Leave No Vets Behind: Military in Job Transition

God and the soldier all men adore
In time of trouble — and no more,
For when war is over, and all things righted,
God is neglected — and the old soldier slighted.

Lines Found in Old Sentry Box in Gibraltar

“Leave not Vets Behind” is a book excerpt for military in transition, from active duty service to the civilian job market.

For the full chapter from Let in But Left Out, please view the 99 cent Amazon Kindle version of the complete book here.

A few months after graduating from high school, my classmate Rich and I boarded a plane for boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. For the next eleven years, I lived and breathed “U.S. Air Force.” Despite months of military transition preparation, re-entry into civilian life and corporate America was a dramatic culture shock for me.

In the late summer of 1993, I was working on my first job out of the military. A month earlier, the president of a global motor manufacturer asked me to head up a cross functional team to reduce the front-end cycle time and improve the production quality for our industrial motors. These types of motors power oil fields, mining sites and factories all around the world. Our competitors were able to deliver their machines in nearly half the time with fewer customer complaints, engineering changes and manufacturing errors.

Star Wars and Dr. Deming

The team and I had made some progress but suddenly I faced a specific technical challenge that I had not encountered before. Quite frankly, I was in way over my head and I needed to learn fast. So, what do you do when your run out of airspeed, altitude and ideas?

I recalled the advice of my Air Force Academy academic advisor, Captain Davis. While at the Academy, I had to write a report on President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), known as “Star Wars”, for a political science class. Captain Davis suggested I call the Pentagon and go directly to the source for my information. I researched the program in depth and read up on everything I could about SDI — a U.S. missile defense system that many believe later contributed to the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

Quite frankly, I put off making the call. I was afraid. I doubted myself. Why would the director of Reagan’s SDI program take a call from a lowly cadet at the Academy? He was a busy, powerful person. Finally, I mustered up the courage to make the call. Twenty-three minutes later I hung up the phone amazed! I had two pages filled with notes. I had just spoken to James Abrahamson, the direct of SDI. Abrahamson, former USAF astronaut and MIT graduate, went on to become a three-star general. Yet he took my call.

I knew what I had to do to solve the problem with the motor.

While in the Air Force, I received statistical process control training from former U.S. Marine Dr. Mikel J. Harry and other Motorola University trainers and consultants. I was also mentored by Dr. Yoshida, a partner of the famous Dr. Deming. I found a business card from a Dr. Yoshida seminar I attended that provided Dr. Deming’s telephone number and address. With Captain Davis’ voice in my head, I decided to reach out to the “Einstein of Quality,” Dr. W. Edwards Deming himself.

Dr. Deming, also known as “the American who taught the Japanese quality,” had accompanied General Douglas MacArthur to Japan after WWII. Deming helped the Japanese develop their population census-counting methods and trained organizational leaders and engineers on statistical methods for quality control. Japan, which was previously known for shoddy, low quality products, was soon exporting low-cost, high quality goods around the world. Deming’s quality and management methods worked in Japan just as they had for the U.S. during WWII.

Dr. Deming took my call and answered my technical questions about Orsini Rules (Dr. Joyce Orsini) and statistical sampling methods. At 92 years old, with his signature raspy voice he was still lucid and mentally sharp. He informed me not to get too caught up in all of the technical details. “Rather, look at my System of Profound Knowledge,” Deming advised at the end of the call. I thanked him for his time and for all he had done to increase the standard of living for people in America and around the world. A few months later on December 20, 1993 Dr. Deming died in his sleep of cancer at 93 years of age. [172]

Knock’em Dead!

I tell you these two stories to share with you another. Getting that job at the industrial motors company did not come easy. In fact, for the first four months of job searching, I got lots of initial phone interviews and in-person interviews for job opportunities but never got any calls back. I was in my late 20’s, low on cash, and stressed out about my future. Then I remembered the words of Captain Davis: “go direct to the source”; advice from my father when I wanted to learn more about gymnastics as a child: “go to the library and read”; words from Dr. Deming: “learn from a master, not a hack.”

With less than $800 in my checking account, I only had about two weeks to land a job before the money ran out. I spent the next two days at a Borders bookstore, sipping coffee and reading every book I could on business management, resumes and job interviews. Then I spotted a book called, Knock’em Dead.  I read the biography of the author and immediately knew that I had found a master of career management — not a hack. I devoured Martin Yate’s book in the late afternoon of the second day there in the bookstore cafe. I took copious notes in my journal and headed home to re-write my resume and cover letters. Short on money, I could not afford to buy the book that day. But I would return. [173, 174]

After reading, Knock’em Dead, updating my resume, and embracing the author’s ideas, I landed multiple job offers over the next two weeks. Since that time, I’ve rarely had a problem finding a job or closing a consulting engagement.

After meeting the author and branding expert, Lida Citroen during a four-month military vet tech program, I have added her book, Your Next Mission: A Personal Branding Guide for the Military-to-Civilian Transition, to my career management toolbox. I highly recommend you do so as well. Lida uses simple language and powerful military vet stories that hit home. Additionally, she includes practical guidance and hands-on exercises, from articulating your personal brand to defining and hitting your target audience. [175]

To prepare this chapter, I personally interviewed more than 50 military vets who have entered or are preparing to enter the job market. I discovered most of them (especially those who have served in the post-9/11 period) faced an even more difficult time than I in making the transition to civilian life. The purpose of this chapter of the book is to share what I’ve learned with others (both military and non-military), so you do not repeat my mistakes; instead you will be able to land multiple job offers or start your own business.

The single greatest job-hunting challenge I’ve heard repeated time and again from military vets has been, “How do I translate my military skills and experiences (MOS and AFSC) into ‘business-speak’ that resonate with recruiters and hiring managers.” According to Military.com,

“Nearly two-thirds of new veterans say they faced a difficult transition to civilian life, partly because of the bleak economic environment but also because they seem to be speaking a different language than the business leaders who might hire them, according to a survey on post-military employment released this week.” [176]

I see the same mistake I made in those early days of my job search, often repeated by other military vets today. Let me give you the short-term and long-term answers to correcting this mistake since you may need to use both. The single most important insight I gained from Knock’em Dead was to learn to see things from the other side of the table. This is more difficult than it appears. It requires reframing, empathy, imagination and lots of practice. “Fake it till you make it” is the short-term answer that I would recommend. Here’s what I mean.

Before you update your resume, write your cover letter, or prepare for job interview questions, first take the time to know how different people you will encounter are motivated and rewarded. Learn to see the world through their eyes. The temptation will be to focus on yourself. DON’T fall into that trap. Focus on the recruiter, the HR person and the hiring decision maker(s). Let’s take each in turn:

  • Recruiter: They get paid by making job placements and developing a reputation for being able to find good job candidate matches for the hiring company. Many of them are under tight time constraints and tremendous pressure to find and place candidates and earn little base salary. While there are exceptions, many recruiters do not have an in-depth understanding of what the job entails; rather they look for key words in job descriptions and try to match those with candidate resumes.
  • HR Professional: They HR person gets promoted or earns bonuses or commissions based on their ability to find candidates that have the requisite skills and experiences, will fit into the company culture and will connect with the personality of the hiring manager or hiring professional.
  • Hiring Manager / Hiring Professional: The hiring manager or hiring professional is the individual you will actually work for or report to. Typically, these individuals have budgets and timelines for hiring personnel that meet certain requirements in order to help the organization achieve certain business goals such as increased speed to market, revenue or profits; reduced costs, time or errors; or improved quality or service. The hiring decision maker is seeking the best person that can help them achieve one or more of these goals without disrupting the organization.

In the short-term, if you simply can understand and accept the realities outlined in the bullets above, you are well on your way. When writing your resume or cover letter and when responding to interview questions, keep in mind what will make that person successful and how you can help them by landing the job offer. Again, don’t think about yourself and what you want. Instead, think from the perspective of the other person and what they need as you move through the different stages of the job hiring process. Remember, even if you decide that you do not want the job or like the company’s culture, follow through and complete the process. You can always say no to the offer. I can recall two jobs that initially I had no interest in. But as I went through the entire process and met other people, I changed my mind. Those two offers turned out to be two of the best jobs I’ve ever had and set me up for future advancement. So, that’s the short answer. Now for the long-term answer.

As you “fake it till you make it,” you will discover that there’s only so much time in a day; that life is short; and what you really seek is to land that dream job. I’m a pragmatist, not a purist. You may have to take another job in the short-term in order to pay the bills and meet important familial responsibilities until you can find the dream job. Recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You may need to feed and shelter yourself and/or your family before you can achieve self-actualization. Once you have a solid paycheck coming in, you can now take a long-term view and develop a plan to pursue that dream job – or perhaps start up your own company.

Finding your new purpose

After many years of mistakes, I developed a simple tool that’s helped me create a Dream Career. It consists of three parts: Purpose, Action and Results.

Finding purpose in your work is especially important for military vets. In Military.com’s 2018 Survey, they found that for individual veteran respondents “loss of a sense of purpose/camaraderie (39%) was the top transition challenge.”  When they examined results from veteran family respondents they discovered nearly half (47%) reported that they “did not have a sense of purpose when they left the military.” [176]

I remember hearing the story of some of the first astronauts that went to the moon. When they returned home, many suffered from depression and other psychological problems. Psychologists later discovered why this happened. After you’ve gone to the moon, what else is there to achieve? The astronauts had worked so hard and long to achieve their life’s purpose of going to the moon that earthly achievements paled in comparison.

In a small way, I can relate to those astronauts. I remember when I was learning to fly military jets in Arizona; my mind was abuzz in the cockpit, so many checklist items, the speed of the plane. I’d then get in my car to drive back home. Everything seemed so slow; there were not enough gauges and dials on the dashboard; there were only two spatial dimensions while driving on the road, instead of three-dimensional airspace. I thought I was going crazy until I asked a few other pilot buddies if they had this same feeling. They laughed and screamed, “Hell yeah…Supersonic!”  NASA saw to it that astronauts on later space missions had lots of big goals and projects lined up to keep them busy when they returned to earth from the moon. It helped.

Likewise, as a military vet you’re kinda like that jet pilot that’s been thrown into a slow-moving pickup truck or an astronaut who’s just come home from the moon. You will have to find a new purpose. In my experience, no civilian job will ever compare to my military service and the team camaraderie. I had to find a different purpose. My new purpose is to improve people’s lives through technology and process improvements in the healthcare industry. You’ll have to take some long hours of reflection to define your new purpose.

Once my personal purpose was clear, I then moved on to the second step: Action. Action contains four parts, all related: Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habits.

  • Knowledge is what you know. More specifically, it includes the ongoing pursuit and the wise and practical application of your knowledge.
  • Attitude is how you feel about what you know.
  • Skills are what you have. They are your innate talents and proficiencies gained.
  • Habits are what you do with what you have. “To be successful you don’t need to do extraordinary things; you just need to do ordinary things extraordinarily well,” said Jim Rohn.


Knowledge is what you know. “There is no substitute for knowledge,” pronounced Deming (the “Father of Quality”). During speeches and at his world-famous four-day seminars, Deming would remind his audiences that information is not knowledge. He often spoke of the need to improve education, noting that students memorize information, but they do not learn how to think. When visiting companies to help them improve their operations, Deming would observe volumes of data tables and say, “Tons of figures – no knowledge.” [177]

In a practical sense there are three levels of knowledge: Basic Knowledge, Advanced Knowledge and Profound Knowledge. Basic knowledge is the knowledge we acquire to become gainfully employed. We start collecting basic knowledge at an early age. The baby learns her parent’s face and voice; learns hot from cold; learns to talk and walk. As a child, she goes on to learn math, reading, writing, our history and our culture. As a young adult, she now graduates from high school or college with the basic knowledge needed to enter military service or secure a civilian job in order to pay the bills, travel and socialize, and maybe save a little. This basic knowledge used to be enough knowledge to get you through to retirement age. But as we will see, the requisite level of basic knowledge needed to earn a living wage today has soared.

The percent of white American 5- to 19-year-olds enrolled in school, grew from 55% to 90% from 1850 to 1990. Over the same time period, non-whites of the same age enrolling in school, jumped from about 1% to nearly 90%.

In 1940, 25-28% of white Americans completed high school; while the non-white high school completion rate was under 10%. By 1970, those figures had risen to nearly 60% for whites and 35% for non-whites; and by 1990 nearly 80% of whites and almost 65% of non-whites had completed four years of high school, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. [178]

In 1870, the overall U.S. literacy rate was 80%. But this figure can conceal more than it reveals. My great grandfather, K.D. Stroud was born a few years after Emancipation Proclamation, in 1871. According to a five-volume work called Historical Statistics of the United States, Sutch and Carter found that the 1870 literacy rate of the non-white U.S. population, which included recently freed slaves, was just 20%. Forty years later the non-white literacy had climbed to about 80%, a remarkable achievement which underscores the hundreds of years of pent-up thirst for knowledge for people of color. The former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, learned to read at age 12 from his slave master’s wife. Douglass taught other slaves to read, preaching that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” [179], [180]

By 1940, the overall U.S. literacy rate was 94%; that figure now stands at about 99% today for America and most advanced nations. According to Statista, the number of American men who completed four years of college or more has steadily grown: [181]

  • 1940: 5.5%
  • 1970: 14.1%
  • 2000: 27.8%
  • 2019: 35.4%

The number of American women who completed four years of college or more has outpaced that of men:

  • 1940: 3.8%
  • 1970: 8.2%
  • 2000: 23.6%
  • 2019: 36.6%

Up until 1982, the average military recruit was less educated than his or her 18-24-year-old civilian counterpart. But according to Pew Research Center, “The vast majority of enlisted personnel (92%) have completed high school or some college. This compares with 60% of all U.S. adults ages 18 to 44.” The Pew report went on to note that the U.S. military is smaller, more diverse and has more women in leadership positions. [182]

Below are examples of basic knowledge needed to compete with workers around the world:

  • High school diploma
  • Some college or college degree
  • Subject matter expertise in your chosen line of work
  • Basic knowledge on how business works and makes a profit: Revenue – Costs
  • Basic problem-solving, reasoning and analytical abilities
  • Knowledge of current events and how they relate to your line of work and business in general
  • Ability to work with numbers: can solve real-life word problems
  • Social etiquette, business etiquette
  • Critical thinking – can research information online and debunk scams and conspiracy theories
  • Basic technical knowledge to be able to learn new apps and computer systems without high stress
  • Job search, resume-writing, test-taking and interviewing skills
  • Knowledge about what recruiters, HR departments and hiring managers are looking for in new employees (creative, critical thinking, complex problem solver, does not feel sense of entitlement / “can-do” work ethic, teamworking/coordination with others, emotional intelligence, service orientation, resilient, judgment/decision-making, can handle pressure/stress, can communicate effectively – both verbal and written, takes initiative, accountable, reliable and disciplined enough to work from home and meet targets and goals without supervision, leadership / people management)

Next, is advanced knowledge. Advanced knowledge is the type of knowledge you glean from years of experience in your chosen profession. Mastery of advanced knowledge allows you to achieve recognition and advancement in your industry or area of discipline. Below are highlights of advanced knowledge needed to attract well-paying jobs and get promoted over the course of your career:

  • Mastery of all of the basic knowledge highlighted above
  • Project management and ability to lead small or large teams
  • Strong technical expertise in one or more areas: tech, statistics, financial analysis, data analysis and graphics, sciences, engineering
  • Sense of timing – ability to read people, trends, patterns related to pending change
  • Ability to manage up – anticipate what executives, want/need and ability to give it to them before they ask
  • Sales, marketing capabilities (can “sell yourself” and your ideas; can brand yourself inside and outside of the organization in which you work)
  • Understanding of organizational psychology
  • Basic knowledge of computer systems, enterprise systems (ERP, CRM, etc.)
  • Working knowledge of data analytics and artificial intelligence, machine learning
  • Constant learning and re-learning of your profession, industry, company

Profound knowledge

Finally, is profound knowledge. This type of knowledge is reserved for those special people who want to make an impact on the world. In the words of Deming, “Profound knowledge, is knowledge required for transformation.” In his final book, The New Economics, Deming wrote: [183]

“The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge.

The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.”

I would urge all military vets (and civilians) who wish to become leaders, to understand Deming’s system of profound knowledge which consists of four components, all related: (1) appreciation for a system, (2) knowledge of variation, (3) theory of knowledge, (4) psychology of change.

Deming defined a system as “a network of interdependent component that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.” In other words, a battalion, platoon, flight or squadron made up of marines, soldiers or airmen relying on coordinated global logistics, weapons, equipment and intelligence all working towards a common mission.

Likewise, the system can be the voice of the customer feeding into R&D, marketing and sales which communicate order demand to purchasing, suppliers and manufacturing operations who send out orders through warehouses and distribution centers to customers, completing the loop. The job of leaders and management is to coach, develop, and motivate everyone to work together to optimize the performance of the system. Systems thinking, life-long learning, technology, dashboards, control charts, and flow diagrams are some of the tools used to improve the system.

Knowledge of variation will help you to understand that variation exists in all areas of our lives. Some variation is “signal”, and some is “noise”. Without knowledge of variation you can chase falls signals and cause more harm than good, despite the best of intentions. With and understanding of variation, you and your people can learn to work smarter, not harder. The use of control charts can help us identify processes that are “out of statistical control” – meaning they are unpredictable, volatile, unreliable. Processes in such a state lead to more mistakes, more effort and stress and higher costs. A military metaphor would be the difference between a soldier that barely qualifies for an Army marksmanship badge (hits 23 out of 40 targets) compared to a soldier who earns an expert badge (hits 36 to 40 out of 40 targets). The expert has minimal variation in the spread of his or her bullets surrounding the target. Another example is that of a great athlete who exhibits “economy of motion.” The same thing happens with a well-run business; the key is to minimize process variation by understanding the difference between common vs. special causes.

Theory of knowledge. Management is prediction. The greater the coordination among different parts of the system and the less the process variation, the more predictable the business outcomes will be. To improve prediction, management must have a theory of knowledge. This means, they must have some hypothesis about how the business works, then make predictions based on that hypothesis and observe what actually happens. Finally, they should revise their theory based on observed outcomes.

Deming often provided a simple example. A rooster crows. The sun comes up. Next day, the rooster crows and then the some comes up again. The child theorizes that the rooster makes the sun come up. One day the rooster dies, but the sun still comes up. The child can now learn. But if he did not have a theory of knowledge, there would have been nothing to learn. He can now revise his theory.

In my experience in business, the following theory of management holds true across many industries: (1) take care of your people, developing them and being clear about expectations and holding them accountable; (2) they will then take care of your customers; (3) customers will show loyalty and give you more business; (4) which then leads to more market share, revenue growth and profits.

Psychology of change is one of the greatest challenges individuals and organizations face today. Amid the pandemic, a May 2020 Census Bureau survey found that “a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression.” Coping with any change is difficult for most people. I attribute much of my success to appreciating the importance of psychology of change in companies.

To help organizations achieve business transformation needed for survival (amid tech change or during the pandemic), leaders must learn “the psychology of individuals, the psychology of a group, the psychology of society, and the psychology of change,” wrote Deming. The most important thing a leader or manager can do is understand what motivates an individual — what is important to that person. To better understand the psychology of organizational change, I encourage you to “Google”: [184]

  • “16 Myers-Briggs type indicators”
  • “4 Myers-Briggs temperaments”
  • “OCEAN big five personality traits”
  • “organizational change management PROSCI”


Attitude is how you feel about what you know. During a Jim Rohn seminar I attended in San Francisco (where I was living at the time), the speaker recalled an ad he once read: “We don’t teach people to be nice. We simply hire nice people.”

“Wow!” Jim exclaimed. “What a clever shortcut.”

Smart companies look for these clever shortcuts that can mean the difference between hiring a disruptive, caustic individual who will tear down their teams or a calming and inspiring individual who will build their teams up.

The same bad luck (e.g., shutdown from coronavirus) can befall two different people. One person becomes bitter and cynical — lashing out at those around him. In contrast, the other person uses the shutdown time to reconnect with family and colleagues and to learn a new problem-solving method that will benefit him and his team when he returns to work

You might have the requisite skills, experience and knowledge a hiring manager is seeking. But if you lack resilience, initiative and a can-do attitude, you will become a drain on the people around you. We live in a world of uncertainty and disruption. You need mental toughness, creativity and flexibility to adapt to constant change. Also, employers are looking for individuals who can play well with others as well as build relations and motivate their peers and subordinates to attain higher levels of performance.


Skills are what you have. They are your innate talents and capabilities – those proficiencies that you’ve honed over the years. Given changes in the marketplace, what new skills do you need to add to your toolbox? Here is a short list of the skills reserved for high achievers:

  • Advanced skills in team building dynamics and conflict resolution
  • Skilled at leading complex problem-solving workshops with Lean Six Sigma, Agile, Sprint, Waterfall and Hybrid approaches
  • Can motivate and inspire others
  • Can facilitate, manage, lead global, virtual workforces
  • Skilled in foreign language(s), different cultures
  • Can break down complex problems using DMAIC scientific approach
  • Ability to use enterprise systems, cloud computing online tools, mobile apps
  • Computer and data literacy
  • Skilled at self-branding using online tools, apps such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram
  • Proficiency or mastery of some aspects of AI machine learning (Google, Microsoft Facebook and Amazon have AI cloud platforms – learn at least one of them)
  • Understand basics of R, Python, Jupyter Notebook, Scikit-learn
  • Basic awareness of how deep learning and reinforcement learning works and tools you can use
  • Ability to augment your skills with bots and algorithms
  • Awareness of how misinformation and disinformation is accelerated and amplified online using automation and algorithms


Habits are what you do with what you have. In my experience, the constant self-discipline of gathering knowledge, keeping a positive attitude and continuing to upskill, will always pay off in the end. Here is a list of some habits.

  • Get around the right people who inspire you; people you respect and admire, Stay away from the wrong people (bitter, caustic, selfish).
  • Write down your goals and plan for achieving them.
  • Get up early and read lots.
  • Maintain balance. Take time away with your family and friends and on your own to recharge.
  • Unplug from devices, games, gadgets, social media
  • Be here now – if you are meeting with a person or group of individuals, give them your undivided attention
  • Get proper nutrition, sleep and exercise.
  • Focus and discipline. Lots of voices constantly calling for our attention. Find time during the day (for me it is about 4 to 5:30 am) when you can focus without distraction or interruption from anyone.
  • Learn something new every week to advance your knowledge or skill level
  • Don’t just learn for learning sake – apply what you learn in your real life
  • Help others. Reach back and help those who could benefit from what you’ve learned — or maybe they just need someone to talk to.