The U.S. military strives to instill an exceptional work ethic, a unique mastery of teamwork and an indomitable sense of leadership into the men and women who serve — all skills that successful companies prize when hiring and promoting employees. Sadly, though, too often qualified veterans are overlooked for open positions because of stereotypes that create a critical blind spot among employers.
Having served in the Marine Corps for more than 20 years — participating in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, deploying to Fallujah twice, and serving as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina — I know first-hand the values cultivated by service. I firmly believe companies benefit when they do more to seek out qualified veterans and mentor them for key growth opportunities within their corporate structure.
During my deployments I was placed in high-stress situations that required clear-headed thinking and decisive decision-making. Unlike the stereotypical depiction of Parris Island in “Full Metal Jacket,” it is a leadership development institution. As a drill instructor I learned the value of treating everyone with dignity and respect and how to successfully motivate, reward and discipline recruits of all backgrounds.
The skills that I learned while serving in the Marine Corps ensured that I was well-equipped to tackle the challenges of civilian life when I retired in 2010. Veterans leave service with refined skills across a range of advanced industries. These skill sets enabled me to successfully work for a civilian contractor, a financial services company and now with defense contractor Sallyport as a senior manager in their Iraq operation.
These companies recognized leadership traits that were instilled in me by strong mentors from the Marine Corps. I am thankful that companies like these reach out to veterans. I encourage more employers to do the same and seek out exiting military service personnel and help smooth the transition from deployment to employment.
Leaving the service is a big change. Many veterans miss the special camaraderie that the military provides. Like the U.S. Armed Forces, great companies encourage pride in their organization and instill team work, promote collaboration, and recognize the importance of every member of the team. Every year, Sallyport celebrates the Marine Corps birthday on November 10, a seemingly small act that means a lot to a former Marine and demonstrates honor and recognition to those who have served in the Marine Corps.
I am thankful for the employers that ensure support networks are available to veterans to help navigate any transition-related issues, and I encourage more companies to recognize the challenges facing veterans and put resources in place to support them. These small steps turn into meaningful strides that make veterans truly feel welcomed in the workplace.
Too often, veterans are told that their military experience was not “real experience” in comparison to corporate experience. However, there are few opportunities better for learning leadership and conflict resolution than through military service. I am fortunate to have found opportunities within organizations that understand the value that veterans bring and demonstrate a greater commitment to them. Instead of just providing a foot in the door, more companies need give veterans a seat at the table.
Master Sgt. Gene Potes (retired) resides in Charleston, South Carolina.