Military Sociology

Veterans as ‘Military Alumni’

Military Alumni

“The returning warrior may not realize it, but he has acquired an MBA in enduring adversity and a PhD in resourcefulness, tenacity and the capacity for hard work.” – Steven Pressfield

The concept of ‘veteran’ is usually associated with honor, but in some cases it may carry a stigma. Finding work after leaving the military can be frustrating for individuals who feel employers do not understand their value, associating their service with a stigmatizing view of PTSD. An individual I interviewed said the following:

“Nothing was more demoralizing than trying to find work with a military resume… the literacy of the general population to reading military, they all read it as a PTSD case.”

Embittered and shocked at how difficult it was to find employment, this individual took certain things off of his resume hoping to reduce the perceived stigma, minimizing his deployment to Afghanistan to the point where it was not readily visible.

Beyond stigma, civilian employers often do not know how to interpret military work experience. The military has a very mobile culture creating a suspicious resume with a large number of different jobs listed. This is a positive thing in the military because it means the individual is being promoted, but in civilian life it looks as if the individual cannot hold down a job.

The civilian-military gap in experience is so vast, one participant quipped:

“…there were times I thought to myself jokingly that it would have been better if I lived in my parents basement and played videogames for five years, at least then somebody would have understood what I had done.”

Experiential gap aside, civilians often fail to realize the value veterans can offer:

“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘civilians are stupid’… a proven leader under high stress with the ability to manage finances, resources, motivate people, make hard decisions, and people didn’t want to hire me.”

When asked for recommendations on what can be done to help reintegrate veterans into civilian life, one participant replied with the most brilliant answer: “we need to think of veterans as military alumni.”

The word ‘alumni’ has the connotations of prestige derived from the skills an individual has acquired with a particular organization. The word ‘veteran’ has the highly regarded connotations of honor and sacrifice. But honor and sacrifice may not seem like enough for an employer who has stigmatizing perceptions of PTSD and wants maximum return on investment, failing to understand the value veterans can offer.

The skills derived from military training and on-the-job experience are unparalleled in civilian life. ‘Hiring a vet’ should not be seen as an act of charity; organizations that claim they ‘hire veterans’ in the same way the claim they are ‘going green’ are missing the point. Military alumni are rare. They are highly skilled in discipline, leadership, teamwork, functioning in high pressure environments, and accomplishing the mission at all costs. It would be a privilege to have military alumni in any civilian organization.

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  1. Steve, this is a very good and timely article! I (in Minnesota) and my colleagues around the U.S. are working with Veterans to help them determine if business ownership is right for them. If it is, there are hundreds of franchise opportunities in various industries, that have nothing to do with fast food and beverages that might be great for them. Over 90% of all businesses are small businesses and the franchise businesses typically look for the skills veterans bring. Check out ( for more information.

  2. Outstanding article !!! Well written and very informative. I was lucky enough to find work in the security biz after i got out. Most of our brothers don’t get that break.

  3. Now that I’ve read them, there’s little common ground for communication. Anything I might say will put me promptly into the ‘troll’ basket. A ‘free’ thinker maybe, but a troll I’m not.

    Good luck with your researches.

      1. My point above is that we need a common ‘language’ to communicate. By language I mean more than words and grammar. To illustrate with an apparent digression I was told of a then recently discharged naval NCO who joined an insurance firm where he was given a bit of training and a wee office, business cards, telephone of his own (wow, for the era) etc; and his mission was to sell policies.

        His very first prospect was a youngish guy to whom he presented the facts as he saw them, made naval type explanations, and … wonder of wonders … sold the guy a goodly package. But it took longer than expected and the buyer needed sign right now and run.
        No problem, he went quickly through to the secretariat where a ‘counter-signer’ (CS) had just been given his cup of tea.

        CS waved him away. The tea break was on and his brew would be getting cold. Ex naval explained about the need for rapidity, twice, politely—and got the same answer; followed by an exasperated “Look! I’m having me tea!”

        So ex-navy guy carefully picked up the tea and poured it over the CS guy’s head, after which he said gently “There we are, you’ve had your tea. Now please sign …”

        The guy signed like a lamb.

        Different strokes for different folks.
        Called into The Office, ex-navy guy was told to the effect “You made a good sale, well done. As for the other, that’s not the way we do things in here …” and that was the end of it.

        Different worlds. And the civilian world is the real world—sink or swim.

  4. Very articulate and deeply sad that the courageous among us are not recognised for their transferable skills. I have felt this discrimination, after a cancer experience, despite an outstanding record of public service. If you are in a high risk category then you are considered potentially ‘burnt out’. Are we the first civilisation to not afford respect to those that are more experienced and mature?

  5. Very well written. I served in peacetime post Vietnam. The attitude I was faced with was that because I was in the military, I had spent my entire time in the service doing drugs. While, no country honours its war time military better than the US (although your post here proves that there is miles of room for improvement), it takes a totally opposite view of the peacetime military. With your permission, I can share a link about this.

  6. Having family members who are retired military I hadn’t realized this was a problem on resumes. I’m kind of sad that this is a problem because even though I am a civilian and was never really affected by family military service while they were in service, but always figured that having that on their resumes would make them extra hire-able. The only thing that I thought would look bad was a dishonorable discharge.

  7. good post. in one of my other lifetimes as a returning vietnam vet the last thing i wanted anyone who i didn’t already know was to know that i was a vietnam vet. it took a number of years but i’m very proud of that fact now.

  8. As a retired Sergeants Major, you’re right on the money. Thanks for posting. I have my own business and often I have customers reflect to my self discipline, being on time and motivation. I tell them it’s a rub off from my time in the military.

  9. Reblogged this on Stop the Stigma and commented:
    This post caught my eye with the first two lines, a quote: ““The returning warrior may not realize it, but he has acquired an MBA in enduring adversity and a PhD in resourcefulness, tenacity and the capacity for hard work.” – Steven Pressfield” and it gets more interesting…read on please.

  10. What a great post! It is so interesting how people perceive a military person. I would automatically think of discipline, amazing worker, can work under pressure… knowledgeable about world issues and the list goes on. I am saddened, cross that, angry that people are not honoured to hire any person having served his/her country. I love the military alumni…awesome!! May I reblog this to my Stigmahurtseveryone, blog? Thanks so much for visiting my blog as well, Cheryl-Lynn

  11. It’s a pleasure to see someone speak up for these men/women who gave so much of themselves, who have now come back only to find that very often there is so little being offered back to them. IMHO, it’s long overdue, and I thank-you very much.

  12. As a veteran from the sixties, I was part of the first alumni class that was not considered as honorable by those who did not serve. For years I was an employer, and to me those who served were high on my list to hire. Although I sought those who could think for themselves… were willing to take the bull by the nose and perform… I knew they would follow instructions. They learned discipline and teamwork… something many non-vets were not ready for.

  13. My experience of 20 years life as a civilian after 12 years in British Army is that while employers increasingly appreciate the qualities of ex servicemen and women, many of them are unable to provide the ethical and moral environment of the Armed Services at Battalion level and below. All too often truth and honesty is sacrificed for short term profit or career advancement.

    It took me a very long time to adjust to a world in which people do not come to work wearing badges that tell you exactly what you can expect from them.

  14. “a PhD in resourcefulness”
    Soldiers often said “I have done so much, for so long, that I can now do anything with nothing.
    That is a good definition of ‘resourcefulness’
    Merry Christmas

  15. Fantastic article. Here I thought I was just being whiny when I thought/said exactly what those quoted in your article said. I am also at the point where I’m going to start taking things off my resume. I’ve already dumbed it down significantly and still get confused looks.

  16. Your comments are very telling. When I left the service it took many months to find a civilian job, The skills of a military officer, and combat aviator did not sell well in the commercial work place. I ultimately became a fund raiser at a non profit, something which drew on my abilities to reach out and deal with people.

  17. First of all, thank you for what you’ve said here! It is very important and I pray that the difficulty veterans are having in finding employment will get better.
    Secondly and *far* less important, thanks for checking out my blog! I appreciate it and I look forward to seeing more of your blog. Thanks again!

  18. Thanks for the follow! Your post is so powerful and brings up so many important thoughts and concerns. I wish those in D.C would think of these while they are busy campaigning and arguing amongst themselves.

  19. Such a valuable post! Congratulations. This is one result of having no universal draft. The majority of citizens have no idea what a military person does, because they are not required to know. Lack of knowledge always leads to suspicion. Vets are regarded as head cases who just might bring an AR-15 to work some day.

    I still remember the bitterness I felt after serving in Vietnam and coming home to a country that actively loathed those of us who had done our “patriotic chore.”

    Some of your followers may be interested in viewing my own Veterans Day post from this year.


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