How Operation New Uniform Helps Veterans Navigate Civilian Life

Operation New Uniform’s 17th Cohort Graduating Class
Operation New Uniform’s 17th Cohort Graduating Class

Navigating civilian life can be a shock to a veteran’s system, especially considering the myths veterans hear about how uncomplicated it is to obtain post-military employment.

“We [veterans] always hear ‘Oh, it’s so easy - you served in the military, and everyone’s going to want to hire you,” said Justin Justice, co-founder of Operation New Uniform. “None of those things are true. What no one wants to talk about is that these [jobs] are mostly entry-level opportunities.” Operation New Uniform (ONU), the veterans’ non-profit organization Justice operates, is out to change that. “We offer companies an opportunity to be more than ‘veteran-friendly,'” he said.

"Veterans are trained to be performance, and results-oriented, any size business would benefit greatly with our nation's heroes in their organization," said entrepreneur and NFL veteran Drayton Florence.

“We offer the business community an opportunity to take action, invest in veterans, and be committed to their post-military professional success.” ONU’s training program helps veterans understand their military training and experience from a business perspective, and guides veterans while they manage the transition into the corporate world. “The biggest part [of that] is understanding strengths of their military background,” Justice said. Veterans learn how to confidently market their skills in sync with the jobs they want. "Veterans are trained to be performance, and results-oriented, any size business would benefit greatly with our nation's heroes in their organization," said entrepreneur and NFL veteran Drayton Florence. Justice said veterans are a source of untapped value and potential, and they deserve a fighting chance at roles with more responsibility. By under-utilizing veterans, businesses are hurting themselves: decreasing productivity and increasing turnover. “You need good leadership to increase productivity and affect your bottom line, and veterans make great leaders,” he said.

Justice experienced the myths involving veteran employment first hand. He served in the Navy for nine years and was medically retired after being injured during training. He then obtained an MBA and worked briefly at a coordinator level doing mostly data entry. Unsatisfied with his position, he left the company. He spent a year unemployed and very frustrated, but during that year, he met Michele McManamon of Sandler Training, a Maryland-based global training organization. They co-founded ONU in January 2014. “We had no seed money, no angel investors,” he said. “We literally fought tooth and nail. We created a brand that didn’t exist for a group of people that desperately deserved it.”

When a veteran is accepted into Operation New Uniform’s cohort program, they first attend a month of classroom training at ONU’s office in Jacksonville, FL. After classroom training is complete, veterans spend three to four months in individualized coaching, development, and networking with employers. In 2016, each ONU veteran benefited from an average of 66 hours of training and coaching. Ninety-six percent of ONU veterans find meaningful careers within four months of program completion. ONU’s services are provided free of charge to professionally-minded veterans with honorable discharges. At the moment, the demand for ONU’s services is much greater than ONU’s small staff can supply. Justice said ONU was unable to serve 40 people who applied to the most recent cohort, although “we do our best to push them to future cohorts,” he said. This means nearly 300 veterans are turned away each year. ONU currently employs three full-time staff members and relies on many skill-based volunteers. The organization currently spends no money on marketing, yet veterans from all over the U.S. are hearing about it by word of mouth and seeing results from the veterans who have come through the program. “At a minimum, we have to double our staff within the next 12 months,” Justice said. “We could have four times as many classes as we currently have right now and still not meet the demand.” Ultimately, Justice wants to expand ONU to several locations throughout the U.S.

“I think we owe it to those veterans to be in those markets where they’re leaving the military, and do the work that we do,” he said. “It might be ten cities; it might be 30 cities. Wherever the veterans are saturated and frustrated, we owe it to them to bring ONU to those markets.” Any business, organization, or individual interested in learning more about getting involved with ONU can email Justice at invest@operationnewuniform.org.

-Article written by Angela M. Davis & Jeff Shuford

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