Military veterans are proud people, and they should be. Their repeated heroism is the reason we have the freedoms we do in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand and many other nations around the world.
However, this pride often prevents some of them from admitting when they need help. As a result, they struggle tremendously after they separate or retire from the service – some mentally or emotionally, others physically, many silently.
You would be surprised at how many veterans who seem well-adjusted to their friends, family and neighbors have challenges finding jobs, maintaining financial stability, and connecting with others after they separate. This includes veterans who served in leadership positions.
So, I asked Dan Jaquint, the co-chair of Zebra’s Veterans Inclusion Network (VETZ) and an Army veteran, what you and I can do to better support military veterans – not just today (Veterans Day/Armistice Day) or during times of conflict, but every day.
Dan, who was just named a 2022 Notable Military Veteran Executive by Crain’s Chicago, served 30 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a Colonel in 2020. After serving as a Field Artillery Officer for six years and completing a deployment during Operation Desert Storm, Dan transitioned into the Army Reserve, subsequently serving in USACE in Korea, deploying as a NATO Senior Military Advisor to Afghanistan and serving as the National Police Counter-IED directorate. He also commanded the 1st/383rd CS BN, 181 Infantry Regiment, and served as the Chief of Staff and G3 Operations Officer for the 85th Support Command.
Despite his diverse military career and extensive leadership experience, he found the transition out of the military profoundly challenging. So, he has made it his mission to ease the transition for other veterans. He has some great advice on how you and I can help veterans find stability and their purpose in the civilian world, even if we don’t know any personally. Check it out:
Shannon: What’s it really like to leave the military?
Dan: I don’t think a person ever truly “leaves” the military. There is such a strong culture and uniqueness to military service that it becomes ingrained in you, it's part of who you are, and you never lose that. Transitioning from the military to the corporate environment was challenging, and it took some time to adjust. The military has a strong culture, and a lot of time and resources go into preparing and assimilating somebody into that culture. The military prepares you for what’s ahead; that isn’t necessarily the case in the civilian world.
Some of the biggest challenges I had were changing certain behaviors, especially around communications. There were small things I was doing that had a big effect on those I worked with – things I had learned in the military that aren’t standard practice in corporate environments. For example, I was calling people by their last names, doing things in a purposeful manner, having a presence and speaking directly. In the military, your last name is on your uniform, that way people know who you are. So, we call people by their last name because, in a large group, it provides clarity. There can be 20 Dan’s in an Artillery Battalion, 45 John’s, etc., but likely only one Jaquint. So, I was calling my co-workers by their last names, and many of them saw that as rude, cold and insensitive. It wasn’t meant to be; it was just what I was accustomed to.
In the military, you are taught to do everything “with a purpose” – even walking. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. On the battlefield coordination and speed are critical for success. So, military folks walk fast and try to take the fastest routes, thus “walking with a purpose.” Initially the folks I worked with in the corporate environment thought I was cocky and arrogant. That shocked me. When I finally asked people about it, they said, you stand and walk around “like you think you’re all that.” That wasn’t arrogance, it was what my mother and father told me to always do and what the Army demanded… “stand up straight.” Soldiers march in formation, and the cadence you march at is set for a reason. At that pace, a large group can walk 20 miles a day, every day, without much risk of injury – and speed on the battlefield is critical. I wasn’t being arrogant; I was walking with a purpose and had been walking that way for years. To quote Aerosmith, I still “walk this way.”
Plus, leadership in the military requires confidence. If you are not confident in yourself, you can’t expect others to have confidence in you. Soldiers are always watching their leaders, and they are very good at “sizing them up.” Can they trust you? Do you know what you are doing? Would you want to follow somebody in a combat zone that you didn’t trust or have confidence in? I wouldn’t. Having confidence doesn’t mean you think you have all the answers, that you aren’t uncomfortable, not sure or scared. At times you are all those things. But you must overcome this to convey confidence and motivate people to do things that normally they wouldn’t want to do. So, it isn’t uncommon for a veteran to come across as confident; they needed to be. Some people can mistake that for arrogance or being mean when that isn’t the case. And these are just a few of the things you don’t think of when transitioning from the military to the corporate world.
Shannon: I know it’s not always obvious how we as individuals or companies can help veterans, in part because the challenges they face aren’t always vocalized. But is there a way you’ve come to recognize when a veteran might need help and how best to support them?
Dan: That’s a difficult thing to assess. I am not an expert nor trained to identify if and when somebody may need help, outside of the obvious things such as them reaching out to you expressing concerns, etc. In my opinion, if people are interested in helping veterans, the best thing they can do is to support a reputable charity that specializes in providing services to veterans. Reputable charities have the knowledge, experience and expertise required to support veterans across a wide range of challenges. Providing the experts with monetary donations and/or spending time volunteering at a charity event is the best thing most of us can do.
Shannon: I know you have really championed work with the nonprofit Hiring Our Heroes in the past year, which has helped at least nine veterans find meaningful employment with Zebra in 2022 alone. Why did you choose to align with this organization?
Dan: VETZ identified Hiring our Heroes as an organization that provides a much-needed service to transitioning military members. Hiring quality talent is a top priority for every organization, as you want the best and brightest. You want to find people that will fit into your culture, that are self-motivated and able to take on a challenge.
When you think about Zebra’s core values – accountability, agility, innovation, integrity and teamwork – those are the same values we emphasize in the military. So, hiring transitioning military members is a natural fit for Zebra as they already embody our core values. They bring a very broad set of skills and experiences that are hard to find. The military is a learning organization, and education is key. You spend time in the classroom learning skills, leadership and decision-making techniques, and you are always training and honing those skills before putting them in action by executing missions. A member of the military often develops these critical skills at a faster pace than the general population because of the continuous education, training and experiences that they get.