disappointed, but then we started to talk and by the time I walked out of his office I had a job offer if I wanted it – in a brand new position that didn't exist on the organization chart prior to my arrival. I ended up taking this position and worked there for a few years prior to my military entry.

In the past 15 years, the closest thing I've had to a resume is a LinkedIn profile. I'm not confident in my resume writing ability– I've never really needed to refine this skill. I believe this is because there is truth in that old saying 'It's 90% who you know and 10% what you know.' I think it goes deeper than this, as the 90% of who you know totally depends on a couple of things. One, how much effort you put into building and expanding your professional and personal relationships. Two, the things you have accomplished which draw attention (from people worth knowing) and demonstrate capability (proven track record). Three, the perception of what you know (not necessarily what you actually do know). Fourth, a bit of luck and timing. 

Another side story. Three years ago I had a phone call with a long time friend and mentor. I was making my transition from full-time Reservist to traditional and I told my friend that I had no network in my community. My friend scolded me to get off my butt and get out there and meet people. Three years later I'm a phone call, handshake, or email away from just about any connection in my area. It takes effort and lots of time to build a network, but you need it far more than you need a resume, a job fair, or even a suit (but get one anyway). Resumes are busywork for HR departments – focus on the network.

So, my point is just because you are transitioning or soon will be doesn't mean you need to write a resume and attend job fairs if you don't want to. Sure, they can be handy if you need to jump right now, but if you have the time – build the network. It will eventually be far more valuable to you than just a job source.

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.

07 September 2014

September 7: Top 5 Discussions


Service members talk about all kinds of military-related topics, ranging from the latest regulation changes to career advice. Check out this week’s Top 5 Discussions on RallyPoint:

Weigh in on the discussions and connect within the military community.