April 2010 | Commentary | In Perspective

Nation Building at Home

Tags: Education & Careers, Military Logistics

After generations of change, one transition is still difficult—how we integrate military veterans into the private-sector workforce.

The military has had to be innovative—or at least adaptable—when it comes to logistics. And, as strange as it may sound, the military is often more open to change than private-sector companies. In addition to a goal-oriented, committed attitude, many military veterans bring a skill set that is difficult to translate into a private-sector equivalent. But military experience is an asset, and shouldn't be dismissed with just a "thank you" or awkward silence.

During the U.S. Civil War, the Confederacy created the world's first military railroad to keep its troops supplied. That was of little help when they were deep in Union territory, near the town of Gettysburg.Rather than report back to General Lee on the Union troop disposition, a Confederate force chose to attack a target of opportunity—my great-grandfather, a "wagoner" and the supply wagons of Company G of the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Four score and two years later (I couldn't resist), my father was part of the Fourth Motorized Division—the first completely motorized division in the United States Army. "Though the organization was experimental, its pioneering laid the basis for all future development of motorized divisions," according to one Army account. His war started on the beaches of Normandy and ended with Germany's surrender.

Thirty years after he mustered out, I was completing my own military service—entering a society that was tired of a long, unpopular war and an economy that was struggling with, among other things, high unemployment.

For each of us, service was different, and the transition back to a civilian life was challenging. When I went on job interviews, very few potential employers asked about my military service.

Today's all-volunteer military is different. Reserve and National Guard units are much more heavily deployed than they have been for decades. That significantly increases their exposure to military systems, tools, and processes. It also brings some of their civilian expertise to the military structure. This could be one of the greatest public/private knowledge transfers, and it's not being managed or administered by anyone; it's occurring organically.

On the active-duty side, the quality of training and on-the-job learning has steadily improved and, whether those service members are entering the private sector after one enlistment or a career, they bring those skills with them. They may need some help translating the language from military jargon to civilian jargon, but if you dig, it will become clear.

On the less tangible side, these veterans bring a sense of commitment and a strong focus on results. They have been leaders or worked under good leaders, and they carry an expectation of strong leadership from the organization they choose to work for.

I guess the real question is: Is the private sector ready to welcome and help develop this next wave of supply chain leaders?