Facing the Unknown: A Guide To Military Transition


Five years ago, at 23 years old and barely a year out of the Marine Corps, I launched my first company in my hometown. It's a source of pride to me that today, that company -- which offers supplemental tactical training to the military and law enforcement agencies -- is a thriving, successful business.

If that's all you knew about my transition from the military to the civilian world, you would assume that my personal transition story was a charmed one, an easy road to success. But as any business owner can tell you, no small business succeeds without a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and hard work. And as many military service members and veterans will tell you, the transition from serving your country to finding the right civilian opportunity can be a challenge in the best of circumstances.

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to look back now and see how the choices I made in the months leading up to my transition (and in the months that followed) led me to where I am today. But the truth is that there are some things I wish I'd known (or listened to) that would have made the process a lot smoother.

Have a plan. If you're coming up on the end of a 20-year military career, you're likely considering what you'll do next. As I approached both the end of my enlistment term and my 22nd birthday though, I wasn't thinking about what I'd do after the Corps. Transition seemed far off -- until it wasn't. What I didn't realize was that everyone in the military should be planning for transition, because ultimately, we all transition.

It can help to think of your transition as your personal mission, one that you'll need to prepare for, just like any other mission. Step one is figuring out your objective. What career field or specific job do you want to pursue? Once you know that, you can work backwards to find what certifications, schooling, or additional training you'll need to get there, and how and when you'll be able to accomplish those. The GI Bill can be helpful, but keep this in mind: the GI Bill can either be your jet engine or your parachute. It can propel you forward into a whole new opportunity, or it can slow your descent as you settle back into your current position. Use it wisely.

Self-assess. A big part of formulating a plan for your transition and post-military career is defining your personal brand -- your value to a potential employer. Some of that value is rooted in the hard skills you learned as part of your military occupational specialty (MOS), but don't limit yourself to just the obvious. In the Marine Corps, I was designated a 0317, the USMC code for sniper, however, not too many civilian employers were looking for a sniper. But once I learned to focus on the full range of skills that my USMC training had allowed me to develop -- things like detail-oriented mission planning, or leading and motivating a team -- I was better prepared to talk to employers about how I would be an asset to their team.

Realizing how important it is for transitioning service members and veterans to define and be able to communicate that personal brand led me to partner with Toyota and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes on ResumeEngine.org. It's a free tool that helps you talk about your military service in language that's familiar to recruiters and hiring managers. I wish it had been available when I was transitioning, but I'm proud to help make this tool available now.

Don't be afraid to try new things. About a year after my transition out of the military, and a few months before I started my first company, I was still working to find my place in the civilian employment world and took a job pouring concrete. It was different than the work I'd done in the Marines, but I quickly realized my project management and leadership experience were assets. And although it seemed like a career detour at the time, I found that being part of team again, improving the landscape near my hometown, was fulfilling work. So two years later, I partnered with a friend to launch a second company -- this one in construction. Today, that company is a large part of my professional success, but it likely wouldn't have come to fruition if I hadn't been willing to try something outside of my comfort zone.

A willingness to venture outside of a comfort zone, to confront the unknown, is essential. In the military, we're not afraid to face the unknown, because we prepare for it, train for it, until we're ready for anything. My advice to service members: Prepare for transition the same way, and then face the unknown with that same confidence. You've got this.