The movie Titanic is probably one of the most often played movies on television. Each time I stumble across it, I find myself glued to the familiar but riveting plotline. First class and steerage. Triumph and tragedy. Jack and Rose. All of it makes for an epic movie, one that may have lessons beyond: build enough lifeboats for everyone onboard.
Oddly, the movie may provide some key lessons that military families can learn from as they face an iceberg of sorts: budget cuts. The tip of the iceberg has been spotted, the alarm bells have been sounded, but many of those who will be impacted have yet to regard the noise. What happens next to service members and their families may not be that different from how the situation on the deck of the Titanic played out.
When I watch Titanic, here's what I think:
When everyone starts running toward the deck, believe there is a problem.
Veterans organizations, social media campaigns and individual letter writers have rallied to sound the alarm regarding cuts. Their efforts have been met with varied success but the reality is that thousands of service members will soon be unexpectedly out of a job. Programs that were put in place to help returning service members and their families will be stopped. Allowances will be cut and pay increases will slow if not halt. Yet, as the sound of ice scraping along the side makes loud reverberations throughout the ship, many service members and their families still have to make their way to the deck. Many do not have a plan, even as a devastating impact seems inevitable.
Stop pacing around and talking about the fact that the ship is sinking.
Deep down, I think most of the passengers on the Titanic knew it was sinking but they couldn't get past their initial thought of "How can THIS ship be sinking?" This is not unlike what I'm finding in the military community. The last decade taught us to think staying in the military is at our option. That's what I always thought. Families would leave when they decided it fit their situation best. The next few months and years will prove this assumption wrong. What can we do?
Stay tuned into what is happening. Don't tune it out because you think there are enough lifeboats or even if you are comfortable on one of them. The trip down to the water is long. Who knows if your lifeboat will hit the side of the Titanic along the way?
The guy in charge is not going to save you.
Maybe I'm not alone in wondering what was going through Captain Edward Smith's mind as he forgot one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of his job on the Titanic: to lead. As disaster seemed imminent, he sealed the fate of his crew and passengers by not notifying them fast enough, failing to take stock of the situation and make a realistic evacuation plan, and just not doing what captains are supposed to do when their ship is sinking. A lot has been said about the cuts. Not much has been said about what happens after the decisions.
Legend has it that Captain Smith's last words were, "Well, boys, you've done your duty and done it well. I ask no more of you. I release you. You know the rule of the sea. It's every man for himself now, and God bless you."
Many wordy press releases will come out over the next few months from the Department of Defense. I imagine Captain Smith's words may be more accurate.
If you don't have a lifejacket, start looking for one. If you can't find a lifejacket, start making a better plan.
They called them lifebelts in the movie but in the military community, lifejackets are a good amount of savings, a well-written resume, and solid connections built through networking. Regardless of having one or nineteen years in the military, if you expect to be separating or don't expect to be "on a list," will be facing a decrease in BAH or don't expect to pay more for medical:
Start networking. An estimated 80 percent of people get their jobs through networking and the number may be even higher for veterans. Update your resume. You never know when you'll need it. And save. Save. Save. The time to tighten your belt is now if you haven't already begun. Figure out a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Don't wait until you are flung into the masses, flailing in the freezing water. Those lifeboats aren't turning around to come back for us.
Cal grabbed a child who wasn't his and tried to make his way onto the lifeboat under false pretenses. Years later, post-Titanic, things didn't go too well for Cal.
As things get bad in the military, it is important to remain positive and pro-active. These are the traits that will set you on the path toward success. Grumbling about the unfairness. Trying to cling to things that worked in the past. These are the decisions that will put you on a course to failure. When you are faced with the inevitable, try to put aside the anger in pursuit of your new future. Yes, it rots. Yes, after how many deployments, how much sacrifice, this is what you are being handed. Yes, we should be vocal about the value of our veterans and the impact of the budget decisions that are being made and try to bring change. But you also have to start anew. Don't build your future on bitterness.
Don't be a Cal.
Climb onto the wreckage and save yourself (and others).
Let's face it, there was enough room on that piece of wood for both Rose and Jack. But Jack hung off the side and froze to death. The storyline required that Jack die, but ours doesn't require that we only save ourselves at the expense of others.
Your road to surviving this shipwreck should include saving others along the way. That is what we do in our military community. If you hear of a job that is a perfect fit for someone who may be separating, pass along the information. Attending a job fair? Invite along a friend. Fine tuning your resume? Encourage someone who hasn't been preparing his to do the same. If a friend and her family must leave the military, continue to be there for them as they make the transition. If you have trouble saving, find accountability with another friend. Together, we can do this, we must do this, for each other. Veterans are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, networking group in the United States. Choose to plug into the people who can and will help to save you from the freezing waters.
The End. Kind of.
Titanic begins with an expedition to the wreckage of the ship but ends with the modern-day crew in awe of the story of Rose, who has survived the wreckage to tell the harrowing tale of that fateful night. Her story is surreal and her audience is in awe of the experience. I guess that gives us one more lesson from the movie.
Our story should not just be a big headline about budget cuts and bottom lines. Our story needs to be one of continued success as our veterans come home to your communities, hoping to find jobs and a new future. The American public can't just sit around us in awe. We need your help to begin our new journey.