This Memorial Day, Americans will take time to reflect on those who have served in our nation’s military.
But what of those individuals whose time in the military is coming to an end? What resources and insight can be offered to the men and women transitioning from the military back to civilian careers?
A number of organizations including American Dream U, the Honor Foundation, CivCom, the Mission Continues, the Heroes Journey, and Victor App, strive to provide support for this community of veterans. Certain companies also strive to hire veterans and provide military-friendly environments.
Business Insider spoke with 10 veterans from several different branches of the military about transitioning back to civilian careers.
Here’s their best advice for people considering leaving the military:
Start preparing as soon as possible
Omari Broussard joined the Navy about three weeks after graduating high school at the age of 17. He says he enjoyed his subsequent 20-year career, during which he rose to the rank of Navy Chief. However, as the father of six kids with an interest in starting his own business, he knew at some point he’d have to move on.
“I loved it, but it was a conflict, between missing out on family time and becoming and entrepreneur,” he tells Business Insider.
Broussard says that the most crucial part of transitioning from military to civilian work is preparation. It’s advice he’s shared with his fellow attendees at American Dream U, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life.
“As a military member, you only get so much time to prepare, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get any time to prepare,” says Broussard, who is now the founder of counter-ambush training class 10X Defense and author of “Immediate Action Marketing.” “I retired in 2015. My preparations for getting out started in 2007.”
Getting ready included earning his degree in organizational security management at the University of Phoenix, becoming a firearms instructor on the side, and laying the groundwork for founding his own business.
“The military gave me more of the framing and the conditioning,” he says. “The skills I had to go out and get on my own.”
“Start early,” says James Byrne, who served as a US Navy SEAL officer for 26 years. “You need to start planning your exit when you start the service.”
However, Byrne, who now works as the director of sales and business development at solar tech company Envision Solar, tells Business Insider that doesn’t mean you should divide your attention.
“I don’t mean one foot in, one foot out,” he says. “In order to do what we do, you have to have a complete commitment to our mission in special operations. But get your education. Get your medical VA stuff in order. Keep everything up to date.”
Byrne is a fellow at the Honor Foundation, a group that specifically helps Navy SEALs transition back to civilian careers and life. He says that he’s seen many people simply become overwhelmed by the process of leaving the military.
“It’s not so much that any one part of the transition is really that hard,” he says. “The problem is when it all comes together at one point — that’s what makes it hard and overwhelming. The better you can prepare in those different areas, the better it’s going to be. You can’t wait till three months before you get out.”
Brace yourself for a major culture shift
Retired Green Beret Scott Mann has a total of 23 years of experience in the army. Today, he runs a leadership training organization MannUp and the Heroes Journey, a non-profit devoted to helping veterans transition.
“As a warrior, you live in a honor-based culture,” Mann tells Business Insider. “It is tribal, in the sense that tribal society is built around the group, honor, and it’s about the collective. If you’re in the military, or a military dependent, your relationship with your teammates is tribal — you took the needs of the many in front of your own needs. That’s how you fight, train, and survive, and it becomes trained within you.”
On the other hand, the civilian job landscape tends to be far more individualistic.
“Bam, you’re out and you’re in this world that’s the polar opposite of that, where it’s a society that values the individual above the group, puts the needs of one in front of the many,” says Mann, who also authored “Mission America,” a book breaking down insight on the life after the military. “It’s literally like changing planets. It’s not that one is better than the other, but each is necessary in its own way.”
He says that high-performing military veterans must brace for that extreme change, as well as learn to tell their stories and translate their own experiences in the civilian world.
Kayla Williams is a US army veteran who now works as the director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s collaborated with veterans’ transition group the Mission Continues in the past, serving as a panelist at a recent talk.
She tells Business Insider that civilian workplaces also tend to be far less hiearchical and structured.
“It was also a challenge to not feel the same deep sense of purpose that infused my daily life while in the military, which is what ultimately drove me to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs: I wanted to serve in a new way,” she says.
Know what you want
After a brief stint as a financial planner in DC, Randy Kelley served as a Navy SEAL sniper for 11 years. Since retiring in 2005, he has found his calling as an entrepreneur and built up seven different companies.
He tells Business Insider that ancient military stategist Sun Tzu is the inspiration behind his top advice for other recent veterans: “Know yourself.”
“You’ve got to know yourself first, what you’re good at, what you like to do, where you can provide value, and basically, what is your competitive advantage?” Kelley says. “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m very good at building ideas, and not so good at organization. I’m not going to be an accountant. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to be a project manager.”
Kelley, who founded the wellness startup Dasein Institute and has collaborated with American Dream U, recommends that veterans boil down their favorite aspects of their military career to figure out a new path forward.
“Do you like tasks or do you like missions?” he asks. “If you’re a mission-oriented guy, like I am personally, you want to know what the big picture is. You want to know what needs to get done. If you’re a task-oriented person, you like stability and you like a consistent paycheck and those kind of things, and you need to follow a separate route.”