Combat veterans are flooding the workforce at rates unseen since World War II. Some estimates suggest that one million men and women of the U.S. military will return to civilian life in the next four years. Combined with tens of thousands who find themselves unexpected by-products of military downsizing, these veterans face the daunting mission of finding civilian employment after honorably serving their country abroad.
Challenges abound. While one-on-one interviews enable each veteran to showcase their qualifications and find new career paths, a barrier to getting those interviews is how society perceives veterans as a group.
We've all seen it. Whether on big-screen or small, Hollywood most often depicts veterans as either larger-than-life heroes or psychologically damaged victims. While these portrayals seem sometimes heart-warming--and surely effective at drawing viewers and in many cases donor support--over-glorifying some veterans while treating others as a fragile class of citizen does them no favor.
As the president of a non-profit organization which has helped over 10,000 veterans and transitioning military achieve civilian employment, I know what corporate employers want. They want well-disciplined employees who are as adept at leading as they are at following commands. They want loyal, hardworking, and committed colleagues. They want what the overwhelming majority of veterans have to offer: experience, tenacity, honor, and courage. They do not want Hollywood's sensationalized or shattered image of a veteran.
Don't get me wrong. I know some veterans have very real personal struggles to overcome, but they are not the norm. The thousands of veterans my organization works with are not victims. They are leaders, fighters, and exemplary problem solvers. While they certainly appreciate gratitude, they appreciate even more the opportunity to be viewed for what they are: productive individuals looking to find the right post-military job so they can move on with their lives as contributing members of their community.
They are people like United States Marine Kelvin Almazan, who found a job with Marine Hydraulics International as a computer operations analyst. Or Army veteran Ahmad Burse, who was helped to find gainful employment as an IT instructor at Miller-Motte College in Wilmington, N.C. Or Dawn Martin, who left the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and now works at Lowe's Home Improvement. While not the explosive stuff of movies, these examples are dramatic to each veteran's personal story.
Veterans aren't victims, but they still need your help. To the generous American public--from donors to employers--I ask that you consider these individuals as the varied faces of the returning military. Most veterans appreciate being thanked for their service, but even better, they appreciate the chance to be seen in the most accurate light and considered well-qualified for almost any job. Let's not color public perception of this group by indulging in stereotypes. Instead, let's honor our veterans by treating them as talented individuals who have earned the right to be given a chance.