Seldom if ever has America asked so much of so few for so long. Its soldiers and Marines are being deployed around the world at breakneck pace, accepting significant sacrifice, often at great personal risk.
If we are going to ask so much of our men and women who voluntarily serve under arms, it is only fair that we take good care of them. Fortunately, military pay as well as health and retirement benefits have improved substantially in modern times. But young people leaving the service need more than benefits.
If they are leaving the active-duty force, they need new jobs and careers. If they are returning from reservist duty, they need the right to reclaim their former positions, or help restoring their own businesses that probably suffered during their absence. The private sector and government both need to keep looking for more ways to assist.
Modern American military veterans bring many distinctive talents to careers in the private sector. Several stand out.
(1) Military veterans display a propensity toward leadership. They often possess practical, hands-on management experience. Many will have led teams of a dozen or more individuals during the course of even a short, three-year enlistment.
(2) Military veterans also possess a strong sense of loyalty. Loyalty is a core value in today's military services, and is instilled from basic training. Military veterans can be expected to approach a business opportunity with pride and professionalism that understands loyalty as a two-way street, prepared to give their commitment to a firm in return for the opportunity to produce bottom-line results for that company.
(3) Most of today's military veterans possess exceptional information technology know-how and technical expertise. A young private on an Army personnel carrier or a Marine Corps tank will be trained to use, maintain and understand the basics of nearly a dozen high-tech instruments imbedded in these modern military vehicles from computer-generated thermal images, to global positioning navigation systems tied to satellite tracking devices, to digital-data graphics and movement presentations relayed between moving vehicles via wireless control. The onetime "low-tech" world of the infantryman and tank crewman are long gone.
(4) Our veterans are used to working successfully in an ethnically diverse environment. They have formal training and personal experience in an employee system that values ethnic diversity and that trains and demands adherence to equal opportunity for all workers.
(5) Our modern military has seen extensive overseas deployments since well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Thus, the average separating military veteran will have personal experience with international environments and international partners. Many will also have conversational skills in at least one foreign language.
Tragically, of course, some of our veterans will return to the workplace handicapped physically or mentally. Not every possible job will be right for all of them. But the U.S. military health and veterans' care systems are getting better all the time at helping diagnose and treat such conditions. They can also help employers understand the challenges faced by some of our soldiers and Marines, even before hiring decisions are made. And while some are indeed seriously injured, most veterans will arrive in the civilian work force in good health and with a greater propensity than most toward a healthy lifestyle featuring exercise and smart eating habits.
While our focus here has been on those veterans separating from the active duty U.S. military force, American businesses have an equally critical role in supporting our Reservists and Guardsmen. Federal law protects members of the military from losing their jobs while they are mobilized to active duty. Many, if not most, American firms and industries are honoring this legal obligation. But some are not, and must.
Moreover, no such federal job safety net exists for Reserve & National Guard troops who own their own businesses. According to the National Guard Bureau, about 5 percent of all 1 million members of the National Guard and Reserves are self-employed. Preferential loans or even modest, temporary subsidies may be appropriate for those whose businesses can be shown to have suffered during their absence.
An amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snow, Maine Republican, and John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, provides federal legislation that will mandate much of this vital support. If signed into law by the president, this legislation will still require the good faith implementation by the nation's bankers and businessmen to assure its desired effect.
If you have a story to share about a military veteran working for or with you, and are willing to share it in brief form, please e-mail us. We would like to write another column with such inspirational stories.