Veterans have a tough transition from military to office

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For anyone who has recently left the military, it can be a tough moment when it’s time to take off the uniform. It feels as if part of your identity comes off with you.


“It can feel psychologically devastating,” says Army veteran Richard Jones. But it is something that you can triumph over and a point from which you can find new heights, according to Jones.

And Jones knows of what he speaks. Having suffered fractures to his legs, coccyx, lumbar and cervical vertebrae after a parachute malfunction during an airborne-assault training exercise, he enrolled in college, graduate school and then some.

Jones’ transition consisted of going from what he calls “a bag of bones,” to connecting with a network of veterans who “looked out for me,” to becoming the executive vice president, general tax counsel and chief veteran officer at CBS in Midtown.

Transitioning from the service to the workplace isn’t easy, according to Jones. The simplest of things — like calling your boss something other than “sir” or “ma’am” — requires an adjustment. Ditto for recognizing that in the workplace it’s as much about collaboration as it is about taking orders. “You must adjust how you interact to ensure success,” he says.

Marine Corps veteran and infantryman Tim Williamson of Toms River, NJ, knows what Jones is talking about. One of the tips he offers new vets is: “Add the word ‘no’ back into your vocabulary.”

Williamson explains, “In the military, you are trained to say ‘yes’ to everything, and you always accept your orders, but that isn’t always the case in the corporate world. Eventually, you will wind up being assigned other people’s projects and tasks because they know that if they ask you, you will say always say ‘yes.’ ”

Saying “no” does not mean you’re incapable of performing, he adds.

“It just means that it won’t work for you given the current circumstances. Saying ‘no’ will free you from half-assed commitments so you can focus 100 percent on the ones that matter,” he says.

Figuring out the culture of your new workplace is important, too, and reconnaissance should happen before your first day.

“Gain intelligence before you start,” says Michael Abrams, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a current Marine Corps reservist who leads the Center for Veteran Transition and Integration at Columbia University. “Find out how people dress so you feel comfortable and look the part.”

Not only that: it’s also important to learn about the company’s organizational structure. Is it top down, where it’s fine to wait to get orders from your boss before taking action? If it is not, then not doing anything unless you’ve been asked can “look like a lack of initiative,” says Abrams.

Purple Heart recipient and retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Justin Constantine suggests that veterans meet with their managers to find out what success looks like. “In the military it’s clearly defined,” he says, which isn’t always the case in the workplace.

It’s also important to give others some bandwidth when it comes to things like being tardy to meetings.

“In the military, people are very punctual, which isn’t always the case in the civilian world,” says Constantine. While he says that “you don’t want to drop your standards for yourself,” he suggests that you might get very frustrated if you don’t cut others some slack.

One of the most important things you can do is to meet up with other veterans.

“When you’re transitioning, you’re vulnerable, so you need someone who speaks your language, understands your work ethic, and will champion the value that you bring to the workplace,” says Jones. “Be patient. Make every step your best, but understand that your career is [not a sprint but] an ultra-marathon.”

Ki Monique
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Ki is an actress, tv personality, and reporter. She has many hobbies and talents. Her father is a retired military veteran.