Vets Lost in Translation: From the Battlefield to the Office



From Time’s Battleland blog


Read more: a young man who joined the military shortly after high school. As an infantryman, he shipped out several times over the past decade to a faraway country (sometimes to more than one) where for months at a time he lived in semi-squalor, walked up and over mountains again and again, negotiated complex agreements with local leaders and led operations to build streets, sewers and schools. And with alarming frequency, he did this while people were shooting at him or trying their best to blow him to smithereens.

After some time, he was put in charge of as many as a dozen troops. Then, in addition to accomplishing the hundreds of tasks that made up the mission, his job was also to keep his buddies alive. After four years or more, he left the military to rejoin the civilian world. Today he finds himself in the human-resources office of a company like IBM or Delta or Disney, and a recruiter asks him, “Tell me about a team you’ve led. Describe a project you initiated and completed. What would you say is your greatest weakness?”

The first question throws him for a loop — does a rifle squad count as a team? And projects, well, there were hundreds, including everything from monthly weapons inventories to organizing multilayered combat operations. Which one should he try to explain to the civilian on the other side of the desk? Throughout the entire interview, there’s a nagging question in the veteran’s mind: What does a former infantryman whose past job description was to “close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to defeat or capture him” have to offer Disney?

It turns out, quite a bit. Looking for someone with a collaborative working style? How about someone who lived, ate, slept and fought with a squad for months at a time. Need a manager with strong leadership and management skills? Try someone who planned and led combat patrols in a hostile city with limited resources under constant threat. Does the company need someone who is action-oriented, with a high standard for quality and performance? There’s a saying in the Army: They are all no-fail missions.


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