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From Combat Boots to Business Suits

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Monique M. Maldonado
November 20, 2015

Combat-Boots--Dog-Tags - MMMore than a year ago, I wrote an article on military service members transitioning to civilian life, not knowing I would be the example in 2015. After 13 years of service, I decided to separate from the world’s greatest Air Force to pursue interests I have had since I was a teenager. My decision was abrupt and I was permeated with the fact that I only had a few, short months to transition before I was officially a civilian (now a veteran).

I was flooded with information, out-processing and mandatory separation courses and I felt unprepared. If I was not ready in less than 68 days, how did other service members feel, especially when they had more time to prepare? The answer is: no matter how much time you have to plan for this transition, you are never ready.

It is a known fact that military service members are still young after retirement. According to Anne Tergesen of the Wall Street Journal, “The military retirement system [United States] permits members of the armed forces who serve full time for at least 20 years to retire as early as age 37 with a defined-benefit pension.” If I stayed on active duty, I would have officially retired at 38.

Retiring before 40 is great. But with an unpredictable economy and inflation, it is common for military retirees to re-enter the workforce in a civilian capacity. Whether it is sticking close to what you know and continuing to work for the government or going into the private sector, retirees and “separatees” know they need increased income to stay afloat and manage their current lives.

Military Pay versus Civilian Pay

Military members’ lifestyles do not change once they leave the service. There are still bills, mortgage/rent, health care (especially for families), savings and other financial responsibilities. Even though some veterans will receive incentives such as retirement pay and health care, others still have to think about special “perks” that are only received when serving in the military.

For example, Military.com noted military personnel receive “basic and special pay along with tax advantages, housing and health care while civilian employers do not have any tax advantages, do not offer housing, and depending on the employer, potential hires will have to pay their for their own health care, partial amounts or co-pays.” These are important elements to consider when leaving the military community.

Entering the Workforce

Catherine-Navy-Blue-Skirt-Suit-by-Nooshin-Main - MMAlthough veterans have much to think about when transitioning, there is no doubt the civilian workforce is gaining some very talented individuals. Lisa Rosser, CEO and founder of The Value of a Veteran, a human resources consulting and training firm, stated, “It doesn’t matter what kind of company you are or what industry you’re in, veterans have the skills that you’re looking for.” Military members have unique training, specials skills and expertise that is invaluable since companies can save thousands on training and certifications. Rosser also stated, “About 80 percent of military jobs have direct or very close civilian equivalents such as X-ray technicians, financial specialists, human resources and legalist specialists.”

Cynics believe veterans’ skills are limited and mainly train for combat and survival missions. However, the level of training surpasses necessary education. Kevin Kaveney, a wealth management adviser of Northwestern Mutual argued, “Combat veterans have highly transferable skills such as operational and leadership and employers should recognize that most veterans are foisted into situations where they experience a larger amount of responsibility than the average 22-year-old would right out of college.” 

Veterans are strategic and critical thinkers as they are trained and educated to make challenging decisions that affects a multitude of service members. This vital attribute is needed to enhance or even streamline processes from higher reign of leadership in the civilian force. Additionally, critics believe military members are not a good fit in the “civilian world” because there are challenges with translating military job descriptions into civilian standards. With guidance from educational centers and transitioning programs, military members can ensure their resumes and expertise aligns with civilian requirements.

Transitioning into the workforce was the largest decision I have made since joining the military in 2002. It can be a bit scary because of complacency of military rules, instruction and “we” are not ready for change, but planning and setting yourself up for the civilian workforce is the first step to being successful as a veteran. The military provides excellent training, as well as resources that can be translated into the civilian industry—saving companies money as well as saving time.

Sisters and brothers, take advantage of what the military offers and better yourself as not only an Airman, Marine, Sailor or Soldier, but as a professional and a citizen of society. Integrate into the civilian workforce, excelling with priceless practices you have learned from the military. There is an abundance of resources available for those transitioning to the workforce. Please stop by your respective education and family readiness offices for more information or you can even contact me for assistance. 

Author: Dr. Monique M. Maldonado is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, an educational consultant, researcher and writer. She is an associate professor for the School of Security and Global Studies in Homeland Security at American Public University System. She is also a lead adjunct professor for the School of Graduate and Degree Completion programs at Tiffin University. Dr. Maldonado can be reached at [email protected].

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