I can remember clear as day sitting in a foxhole on March, 19 2003 several kilometers south of the Iraqi Border when the bombing and artillery fire began that was top recede our attack north into Iraq. Volley after volley whistled through the night sky screeching north causing the ground to shake upon impact with its intended target. The display of firepower directed at the Iraqi positions near Safwan Hill left many of us wondering if the hill would even exist when the bombings were complete. This was the first of many such displays we would experience -- displays that coined the phrase "shock and awe."
These initial salvos signaled the beginning of combat operations -- operations that would culminate for my unit, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, with our arrival in Baghdad some 19 days later. As we bed down that first night in the Iraqi capital at the al-Shaheed Monument, we all assumed our presence in the capital meant that combat operations would be over sooner rather than later. What I didn't expect was that we'd be engaged in an eight year complex counterinsurgency battle for which we didn't plan.
Looking back now, 11 years later almost to the day of my arrival in Baghdad, I find myself locked in a differentbut similar type of struggle. My goal is to collectively hire 100,000 veterans with members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission and build a long term strategy to hire, train, assimilate and retain these veterans. Like the "shock and awe" operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are many public efforts underway to raise awareness about veteran unemployment -- efforts which are absolutely necessary but only part of the battle plan. Our collective efforts cannot simply be about helping veterans find a job but must also be about providing them with the skills and support they need to turn that job into a long-term career.
Long term success requires that we put as much effort into assimilating, retaining and promoting veterans as we do on recruiting and hiring them. For the veteran, success in the new job or career will be a function of developing a sense of mission, mastering the functional skills required of the new job, developing an understanding of the norms and process that define the "corporate culture" and learning how to operate in organizations much larger, smaller and almost certainly less hierarchical than the military environment. They must also contribute to the bottom line or else businesses will cease to recruit in this space. If a veteran produces results for the business, he/she will be valued by the firm and will be given opportunities for advancement. True success isn't just a measurement of how many veterans we've hired but also by how many we've retained and promoted.
These key strategic aspects of veteran employment are notably absent from the national dialogue. As a nation, we need to define success differently. Success demands that we place appropriate focus on each stage of theemployment continuum -- recruitment, hiring, training, assimilation and retention. Like counterinsurgency operations, some of these stages are seemingly more difficult and take more time and effort than others; none the less, they are vital to ensuring veterans find a career not just a job.
Providing meaningful employment to those who serve now will prove to future generations that serving our nation will offer them great opportunities when transiting out of service. As a result, we'll be protecting the health of the all volunteer force. At the end of the day, success for both sides of the equation requires building a battle plan that is sustainable after the initial shock and awe. We need to win the long war to successfully combat veteran unemployment. We are currently experiencing veterans "shock and awe" -- are we sufficiently focused on what comes after a veteran is hired? Success requires it, this national security issue demands it and history tells us that issues as complex as this one requires a comprehensive strategy.
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