Marines have started organizations to help those transitioning out of the Corps. Aiding with everything from donations to pay bills to matching their skills to civilian jobs, the leaders of the organizations like Marine Infantry Veterans Foundation and Hire Heroes USA try to assist others with the process they sometimes found to be difficult. (Greg Wright)
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Marines are using their own experiences in transitioning out of the Corps to help fill gaps in the system and to remind their comrades that the brotherhood doesn't end once they're out of uniform.
Those who've been through it say there are some common themes to the transition process. Feelings of isolation can set in once a service member leaves his unit behind and heads back to his community alone. The move from the battlefield to a classroom or a cubicle can be frustrating. And Marines don't always know how to sell the skills acquired as an ammunition technician or machine-gunner on a résumé.
"It was difficult for me, and I was a Naval Academy grad and a captain," said Brian Stann, a mixed martial artist with Ultimate Fighting Championship who also serves as the president and chief executive officer of http://www.hireheroesusa.org/">Hire Heroes USA. "If I was struggling, I knew others were, too."
Greg Wright was an infantryman who left the Corps as a lance corporal about a year before 9/11. Since then, he has watched injured infantrymen come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and struggle to adjust. While organizations popped up to help, they seemed to have high overhead costs, so not all the donations went to the troops. Wright thought he could do better, and this year started a nonprofit corporation, http://mivf.org/">Marine Infantry Veterans Foundation, to raise funds.
"We kind of have an online community in infantry," Wright said. "We're aware of what kinds of problems are going on with other Marines across the country, and it was frustrating to us to feel helpless."
Joined by a team of other infantrymen, including former Sgt. Paul Szoldra, the creator of http://www.duffelblog.com/">The Duffel Blog satiric news website, the foundation is basically a grassroots effort to help fellow grunts.
"If you look at the war on terror, the Marine infantry community bore a lot of that burden," Szoldra said. "They're coming home wounded, they can't work as much, they have families, and they're trying to pay the bills."
Wright and Szoldra work to get the stories of individual Marines' needs out to their supporters and ask infantrymen to donate just $10. These gifts can help keep their brothers from stressing about paying the bills while they await disability ratings or other forms of income.
Stann's Hire Heroes USA helps Marines learn how to sell their job skills in the civilian market and then matches them with jobs. Marines typically have a lot of skills that employers want, he said. It's just a matter of figuring out how to label them in terms civilians can understand.
"My first résumé could've gotten me a job as a mercenary or a CIA operative," said Stann, who earned a Silver Star for his actions as a platoon commander with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, in Iraq. "Marines have their own language, with so many tactical terms and acronyms. That doesn't make sense to someone who has never been in the military."
Marines should understand that it's going to take at least six months of preparation to transition to civilian life, Stann said. And that's their responsibility; they must ensure they don't sell themselves short.
Both organizations want Marines to know they're not alone.
"The pride infantry Marines have is that we don't ask for help," Szoldra said. "That can hurt us down the line if we've got guys at the end of their rope, very desperate, with bills piling up for months."
Marines are a team on the battlefield and shouldn't hesitate about going to each other when they move on to civilian life, Stann said.
"The Marine Corps is the biggest fraternity out there," Stann said. "There is nothing wrong with activating your network. There are Marines that are out there succeeding, and guess who they want to have on their right and left flank again — other Marines."