There is no doubt about it, the British Army is probably one of the best in the world, if not thee best, but I’m biased. I hold this belief because of personal experiences and my knowledge about the military system and its culture.
Yes, ‘best’ in many ways is a subjective term, at least in the context of those salient but required questions like; what, why or how? These quantifiers are actually a requirement, when trying to evidence such a bold opinion.
All that said, military training is renowned for developing and instilling many useful traits and robust qualities in people, regardless of which arm a person served within. Strong levels of motivation, determination and resilience are just three of the many skills that people develop, thanks to their service in the armed forces. The military helps to build and develop these traits and personal skills in their people. These valuable skills are usually ingrained in most veterans.
“Lots of things can give you confidence, for a little while. But confidence that lasts a lifetime? There’s one place you’ll find that” – the British Army (or Royal Navy, Royal Marines and RAF).
It can be shock for some however, new environments present new sets of problems that need to be tackled, no matter how daunting they appear to be. Fear of the unknown is a natural response to changing circumstances however; is it rational to be fearful of something new, simply because we might not understand it yet?
The simple answer to that question is no and importantly, that ingrained military tenet of “mind over matter” is one of the most useful keys for unlocking many of our problems… regardless of how difficult they might appear to be.
Me n are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. – It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. (Epictetus)
When facing a new ‘campaign’ in the ‘battle’ of life; sometimes veterans have that tendency to forget their fortitude, resilience, training and the ‘fighting’ skills they developed whilst serving. I said ‘forget’ because it is reasonable to assume; anyone who has served in the military, should posses an abundance of those personal traits and capabilities. If not, why not?
Military to Civilian Transition
Over the years I have known way too many veterans who fear the unknowns contained within the civilian world. They are uncomfortable about stepping away from the camaraderie of their unit, and that feeling of belonging to a life-long brother/sisterhood of support which provided a safety net during their military service. For some, it can be like walking over a precipice into an abys but realistically (as adults), do we really still need a ‘comfort-blanket’ to help us move forwards?
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. (Winston Churchill)
When faced with the realities of leaving the armed forces, some people see traversing that chasm of transition will be an impossible task. But, is that really a rational thought process or assumption?
No, not really. What ever happened to all those planning and preparation to prevent piss-poor performance skills you learned? Again, our mindset is the key to unlocking most of the problems we face. Irrespective of whether or not those issues are real, or simply a personal perception or negative thought process.
The military to civilian employee transition process is undoubtedly problematic, for many veterans. The ‘problems’ are reported upon, time and time again however my question has always been; why is this process (apparently) so difficult and still constantly reoccurring, for so many veterans?
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. (Buddha)
Could it be that (some) veterans are unwittingly and unintentionally creating many of their own ‘barriers’ to future employment? Bare with me a moment, whilst I attempt to explain my thinking.
From what I have seen over the years, one of the fundamental sticking-points for many during transition is simply the culture-shock factor… It’s all different on the other side, uncomfortable and therefore unpleasant. That said, every veteran will have experienced discomfort during his/her service, and more so than many civilians so… why worry?
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. (Lao Tzu)
I’m not suggesting that any veteran should ever be ashamed, or even secretive about their past service [unless that happens to be an ‘official’ requirement]. However, could it be that we are tempted to display more of our past values (and behaviours), rather than learning about how or where we fit, in the new-world that we now live within? Are we putting more effort into holding on to our past than we are the importance of the mission we face and our new aspirations?
There is nothing permanent except change. (Heraclitus)
In a similar vein to proclaiming our personal religious or spiritual beliefs; is it always helpful, within the recruitment/employment process, to overtly push our past [cultural] experiences into the faces of a possible new employer? Or indeed, any of those new colleagues that we might (hopefully) end up working with?
Probably not. It’s likely to make those people feel uncomfortable and in any case, many of them are unlikely to understand your military values, personal behaviours or the structure of the previous environment, which you lived and operated within.
A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. (Winston Churchill)
Needing to start again, at any point in life, is never easy. Let alone when trying to succeed in that change process, after what has often been half a lifetime and more of lived-experience with ingrained cultural behaviours. It can be especially difficult for those who might not have experienced anything different. People who have, for want of a better term, been institutionalised since leaving school. It is never going to be an easy task. But, if one thing is certain in life it is that… change is inevitable.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. (Colin Powell)
How we choose to deal with the changes we face is important. And sometimes, we can all benefit from a modicum of support, to help us make the changes that we want to see.
Veteran Employment: Transitional Support
It never ceases to amaze me how often, civilian employers fail to recognise, ignore or misunderstand many of the useful skills and traits, that are usually inherent but latently evident in most veterans. But, is this problem still the most prominent issue for transition? Or, could it be the fault of the individual who is traversing through that process? As Churchill once opined; “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” and it’s also helpful to remember; we can all achieve many things when we choose to set our minds to the task.
However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. (Stephen Hawking)
There are many proactive organisations like V.E.T.S. for example (amongst others), that offer valued support specifically for veterans however; many ion the community still believe they are ‘disadvantaged’ when it comes to finding a new job on discharge. But, in my opinion and experience, a great deal of that ‘disadvantage’ is self-generated. Or perhaps, it’s simply a mismatch of expectations and opportunity. It’s slightly puerile to suggest or believe that support is not available, even if that support might be difficult to find or access sometimes.
- Employment Support for Veterans (gov.uk)
- Veteran’s Gateway: Employment transition (veteransgateway.org.uk)
- RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity (rfea.org.uk)
- The Career Transition Partnership (ctp.org.uk)
- Royal British Legion – Employment Support (britishlegion.org.uk)
- FRS: Forces Recruitment Specialists (forcesrecruitment.co.uk)
- Forces Select (forceselect.com)
- Veterans’ Employment Transition Support (veteranemployment.co.uk)
- First Military Recruitment (first-military.co.uk)
- Routes to Employment (supportingwoundedveterans.com)
Note: The author has no affiliation with FRS and this clip is provided as an example of the support services that are available.
The Veterans Work report highlighted many of the challenges faced by UK veterans, when they are trying to enter the civilian employment landscape. Early in 2020 a range of “invested stakeholders” came together with a remit to; “move the veteran narrative on by smashing open the current echo chamber of myths and stereotypes, both positive and negative” (read more and see below).
Increasingly, and despite many of the challenges faced by UK veterans, many employers are now (belatedly) understanding some of the significant benefits to be gained from employing veterans. And importantly, many specialist recruitment organisations (see example below) now exist, to support veterans through that transition process.
I have empathy for those people impacted by the myths and/or incorrect perceptions. I can also accept their frustrations and understand the difficulties they are facing. Wading through the ‘information overload’ – so often presented by a quick Google search – is rarely a positive experience, especially when you are trying to keep a roof over your head and/or feed your family.
So, where does one start to ask for the appropriate help, when so many organisations exist? And importantly, how does one select from those organisations who are offering the help? Which ones are genuine and tailored towards your specific individual needs? Which ones are simply tapping into what is for them a convenient cash-cow, rather than a personal problem, where there is a fast-buck to be made?
If in any doubt about where to look for some help or support, I suggest The Veteran’s Gateway is probably a suitable starting point. The Gateway exists to put veterans (and their families) in touch with organisations who are are in the best position to help them.. Often, a significant issue for many veterans is – understanding how to transfer their military skills into civilian employment – and that’s something the Career Transition Partnership can probably help with.
After a lifetime of being part of a team, working within a structured framework of procedures – all delivered with the ‘military precision’ you are accustomed to – floundering around in the sea of self-interest that exists in civvy street won’t be easy. But take heart, the help and support is out there, if you are prepared and able to wade through it.
The Captain Tom Legacy
The most recent and undoubtedly most famous epitome of ‘veteran values’ is the British national treasure Captain Sir Tom Moore. His charitable exploits and efforts have been amazing but additionally, I also think that Tom’s efforts will help to shine a renewed light on the veteran community as a whole.
The media rightly championed Tom and his efforts for others. And yes, the ongoing associated and effective social-media campaign has helped to enhance his personal recognition (and ‘worth’ as a human) however; Tom still remains humble about what he has achieved. His clear display of humility, along with his matter-of-fact approach to life events, is something inherent across his generation but also… many within today’s veteran community.
After breaking fundraising records, topping the charts, receiving a knighthood and appearing on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, World War Two veteran and national treasure Captain Sir Tom Moore is releasing an autobiography. (ITV, Good Morning Britain)
Tom has now launched The Captain Tom Foundation and he clearly has no intention of giving up any time soon. Not content with already having raised in excess of £32m for NHS charities. He told the BBC; “I want to help people who are having difficulties” by offering support for people “where a little bit of hope will do them some good” – as Captain Tom’s maxim for life has taught him; “Tomorrow will be a good day!”
But Tom is not alone. His generation, and many of those veterans who have followed in his footsteps go on to prove the fact; our world is actually filled with people like Tom. If you are a veteran and reading this, you are probably one of these types of people… a valuable member of our society.
But sadly, our society increasingly benefits less from these stoic stalwarts. The kind of people who accept challenge and with humility, tend to put others before themselves. As they age and wither away, we have less of them to learn from and be proud of, which is sad.
I’m not implying that any veteran will (or should) receive any advantage, from basking in the sunshine of Tom’s efforts however; following the directions of his drive and enthusiasm, whilst reflecting his personal traits will probably stand you in good stead. It certainly won’t be a hinderance, to what you might be trying to achieve.
- Former nurse inspired by Sir Captain Tom Moore to complete 102nd charity walk to mark her 102nd birthday (itv.com)
- Co Down woman Maureen Lightbody (94) bids to follow in Tom Moore’s footsteps (Belfast Telegraph)
- A 99-YEAR-OLD war hero is following in Captain Tom Moore’s footsteps and walking 100 lengths of her driveway to raise funds for the NHS. (gazette-news.co.uk)
- 101-year-old veteran starts walking fundraiser, following in footsteps of comrades-in-arms (cbc.ca)
The Generation Game of Life
The self-effacement displayed by Tom (and others) was once a common trait amongst many within our society. Something that was particularly (but not exclusively) most evident amongst those people of older generations; the so-called Baby Boomers (circa 1946-1964) and those before them. It’s also present (to a lesser degree) amongst some of those within Generation X (circa 1965-1980) but sadly, probably as rare as hen’s teeth when you start to consider the Millennials (aka Generation Y) and the more recent cohorts.
Humility and a modest stoic resolve – to get a job done, without asking for thanks or expecting any adulation – were once fundamental building-blocks of most societies. Until the world started become ever more Americanized that is.
It’s kind of ironic – given the profound American support for veterans – that the antonyms of ‘self-effacing’ abound. Our society is now riddled with almost constant displays of egotism, superiority, overconfidence, self-importance and other such supercilious traits. Some of these mostly unpleasant traits are now almost de rigueur and constantly lauded by our social-media driven digital society today. Perhaps we should all try to reverse these trends? But I digress.
The Armed Forces Covenant
I’ve heard people, particularly the frustrated and disillusioned veterans, suggest that the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC) isn’t worth the paper it was written on. Even if that were the case, and I’m not convinced that it is true; I’m sure most people would agree with the original ethos of the covenant.
…the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families. They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment. (Armed Forces Covenant)
That said, the AFC is all about ‘fair treatment’ – not inferring or offering significant advantage – whilst also trying to ensure that, no veteran faces any disadvantages or barriers, because of their previous military service.
The Values Compass
It is clear to me, most of our society (understandably) find it hard to comprehend the ‘values’ of military service, especially during peacetime. Despite the fact our society is, at least in part, far less conscious about the veteran community, or able to empathize with any of the personal impacts they might face, due to their service I remain convinced; veterans are no less ‘valued’ than any other particular cohort within our society. The issue is not solely about a lack of understanding or empathy, for that particular demographic, it is probably more about a lack of empathy for other people as a whole, something that is sadly ingrained within society.
If anything, some veterans can and do (rightly) benefit from levels of support which are not available for other people. Over recent decades, particularly in the aftermath of the Gulf War, a myriad of ‘veteran support’ organisations have emerged. They all offer much-needed help, particularly but not exclusively for those veterans who were physically or mentally damaged during their service. But even Help For Hero’s (aka H4H), possibly the most socially popular source of veteran support in the UK, is unfortunately in decline (see here).
In light of the news from Help for Heroes, the Chairman of the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), General Sir John McColl KCB CBE DSO, recently said:
…nearly 50% of our members reported that they will have to reduce service delivery within a year, with 10% of Members believing that they will not even be able to continue to operate within twelve months. 66% of members reported a decrease in income, and 31% of members estimated that their cash reserves will be completely depleted within one year. (COBSEO)
It is clear that the financial impacts of the covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly rumble on and, for some time yet. Whether, or not, current levels of veteran support will still be available in the future remains to be seen. Therefore, is pinning your future upon any support from others really such a sound idea? Making the best use of your own skills, drive and resilience, to develop your own purpose and achieve your personal goals is probably a far better option.
Expectations & Opportunities
Do the expectations of (some) veterans always dovetail with the realities and availability of the support that is available? Or indeed, the [realistic] opportunities that actually exist? I’m not sure that they do, especially at this present moment in time (see above).
The Road Ahead
You will need your military planning skills, if you want to find a pathway off the battlefield.
Finding your way, ideally before leaving, it is useful to have a well thought out and detailed ‘Battle’ plan. Try doing a SWOT analysis about any future aspirations or expectations – as part of your transition process, not after the event. Why do so many veterans (apparently) leave everything to the last minute? Or worse, actually fail to make any plans in the first place… strange?
Again I suspect these problems find root in culture and/or unrealistic expectations. Many of the impacts in the transition process actually vary, amongst individuals but also in their level of severity. This is due to differing factors which include; a) the arm/unit/branch the person served within b), that individual’s length of service and experience and training he/she received and finally c), the level of rank attained by that individual, prior to leaving the military.
The following YouTube clip, shows a 2014 motivational presentation delivered by Admiral William H. McRaven (US Navy). His words provide a solid reminder about how military skills and motivation can help anyone deal with the difficulties we face in life.
- Start the day with a task completed
- Find someone to help you through life
- Respect everyone
- Life is not always fair, move forward
- Don’t be afraid to fail often
- Take risks
- Face down the bullies
- Step up when times are toughest
- Lift up the downtrodden
- Never give up
If you are reading this and happen to be a veteran; please accept my thanks for your service.
Many people in our society still appreciate what you have done for your country and its people. Your efforts are valued and hopefully, others will see you as another positive role model. Both the prospective employers and those that follow you in our society. Good health and good luck with all your future endeavors!