“The military is much more enterprising than people think”: how 2 veterans help other ex-servicemen make the transition to civilian life


Career transitions are difficult for everyone, but the transition from military to civilian life can be particularly difficult.

Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were too often treated like damaged property by employers, according to research by Alair MacLean, professor of sociology at Washington State University, it remains to be seen how much employers will be welcoming to servicemen returning from the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – especially those in the second half of life.

I grew up in a Navy family (then dad worked in the shipping industry). We have moved every two or three years, living in places ranging from Fort Hamilton to Brooklyn, NY to Guam. Perhaps this is why I was so impressed with the efforts of two military veterans working with their peers to help them make the transition to a useful civilian life.

Michael Zacchea, 53, director of the University of Connecticut’s Entrepreneur Bootcamp for disabled veterans, and Larry Steward, 78, founder of ReinventU and the Officers Transition Alliance – are doing important work, and I would like you to hear from them on how, and why, they help vets; you will see their interviews below.

Veterans generally bring many skills to their future employers, including the ability to work in multigenerational teams. Many vets are socialites, having been exposed to different cultures and parts of the world on their tours of duty. However, some veterans with combat experience cannot stand loud noises; others may find it difficult to be surrounded by too many people in a crowded office.

For veterans, finding a job in the U.S. workforce means starting with the basics of career transition, such as explaining how their skills translate into job attributes, learning how to network, and determining what type of job might be. be fulfilling.

Joyce Cohen, co-founder of the My Future Purpose membership organization and creator of Boots to Backyards, a mentoring program that helps veterans find a new goal, asks vets, “What skills have you learned and that you could use in the future? She adds: “It’s like a puzzle.

Now let me introduce you to Michael Zacchea and Larry Steward:

Michael Zacchea: Director of Entrepreneur Training Camp for Disabled Veterans

Lt. Col. Michael Zacchea of ​​the United States Marine Corps was appointed second lieutenant in 1990. His military career included deployments to Somalia and Haiti. He was sent to Iraq in 2004 to build and lead the US Army-trained Iraqi Army First Battalion in combat and was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Second Battle of Fallujah.

Also see: “Due to a military accident, I retired and currently receive a pension of $ 2,000 per month for the rest of my life. What can I do to save more? ‘

He is now medically retired and has received two Bronze Stars and Purple Heart for his services, as well as the Iraqi Order of the Lion of Babylon.

Zacchea’s first job after the military was on Wall Street, working in a trading desk at an energy company. He hated it, especially because soldiers he knew were still wounded and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Zacchea started getting his MBA from the University of Connecticut part-time and graduated in four years.

A teacher at the school encouraged him to research veteran entrepreneurship programs. He learned there were none in Connecticut, despite a documented history of success elsewhere. So in 2010, Zacchea created a local program for veterans with disabilities: the Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities, which primarily helps veterinarians and their family members start businesses.

“At first glance, you’re starting a business, but it’s really about building a community of veterans,” he says. “We believe that entrepreneurship is a really important force in reintegrating into civil society.”

The first cohort of the training camp had 13 graduates. The last course is online due to the pandemic; it has 21 veterans and a caregiver.

Most of Zacchea’s classes include caregivers, in fact. The spouse of a disabled veteran often has to quit their job to become a nursing aide, but starting a home business allows them to generate an income while looking after the vet.

Zacchea graduates have started nearly 190 businesses, although only 150 are still in business. Most of the businesses closed happened for health reasons.

About a quarter of home businesses are in architecture, construction and engineering; another quarter is in IT; another quarter are in supply chain management or brokerage and the rest are an eclectic mix ranging from canine businesses to janitorial services.

Why entrepreneurship?

Many veterinarians are comfortable with advanced technology; they have been trained to act independently on missions, and military leaders learn multiple skills, from supply chain management to project planning.

“The army is much more enterprising than people realize,” Zacchea says. “Especially the heads of small units in the military, who basically run a small business.”

Another reason: starting a business is inherently optimistic. You are creating something that did not exist. Zacchea says entrepreneurship is “not only an economic integration to create a new identity for veterans, but it is also a service program to build something”.

You might like: I am 40 years old and a single military father of 2 children; I have rental income, $ 100,000 in retirement savings, and expect at least $ 3,000 per month in retirement – what am I missing?

Larry Steward: Founder of ReinventU

Steward joined the Navy in 1962 after graduating from high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. At that time, young men enlisted in the military or waited to be enlisted.

Steward became a medic, attended naval medical school, and spent time in Okinawa, Japan. Eventually, with the heat of the Vietnam War, he ended up in Da Nang.

Steward was involved in a battalion-sized operation when a Marine buttoned him up and said his group was in need of medical help. He managed to reach the Marines under fire, but was subsequently shot in the back.

“The immediate sensation was like being hit by a hot ax,” he recalls. “The other thing is, I got my return ticket. “

Steward has received several medals for his service, including a Silver Star.

He then went to college and started working in the advertising industry. Steward liked it but felt that his career didn’t have much purpose. He wanted to find a way to help others with their careers, so he opened a career counseling shop. “He never took off,” he said.

Next, Steward worked for a corporate outplacement firm, became a home improvement contractor in Connecticut and New York City, and ultimately decided to start his own career counseling business focused on working with veterans looking to help for the common good.

He’s been doing this since 2017, through ReinventU, from his home in Aiken, SC, and through the national organization Encore Network.

“I have a career full of transitions,” Steward says. “That’s why I consider myself an expert in transition. “

The military officers he consults usually have a long launching pad for their transition to civilian life, perhaps up to a year or two. Her job is to help them determine their skills and find an organization whose culture reflects their values.

The four officers in his group of the Officer Transition Alliance are almost 40 years old; one will be 51 when he leaves the army.

Steward notes that a big part of preparing for a transition involves cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset, whether the goal is to start a business or not.

“The process of getting a job or starting a business is similar,” says Steward. “The process you learn is a preparation for future transitions. “

As for him, Steward has no plans to retire. “Right now this is the most exciting time of my entire career, my entire life cycle,” he says.

After speaking with Steward and Zacchea, I am more convinced than ever that veterans who find purpose and a paycheck are essential to the health of the American economy.

Read more : “A job is not just a job”: why some unemployed people do not jump on job offers

It is important to remember what we owe retired military personnel as a society. And with the American economy in mind, it’s critical for us to understand just how much better we will be when our veterans successfully transition into civilian life.

Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor for the American Public Media Marketplace. Award-winning journalist, he is an author
from “A Goal and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life” and “A Retirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, to the community and to the good life ”.

This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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