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What Comes Next for Returning Veterans?

written by Drew Peneton
on November 30, 2009

By the age of ten, I knew that I wanted to serve my country. After school, I was always in the library, reading books about Vietnam — I found myself intrigued by the life of Army soldiers. I was proud of everything they went through and the sacrifices they made, and I knew that I wanted to become a soldier too.

The Army National Guard was my solution to serving the country and simultaneously getting a quality education. I had only been 17 for a few days when I signed my enlistment contract. Two years later, on the fateful morning of September 11th, I knew that none of our lives would ever be the same again. Active duty personnel were mobilized, and the National Guard had to cover their posts. Within a few months, I had an active duty assignment with the 7th Infantry Division for Operation Enduring Freedom in the Sinai desert with the Multinational Force and Observers.

After returning from my first deployment, I finished my first two years of college, moved to Washington, and began coursework towards a BA in business at Eastern Washington University. I joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and found all the camaraderie that I had missed from active military duty. But after only two months in my new home, I was deployed to Baghdad for Operation Iraqi Freedom II with the 1st Cavalry Division. Patrols riddled with gunfire, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, injury, death, heartache and sleepless nights became a part of my daily routine. The end of my rotation in Iraq marked the end of my active career, with a Combat Infantryman's Badge and an Army Commendation Medal on my chest to proudly wear in honor of those that served beside me. I went back to college, but some of my fellow soldiers were confused. Most of them didn't have a clear direction, written goals or an advocate to assist them in easing back to civilian life. My veteran friends were left with feelings of disdain, contempt and regret. Many of them volunteered for additional active duty. Had the disconnect between a life in the military and a healthy civilian life become so great that proper reentry was too difficult?

For me, the discipline that I gained from my Army career translated well into leadership roles, and I was elected the chapter president of my fraternity. During a national legislation meeting, it was this position that allowed me to make personal statements in support of a bylaw concerning the treatment of deployed undergraduate members. By majority vote, deployed student-soldiers were granted honorary alumni status to the fraternity and freed from obligations that would be impossible to uphold. Positive progress in veterans' affairs by fraternity undergraduates — priceless.

My college internships then translated to a career with a Fortune 50 corporation, where my military background provided me the inherent advantage of being flexible, organized, disciplined and more responsible than many others around me. My supervisors and peers knew that my good work ethic could be attributed to my experience in the military. This often led to uncomfortable conversations, but I was never one to shy away from speaking the truth about my experiences in Iraq. I feel that part of my duty is to provide clarity about a war that the general public knows little more about than what is in the news.

Today, the civilian job market is tanking. Troop deployments are being scaled back and veterans are looking for answers. What comes next? Who has the answers? The guidance given to transitioning soldiers is insufficient, and doesn't properly prepare them for reentry into civilian life. My personal realizations and remembrances led me to examine inefficiencies in the common civilian job search process. Veterans need more support, and transitioning soldiers need to know that someone else has been there before. In 2009, I started the blog Boots To Suits to provide a personally invested framework and ongoing resource for fellow veterans as they enter the civilian job world.

I hope you will join me in exploring how we can give veterans the best chance at making a seamless transition. Hard work, dedication, and proven strategy will help them shine like the heroes they are in a career they love, while private sector employers can gain an asset that will become one of their best investments.

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