“Civilian..(not Soldier) for Life!”

 
So much has been written, studied, and researched regarding the challenge of veteran’s transition.  In the past I’ve written about the divide between the “We Will” environment of the military and the “At Will” reality of the private sector.  As someone who’s admitted fumbled through this journey I’ve continually asked myself what’s the biggest issue we face?  Skills gap, resume translators, culture.  Then, thanks to the honest and uncluttered mind of my ten-year-old daughter the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.   
 
As we were driving home from school one recent afternoon I was on a call about the Army’s program “Soldier for Life.”  As always, my daughter was seemingly uninterested- yet secretly eve’s dropping.  As I navigated the call and said my farewell there was a brief silence before I heard some direct feedback from the back of the car. 
 
“Dad, what does that mean- Soldier for Life?” As I explained to her it was a program, a philosophy that the Army has in its commitment to folks like me and many others she promptly responded “Yeah, I know what it is, but it doesn’t make sense- You’re not a Soldier now- You’re You.”  I paused to prepare my counter-argument.   But, as I began my response I realized she had – in her own remarkable way- identified one of the biggest challenges veteran’s face as they transition- remembering who- and helping others understand- we are.  
 
One of my assignments in the later portion of my military career was to help develop the advertising and marketing campaign that demonstrated this transformative experience that military service was.  Ironically, it’s this very theme that leads to many of the challenges and misperceptions veterans face.  Fortunately- and tragically in some cases- veterans have seen and experienced life-changing things in uniform- and we have to account and afford for those experiences.  However, when you pull back the curtain you realize that we are much the person we were those years ago when we raised our right hands and took that oath of service. 
 
As my daughter is prone to do she took a complex issue and broke it down in terms that everyone can better understand.  We, as veterans, and all those amazing HR professionals who have given so much in support of us, need to remember that veterans are as much “Civilian” as “Soldier” for life.   I fully appreciate that the spirit of the “Soldier for Life” program and many others is to ensure that we take care of our veterans- and as someone who’s personally benefited from those programs I’m forever indebted to them.  Yet, the reality is my experiences in uniform changed my life- but they didn’t change me.  And, if we can somehow remind ourselves of that more often we can help bridge this divide between “We Will” and “At Will.”  
 
SHRM hosts its Diversity and Inclusion Conference in Austin, TX, October 25-27. For more details, please click here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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