How can the entrepreneurial community help returning veterans?

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Yesterday, I sat in a large conference room at the Washington DC Capital Hilton and listened to Colonel David Sutherland talk about his experience as a member of the armed forces for the past 26 years. Colonel Sutherland is the Special Assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with principle focus on Warrior and Family Support.

He told the stories of brave men and women who he had worked with in war zones around the world. Many of the stories were gut-wrenching, as he recounted terrible injuries suffered, and battlefield bravery that sometimes cost young people their lives. He has seen more death and destruction in his own life than most people would be able to bear.

He shared how veterans returning back home were overwhelmed and confused trying to find their way back to civilian employment.

“Our Vietnam Veterans suffered in silence. But their experience made it safe for us to talk about the difficulties of returning from war. We don’t want to lock ourselves in basements and medicate our pain. Yesterday,(Wednesday, November 9), “eighteen veterans committed suicide,” he said.

“People often ask me what I think about the young people of today. I tell them they are amazing. They are hard working. They are smart, They are tough. They are kind. These young people endure unthinkable hardships. They see inconceivable violence. But they serve with honor and dedication and commitment. And these young people, when they return from duty, can be fantastic employees. But they need help. They need understanding. They need mentoring, and an integrated response from many sectors of society: churches, non-profit organizations, small, medium and large companies.”

I think there is a lot we can do as an entrepreneurial community to support veterans from all branches of the military. I doubt that many of them know about Startup Weekend, or Laid Off Camp, or creativity starters like Nanowritemo or coworking spaces. The camaraderie, and support  that I find so prevalent in our vibrant world off the corporate grid would be a welcome addition to the more formal governmental and nonprofit organizations that support veterans.

My colleague Michele Woodward recently taught a career workshop to 150 female military officers at the Arlington Cemetery’s Women in Military Service Memorial . The group consisted of senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers, almost all of them combat veterans. Michele helped these bright, capable women, many of them mothers,  navigate the new world of work with tools that work in this decade. I know that they will share these tools with the men and women under their command. Training military leaders in job search and business start up strategies is a great step to helping our veterans navigate the new world of work.

I could imagine my business partner Charlie Gilkey, himself an Iraq war Army veteran, training veterans in business formation and startup.

If we are creative, I am sure there are many ways we as an entrepreneurial community could share our knowledge with this powerful yet sometimes vulnerable population. I welcome your ideas and suggestions!

On the shuttle bus to the airport, I sat next to a retired Marine who told me about how confusing and awful it was to return to civilian life and work in a cubicle where “people were cunning and political. They would befriend me to get ahead, then step on me as they tried to move up in the organization. It felt very isolating. There were no mentors, no one who I could trust to get my back and help me find my way.” “We are just one percent of the population of this country,” he said. When I was in the Marines, of course I was surrounded by people who understood me. When I got out, I felt like a total oddball. We had a Veteran’s Day event at my church, and I was the only Marine in attendance.”

“War is vile,” Colonel Sutherland said many times during his speech. As for me, I do not wish for any son, or any daughter, of any person in the world to have to fight in any uniform in any war. It makes no sense to me and I hope we find the intelligence to resolve our problems in a civilized way, without having to harm and kill each other.

Until that day, which I do hope will come, I appreciate the tremendous sacrifices that our veterans have made. Thank you for your service.

You can get some tips for working with veterans and their families from the newly released report Employer Support for the Military Community.

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8 Responses to “How can the entrepreneurial community help returning veterans?”

  1. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing Colonel Sutherland’s thoughts. One thing that can help transitioning veterans adjust to their new companies is to develop a solid network of veterans and civilians to ease them into the civilian workplace culture.

  2. […] Veterans returning from war, discouraged by lack of full-time jobs, could learn ways to start their own business. […]

  3. Due to the strengths a military applicant offers, as mentioned in Sutherland’s quote in this blog, some firms actually target military personnel in their recruiting efforts and swear by the results.

  4. Julie Stuart says:

    Pam, I would love to be of help. I have many friends who are serving or have served in the military. One of my very best and oldest friends is serving in Afghanistan right now as a flight surgeon.

    I have seen the disorientation that happens during the transition from military to civilian life. Many handle it fairly well but many do not. The honor, camaraderie and trust that’s forged thru blood and equal sacrifice in the service doesn’t have an equivalent in the business world.

    I agree that many of the government and non-profit programs probably fall short and that there is room for our community of entrepreneurs to lend a helping hand.

    The other morning on Joe Scarborough’s show–they spend a lot of time focusing on veterans–they talked about how skilled these folks are. In Iraq they had to learn how to run a town: set up the sewer system and electricity, install the government, get the schools up and running, all while trying not to get shot or bombed. These folks are incredible managers, fast learners, improvisors–exactly the kind of skills that are needed in today’s world of work.

    We probably need them more than they need us. I’d love to talk about how we can be of service to them.

  5. Pam, it’s interesting you wrote about this. I’ve been reaching out to the military transition programs this week to see how I might be able to offer my services. I’m told thanks, but we have everything for them. I would love to hear how others have been able to approach them. I know quite a few former military and they have said that more help is needed and coaching is a wonderful option.

  6. Maira says:

    This is a beautiful and loving post. I so appreciate your call to the entrepreneurial community to be of service to our veterans. The statistics of the high homelessness and joblessness rates of our veterans makes me ashamed of our system that doesn’t support them considering the enormous sacrifices on their parts.

    As a therapist trained in treating trauma, depression and PTSD, I have worked closely with active duty military members and their families to help end the war that haunts them long after they’ve left foreign soil. Now in private practice, the way I choose to give back to veterans and their families involves supporting their mental health. So that when they are ready to enter the civillian work force, at the very least, they can arrive less wounded and more whole.

    thank you for the thoughtful post and thank you to all of the veterans out there for their dedicated service and willing sacrifices.

  7. Oh the sacrifices of a Veteran…unless you have served, the sacrifice is indescribable. How can entrepreneurs help? By recognizing the sacrifice. A simple thank you goes a LONG way.

    When I was in the Air Force, sometimes I would get off work and maybe have to run to the grocery store or something while still in uniform. When “civilians” approached me to say a simple “thank you” for my service, man did that go a long way! I remember one time I was walking by a nail salon in uniform and a lady ran out and said, “Miss, can I buy you a pedicure? I know those boots take a toll on your toes.” That MADE my day! Especially since I was about to deploy to Afghanistan and knew I wouldn’t get a foot massage there!

    Entrepreneurs– Just recognizing the sacrifice through a simple “thank you” is all you have to do to show your support. And, all the extra nice things you want to do like give away free pedicures is just the icing on the cake. 🙂

    Happy Veterans Day to all my fellow Veterans and Active Duty Service members!

    • Pamela says:

      I appreciate your comment, and I appreciate your service Michelle!

      I am so glad you said it makes a difference to thank service people. After Colonel Sutherland’s talk, I saw all kinds of service people in the airport. I made a point to go to each of them and shake their hand and wish them Happy Veteran’s Day.

      While we may never understand the sacrifice, we definitely appreciate your courage and generosity.

      Next time you come to Mesa, your pedicure is on me! 😉

      Happy Veterans Day,