In a two-day summit reaching nearly 1,400 people both in person and virtually, Disney’s Veterans Institute Summit set out to inspire business professionals and organizations to create their own military veteran hiring programs.

Relying on insights from the institute’s Heroes Work Here initiative, the Veterans Institute Summit held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World on Aug. 19-20 hit on a range of resources that can help ensure the transition from working in the military to working in the civilian sector is successful.

The nearly 400 in-person attendees of the event included representatives of the government, military and military service organizations, as well as Disney cast members and other guests. An additional 1,000 registrants attended virtually.

One resource highlighted was the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, in which industry partners can benefit from gaining early access to the experience, skills and work ethic that service members bring to the workforce.

Kristy Hall, a Navy veteran who served for 22 years, told Military Times that when she was looking to transition out of the Navy, she knew she wanted to work at Disney.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that this is where I wanted to be,” Hall said. “So I joined through the DOD’s SkillBridge Fellowship program.”

Culture shock

Hall believes the most challenging part of transitioning from the military to civilian life is the culture.

“In the military, you get your orders, check in to your new command and often you are going to work, play and live together,” Hall said, noting that at a company, relationships are different. “People (civilians) are interested in what I did over the weekend, or they ask about my family. So, learning to be open and foster those relationships is new when you make the transition.”

In addition to the culture, Hall mentioned that daily minutiae, like getting dressed, also requires some adjusting.

“You have to pick something to wear. You have to take time to build a wardrobe. Those little things make a big difference,” Hall said.

When Jenn O’Rourke transitioned from active duty in the Air Force to the reserves, her ultimate goal was to get back to Disney. She worked seasonally for Walt Disney World as a high schooler when her family moved to the Orlando area.

“My dad is retired Navy,” said O’Rourke. “After serving for 22 years, he asked my mom what was next. She said, ‘Let’s go to Disney World!’ My dad has been a cast member for 15 years and since recently retiring, my mom also works here,” she said.

American Corporate Partners (ACP), the only non-profit organization engaged in national corporate career counseling for returning veterans and active duty military spouses, is supported by more than 100 of America’s companies, including Disney. After completing her MBA during her transition to the reserves, O’Rourke participated in the ACP program. Having been so focused on building her network and fostering relationships, in the program, she already knew some of her possible future coworkers.

Identifying translatable skills

Filipa Douma, O’Rourke’s corporate mentor at Disney, saw skills in O’Rourke that the former intelligence officer did not realize she possessed.

“My background is in learning and development, training and talent acquisition,” O’Rourke said.

After working together, Douma told O’Rourke that her problem solving, leadership and critical thinking skills would be best utilized on the supply chain transformation team.

“We work on long-term strategic projects across the entirety of our supply chain,” said O’Rourke. “My team focuses on food and beverage and data systems that support the F&B business, including the systems and technologies that Disney uses to write recipes and to ensure that our guests are safe.”

“We’re proud of the veterans and military spouses who work here at Disney and the powerful impact they make across our company, our teams and our guest experience,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

“Those who have served in the military have a strong sense of mission, purpose and culture that makes them valuable employees as they transition to their civilian lives,” said U.S. Army Gen. Paul Funk II, Commanding General, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. “I am happy to see organizations like Disney supporting so many of our men and women who have valiantly served their nation.”

This year’s Veterans Institute Summit marked its first return to property since the inaugural event in 2013. For information on next year’s event, visit

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