Category Archives: Transitions

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Have You Prepared for All Aspects of Your Transition?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52

You may not have thought about it. But military life is integrated. On base, you have facilities serving your physical needs: exercise, medical care, food, and clothing. You can get mental and spiritual support. To a large degree, every unit in the field and ship is self-supporting. Civilian life is fractured. When you transition you need time to rebuild a whole life from scattered pieces.

How to Handle the Fragmentation of Civilian Life

Transitioning Creates Outer and Inner Conflict

The fragmented nature of civilian life makes leaving the military chaotic. That’s why I often talk about reintegration. Transitioning requires more than finding a new home and job. You need to restore a complete structure for daily life.

In the days of wooden sailing ships, rope makers twisted and wove strands of hemp, cotton, and other fibers together to make ropes as thick as seven inches or more. When pulled, any individual thread would snap. But entwined, they often withstood gale force winds.

It took at least four to six months to grow hemp and make such heavy rope. For a life, Parshas Ha’azinu explains the process:

“For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob a rope of his possession.” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 32:9)

This week’s parsha ends this cycle of Sabbath readings. Moses taught how G-d and the Israelites’ existence would intertwine. He noted how Jacob combined the strengths of three generations. Abraham’s kindness and Isaac’s sense of justice integrated with his spiritual strength. So he overcame his struggle with the angel. (Genesis 32:22-23) He was ready to face life in all its complexity. The Israelites could follow this example.

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The multifaceted nature of life is just one of many ways rope symbolizes your transition.

Ensure You're Strong

Our military service binds us together. But if we braid our rope from delicate or worn out fibers it will break under stress. Each of us needs to revitalize himself. Then, despite some of us being so fragile we snap, the rest of us can maintain our unbreakable bond.

Each of us intertwines character traits that make up our personalities. Some will serve our reintegration. Others will hamper it. Transitioning entails strengthening the positive fibers. At the same time, we have to engage in the laborious process of unraveling the negative ones.

To rejuvenate, know a rope connects you to the Almighty. Each deed strengthens or breaks a filament connecting you to the Creator. Through daily work on this relationship, you create the ability to tug on the rope. This brings G-d’s presence closer to you in this world during times of trouble.

A rope made of inferior hemp will break in a hurricane. Likewise, transitions made in haste with insufficient thought unravel when hardship strikes. Focus on growing stronger through each step of your reintegration. Give yourself enough time to weave sturdy bonds before taking on extra burdens. And remember, G-d is a tug away.

What daily task strengthens your connection to G-d?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Mine Veterans to Find the Best Employees

2 Problems Solved by Hiring Military People

3 minutes to read

(NOTE: This is part of a series of articles for civilians who want to help veterans transition better. If you’re current or former military, pass this on to a civilian friend.)

Unemployment is at its lowest rate in ten years. So you’d think it would be easy to find a job. Yet veterans and civilians struggle despite 7.1 million openings. What gives? Many business owners, economists, and government officials agree a skills gap hampers hiring. Economist James Bessen wrote the most lucid explanation I’ve found. He identifies two problems: 1. Finding people with certain specific skill sets and 2. Recruiting employees who can adapt their skills at the pace of industry change. Both describe military people.

How to Mine Veterans to Find the Best Employees

The Military Trains in Adaptability

Take the second issue first. Have you seen the movie, Heartbreak Ridge? Clint Eastwood inculcates his Marines with the ethos of “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.” The Marine Corps embeds these values in its people.

I saw it in action when my air wing deployed. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, the legendary Death Rattlers, had some of the oldest fighter jets in the fleet. Yet ingenuity and tenacity maintaining their planes kept them flying as much as those of squadrons with much newer equipment.

And I’ve seen Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen as resourceful as Marines. With today’s undermanned units and equipment older than maintenance crews, you have to be creative to get the job done.

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Veterans don't think to mention this skill. It’s so much a part of them it would be like saying they know how to breathe. And you don't see it in information on veterans, such as this summary by the VA. Not every veteran has it in equal amounts. But if you ask about their experience, you’ll soon find the level of their adaptability.

The Basics of Military Personnel Structure

With resourcefulness a given, you need to find military people with specific skill sets you need. Here’s the challenge. Many veterans don't know how to translate their military training and experience into language civilians understand. But if you make a small investment in learning the military personnel system, you can use terminology they know.

Consider that veterans have little or no experience finding a civilian job. They don't know the process, language, or how to market themselves. The people who train them in such skills mean well. But they don't have much job-hunting experience either.

If you have a growing business, you need to expand your workforce on a regular basis. So it makes sense to have one or two people at your company learn the military personnel structure. Then they can find quality employees with your required skills sets among the many resourceful veterans looking for work.

I’ll explain the basic structure here. Then, over the next few weeks, I’ll deal with:

  • How pay grade relates to education, experience, and leadership ability.
  • Military job codes and how you can use them to unearth the skills you need.
  • Questions you can ask veterans to help them uncover their true abilities.

There are three categories of personnel or pay grades in the military:

Enlisted people (E1 through E9 pay grades). Technical skill and leadership ability increase with pay grade. They break down into three groups, though variations exist among the service branches:

  1. Junior Enlisted (E1 through E3). Rank and file employees, such as technicians, mechanics, and analysts.
  2. Non-Commissioned Officers - NCOs (E4 through E6). High skills level and first level supervision, such as team leaders.
  3. Senior or Staff Non-Commissioned Officers - SNCOs (E7 through E9). Skill mastery and leadership from managers to lower level C-Suite capability.

Warrant Officers (W1 through W5 pay grades). Combine the expertise and training ability of SNCOs with the operational leadership of commissioned officers.

Commissioned Officers (O1 through O10 pay grades). Leadership ability and command authority increase with pay grade. They break down into two broad categories and three levels. The categories are:

  1. Line Officers. Exercise command authority.
  2. Staff officers. Professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, and chaplains who advise commanders.

The three levels are:

  1. Junior Officers (O1 through O3). Tactical and small unit leadership, equal to mid level management to lower level C-Suite.
  2. Senior Officers (O4 through O6). Operational and administrative unit leadership, equal to mid to senior C-Suite level.
  3. General and Flag Officers (O7 through O10). Generals and admirals who form the uniformed senior leadership of each service branch. Equal to senior C-Suite executives and directors.

Like with any organization, abilities vary based on the individual. But with this basic structure in mind, you can begin to target the skill and leadership level you need.

What is the biggest hiring problem you face?

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How to Create a Cadence to Overcome the Transition Blues

2 Cornerstones to an Unbreakable Reintegration Foundation

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Nitzavim-Vayeilech – Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

A few weeks ago I heard sailors in formation calling cadence for the first time in quite a while. They brought back memories of my days as a Boy Scout. World War II and Korean War veterans ran my troop. Among the military influences, when we hiked someone called cadence. They were corny…

“I had a good wife but she left.” “You're right!”

“Look what the horses have left.” “You're right!”

“Sound off…” “One, two…” Sound off…” “Three, four…” “Cadence count…” “One, two, three, four, one, two, THREE, FOUR!”

But to a scrawny kid struggling to carry a 50 lb. backpack they kept my spirits from flagging. Civilian life could use some cadence calls, especially when the transition blues hit.

How to Create a Cadence to Overcome the Transition Blues

The Timeless Formula

No matter how meticulous your plan, you’ll have bumps when reintegrating to civilian life. In my case, a week before the movers came to pack up my on-base house, the business venture I had worked on for six months fell through. We got to Los Angeles with lots of expenses and no job.

I could have used a cadence, even a corny one, to help me lift my feet. I felt anger toward the partner who deceived the rest of us. Worse than the lost money was the lost time. My internal dialog flooded with doubt.

I had to make some changes. Fast. I’ll bet you can relate.

Parshas Vayeilech holds the clue for what to do:

“For, the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:14)

The Israelites stood on the cusp of the Promised Land. Moses reminded them they didn’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to figure out the right thing to do. Though daunted by having to change their mode of life, the Torah would still direct them. G-d would provide comfort and protect them. If their hearts remained true to the Almighty, they need not despair.

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Concerned they don't know the new requirements for success. Needing to change their way of life anyway. Being hopeful and apprehensive at the same time. Sounds familiar?

The Burden of Previous Transitions

If you ever struggled to transition, you carry that baggage now. Starting school. Changing schools mid-year or going from middle to high school. Trying to make a team. Crossing over from Webelos to Boy Scouts. Acclimating to your parents getting divorced. Long forgotten emotions from these events can resurface during times of uncertainty.

You may have made an irreversible mistake. You vowed to move on only to find yourself caught in an emotional loop. Realizing you're in a similar situation now, you doubt your ability to prevail.

If destiny haunts you, remember it’s in your mouth and your heart, to move forward and succeed. You’ll ease your way with a cadence to overcome emotional inertia. Create yours by:

1. Purpose. Reimagine who you are. As you transition to civilian life, you’re no longer solely a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman. These remain a part of your identity. But now you’ll add new facets to them. Write down a word picture of you reintegrated to civilian life.

2. Mission. Your values don't need to change. But the focus of your life and work does. Family-wise and professionally, create a plan for a lifelong journey. Does your religion give you direction? Consider what 10 to 30-year work goals will motivate you. Don't worry about their changing over the years. Encapsulate your current vision into a powerful sentence or two that describes your life’s trek.

Post these on your bathroom mirror and read them aloud every morning. Keep a copy on your phone so you can read it when the transition blues hit.

Each time you start over, you strive anew. Obliterate worries about the times in the past you said you'd change but didn't follow through. Recognize all that matters is what you say and do now. The required tasks are neither too extraordinary nor too complex for you to handle. These weren’t empty platitudes for the Israelites. Nor are they for you.

Fill in your knowledge gaps. Create a cadence to keep you marching when your energy flags. And always remember, G-d is there to comfort and protect you.

Do you have a mantra that gets you through a difficult situation?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Improve Your Company by Hiring Veterans

25 Benefits Military People Bring to the Table

2-½ minutes to read

(NOTE: I wrote this for civilians who want to help veterans transition better. If you’re current or former military, pass this on to a civilian friend.)

You want to help veterans make a smoother transition to civilian life. But you don't know any or know just a handful. You’d like to make an impact. But you’ve got your job and family responsibilities. So it can't be a full-time endeavor. Everyone is so busy these days. What can you do that has a limited time commitment?

How to Improve Your Company by Hiring Veterans

A Quick Assessment of Your Knowledge

Last week I mentioned three things you can do to shrink the military-civilian divide:

  1. Understand military culture.
  2. Identify the benefits of hiring veterans.
  3. Use the military personnel structure.

Start by assessing what you know about the military and its culture. If your knowledge comes from movies and television it’s not accurate. Take this online course on the basics of military structure and culture. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Though it’s geared to mental health professionals, you’ll find it useful. Ninety-five percent of what it covers applies to anyone who wants to know more about the military.

Having figured out what you know, you can fill in the gaps. Check out these resources for learning military language and service specific values:

Summary of core value for each service branch

List of military terms and acronyms

Military lingo

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After an hour or two, you’ll be better prepared to understand military people. Keep the terms and lingo cheat sheets on your cell phone for easy access.

Qualities and Soft Skills

Now that you can communicate with veterans better, you’re ready to take the next step. To help military people find the right job, determine how they can help an organization. Start by the learning how military training and service benefits them. Not every service member gains these 20 qualities and skills. But by and large, you’ll find a high correlation between the list and what they bring to the table as prospective employees.

Other benefits of employing military people are:

  1. Mission-Focused. No organization is more mission-focused than the military. Service members learn to keep that end goal in sight. Hence they exercise creativity when bureaucracy makes reaching it more difficult.
  2. Respect Policies & Procedures. Military people know how to work within policies, even when they disagree with them. They find ways to finesse them from time to time. But they won't violate them, especially when they understand their rationale.
  3. Intuitive. Much of military training inculcates the ability to respond with little thought. Intuition takes over. Given the speed of commerce, such a skill has great value to a company.
  4. Candor. Hidden problems in the military cost lives and valuable equipment. When something is wrong, service members learn to speak up. They’re direct but respectful. In the private sector, such candor can be off putting. Veterans need to tone it down. At the same time, organizations have to get such input to survive.
  5. Leadership. Even junior enlisted people have leadership ability. Especially if they were in a community like aviation or submarines. On an aircraft carrier, an 18-year-old plane captain decides whether a $50 million airplane leaves the deck. It doesn't matter that the pilot outranks him.

These qualities and soft skills enhance technical proficiency and experience. Don't rely on a resume. Often service members struggle to capture their skills and experience on paper. Ferret out their qualifications using these lists.

You may choose not to use the military personnel structure to find the hard skills you need. Even so, knowing the benefits military people bring to an employer can help you find the ones that best fit into your organization. In doing so, you can substantially improve the quality of your hires.

How have you helped veterans transition?

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How to Battle Lack of Preparation for Your Transition

2 Lessons You Can Apply to Leaving the Military

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Ki Savo – Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

You decided to move on, retire, or got told to leave the military. The prospect of civilian life fills you with excitement. New horizons are there to conquer. No kicking back and enjoying life. Then reality sets in. Job-hunting turns out to be harder than the TAP folks said. You face dozens of problems without a sponsor. Finding a decent place to live. Getting your kids in new schools. The excitement turns to trepidation.

How to Battle Lack of Preparation for Your Transition

A Whole Nation Disoriented by Change

If you're not careful, the blessing of civilian life will become a curse. Your confidence will change to uncertainty. How could things go SO wrong? How will you handle dashed dreams?

We’re not the first people to make a wrenching change. The story in Parshas Ki Savo will sound familiar:

“…so that you can enter the land that the Lord your G-d gave to you, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 27:3)

Moses sets out the terms under which the people will live in the Land of Israel. The fundamental rules of life won't change. The Torah will still guide them. But in the wilderness, G-d led them from place to place. He prepared manna for them to eat. Their clothes didn't wear out and they didn't have to do laundry. They studied and celebrated the Sabbath and festivals. Some of them got into mischief.

In the Land, the Israelites will have to adapt to a different life. It may flow with milk and honey. But someone will have to feed and milk the cows. The honey won't gather itself. The Almighty will still guide them, though more hidden now. Each man will have to make numerous decisions.

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Civilian life should flow with milk and honey. But it doesn’t.

Combat Unpreparedness with Outlook

Remember in the military how you handled unexpected problems? You used your training to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Of course, therein lies the key. Your service branch drilled you to meet pretty near all contingencies. For the most difficult ones, someone senior to you had the answer. And, he took the responsibility.

Now you’re in civilian life. You may not have proper training. You haven’t drilled handling unforeseen problems. You're not sure who has the experience to give you sound advice. And all the responsibility rests on your shoulders.

The Israelites faced this situation. Moses gave them a choice: blessings or curses. The Torah lists twelve lines of blessings but an astonishing 54 of curses! You can learn two lessons from their experience:

1. Once you commit to negativity, you’re on an almost endless, downward spiral. The pain will be long and drawn out. You’ll think you’ve hit bottom, only to find there are deeper layers of garbage.

2. If you accept life’s problems as blessings, soon you’ll see some fruits of your effort. They won't come all at once. But living with gratitude for the struggles AND the good times means achieving greater comfort.

I’ve asked transitioning veterans to offer advice to service members about to leave the military. Some say, “STAY IN!” Sadly, they’ve chosen the first path. Instead, resolve to convert negative aspects of your transition into growth lessons. Make curses blessings. And put the excitement back into your transition to civilian life.

Where do you see or anticipate blessings in your transition?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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