Bumpy Air Ahead

By By Mike Hangge, mjHangge | December 1, 2015
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By Mike Hangge, mjHangge

With military transitions come adjustment issues. You, as a former soldier, sailor, Marine or airman, are an anomaly in some civilian communities. So few Americans have ever served in the military that those who have will probably be a minority in most small companies. Many civilian peers have been living this workplace lifestyle for years or even decades longer than you have.

There are a few things you need to know, understand and accept about this new life.


You’ve been indoctrinated by the military. In so many ways, that is a good thing. It has instilled a sense of personal, fiscal and community responsibility while teaching you punctuality and an unparalleled appreciation for this great nation.

On the other hand, you may think it’s normal to hurry and wait, endure on energy drinks and protein bars, work endless hours over the 40-hr mark and curse like—well, like you’re in the military. What you will soon find is that most civilians have never traveled outside the U.S. and some have never even gone outside their own state’s borders. They show up on time (not 15 minutes before the 15 minutes before), don’t have a first sergeant or senior chief to act as their life coach and leave work at the same time, every time.

Your ingrained military team mentality might leave you unable to take personal credit for your accomplishments. Despite its many dysfunctions, the American military is one of the greatest in history. But our “We, Not I” mind-set has left many of us incapable of simply saying, “I did this.” Instinctively, we default to, “We did this.”

Military personnel have a reputation for being overly prideful or too humble. Let me put this bluntly. Most people want to know that you served, but very few want to hear your war stories (and very few of you who willingly tell them lived them any way). Be proud of what you’ve done and where you’ve been, but keep it to yourself unless you feel like sharing over a beer.

Networking is a challenging issue. Many transitioners have problems with it. You must learn to network at some level to accomplish your goals. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to find employers and connect with old friends to see what’s available. You don’t have to minimize your personal beliefs; you simply need to open your eyes and ears while slowing your mouth.

Communicating in “civilianese” is another issue. You’ll quickly find you possess a vocabulary that is as foreign to most civilians as theirs is to us. You’ve lived a life that most civilians have only seen in “Top Gun” or “American Sniper.” You’ve used acronyms few of them have ever heard. Rebecca Pierce, formerly of the U.S. Army’s Soldiers For Life Transition Assistance Program, suggests “using terms and descriptions that you’d use with your grandmother. If she won’t understand it, the hiring manager probably won’t either.”

The most difficult transition issue may be starting out near the bottom. If you’ve spent decades in uniform, you have attained a certain amount of success that will make it difficult to start over. You may expect to wear a military uniform one night and grow out your Duck Dynasty beard the next morning with no change in responsibility, respect or even pay. Some might be able to do just that. But the rest of us should not be fooled by those exceptions. They do not constitute the rule, and they probably shouldn’t.

If a multi-millionaire entrepreneur decided to take the pay cut to join the military, what rank would we pin on him? If he were lucky, we’d put a stick of butter on his collar and tell him to shut his mouth until he learned something.

It’s no different. Being a military commander has little relevance to being a civilian project manager. You’ll pick up the intricacies of the job far faster than a kid just out of college, but you will not be an instant expert in this new life.

Having said all of that, I strongly believe transitioners will find great success and enjoy their new lives. You have the convictions, mental fortitude, work ethic and faith to accomplish anything you want. I believe even more strongly that every employer should look past the rough edges to the potential diamond within and consider hiring those who have served. They will make devoted, intelligent and responsible employees.

In John F. Kennedy’s words: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”


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