November 11, 2015
Brian Niswander | Cleveland.com
There are almost 22 million veterans in the United States and that number increases daily as the military continues downsizing. The process of becoming a civilian after wearing the uniform can be a major challenge. We owe these brave individuals a smooth transition back into civilian life.
After transitioning from active duty myself and then studying the process for more than 19 years, I decided to share my experiences and help fellow veterans successfully navigate the process. With a friend and mentor, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Greiman, we're utilizing the experiences of today's veterans to help guide those currently serving. The intent of this article is to inform the veteran community and mobilize support of this important project.
Over the past decade, we've helped countless veterans from all branches and ranks. Along the way, we discovered that most ask the same types of questions when considering their future. Some of the most common questions are:
1. What does someone with my experience, education, and training do in the civilian workforce?
2. Will I like it outside the military?
3. What challenges or obstacles are ahead in my upcoming transitioning?
4. What lessons can I learn and apply from my fellow veterans who have already transitioned?
5. How will my quality of life as a civilian compare to the lifestyle that surrounded me in the military?
Another important observation we made is that service members receive general information (one-size-fits-all) about the transition process from courses, books, magazines, and websites. What's lacking is interactive and customized information that provides insights and lessons unique to each member's situation.
A 29-year old Army E-6 (staff sergeant) with 11 years of experience and technical skills from conducting satellite communications wants to know what those with similar backgrounds and circumstances do as a civilian. This individual isn't necessarily concerned about the types of work a 40-year-old Air Force or Navy officer with acquisition, logistic, or maintenance experience might perform when that person gets out of the military. All are veterans that want to join the civilian workforce, yet each gains more from understanding the experiences of those with whom they share similarities in military branch, specialty, rank, years of service, age, education, skills, and training.
Armed with these observations, we decided to gather and share information through an approach that's never been done before. We launched a professional survey (Military-Transition.org/survey) which gathers candid responses from the veteran community about their experiences.
Military veterans who've already made their transition are asked to visit the website and provide anonymous responses to important questions. The results of these surveys will be combined and used to develop an interactive tool which delivers "transition intelligence" to educate and guide other veterans. This first-ever "interactive transition intelligence tool" will provide answers to service members based upon those who've gone ahead of them. The interactive portion ensures service members can view results based upon their own military branch, specialty, rank, years of service, education, and other key demographics which maximizes the value of the information.
The mission is to help service members by sharing insights from those who've gone before them, thereby making the process less confusing and increasing the likelihood for success. Key learnings can also be used in Department of Defense transition programs and by companies that want to hire veterans and help them adapt more easily to new roles within the civilian environment.
Our goal is for 100,000 veterans to respond to the survey, which began earlier this year. When the database and tool are completed, military members will be able to see the percent agreement or disagreement with questions such as "the transition process was more difficult than I expected."' After this, users can read why veterans provided specific answers. One of the most important aspects of this project is to share the lessons learned by other veterans, including things they would have done differently if equipped with the insights available through the interactive transition intelligence tool.
The team at Military-Transition.org plans to establish a baseline using 2015 data and will conduct the survey annually to mark trends and keep the results current. Former military who would like to participate are encouraged to complete the survey at http://military-transition.org and invite their fellow veterans to do the same. Our long-term goal is to help the current defenders of our freedom assimilate smoothly into the next chapter of their lives. Please join and participate in this important project.
Brian Niswander of Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, is an Air Force veteran, a reservist, and the founder of Military-Transition.org with 25 years experience working with service members and veterans in both Fortune 500 and public sector organizations. Veterans are encouraged to share their experiences and help today's service members by completing the anonymous survey at military-transition.org/survey.