From War To Wifi
Why So Many Veterans Are Finding A Career In IT
When I first stepped onto Parris Island as a naïve young recruit, I knew I had made a decision that would have long-lived effects. Each veteran has a different story and different reasons for joining. At the time, I told myself I joined to serve the country, and reiterated to myself that I would have stable income, structure, and discipline. It wasn’t until years later that I had to admit to myself that the preeminent reason I enlisted was because I was completely perplexed as to what path I wanted to take into adulthood. I needed guidance.
Before we fast forward into “the fleet”, or Marine Corps active duty, we must define the word identity. Historically, a plethora of psychologists have attempted to create a comprehensive view of identity formation. One prominent ego psychologist, Erik Erikson, expatiated on the classic Freudian psychoanalytic theory of personality development. Erik added distinct stages with correlating age ranges to his theory of identity development. To avoid converting this blog from a veteran centric paper to a mind numbing psychiatrist’s report, let us focus on the two age ranges Erik assigned that have a heavy influence on the average young veteran. Erik claimed that between the ages of 12 and 18, there is a conflict of “Identity vs. Role Confusion”. This stage is defined as a time period “between morality learned as a child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult.” (Erikson, 1963, p.245). The next notable defined range occurs between 18 and 40. Erik defines this range as “Intimacy vs. Isolation”, where young adults begin to explore relationships after a sense of self and identity are already solidified.
Personally, I remember my decision to enlist occurred at around 16. As I got to know the other Marines, I discovered that this was not an uncommon age to decide. Now, we must keep in mind, most studies expanding on Freud and Erikson utilize different methods of collecting and analyzing data. We can’t apply most generalized analytics to veteran groups. We aren’t discussing children in a controlled environment, reporting through adulthood as they navigate the waters of self-discovery with the help of a nuclear family and supportive environment. We’re discussing veterans.
I am certainly not claiming I had anything but a fantastic environment to explore adolescence. I’m very confident that many veterans have always had amazing, supportive families. I can only personally speak regarding The Marine Corps, and The Marine Corps begins your first four year enlistment as nothing less than savage. Boot camp begins your journey through pain and discipline. Core values are literally beaten into your body. Honor. Courage. Commitment… Speed. Intensity. Volume. You begin with no identity, as the word “I” is banned. The word “me” is forbidden. To earn these words back, you must complete what is called The Crucible, a “trial by fire”. This final test pushes men to the breaking point, physically decimating their bodies, concurrently starving them of sleep and nutrition. For the next four years, your entire mentality is re-trained. You are completely encompassed within the military way of life.
Now, let’s discuss what every veteran considers “the norm” at this point in life. It is now embedded, like the BIOS (basic input/output system) on a motherboard, that basic greetings can be replaced with a series of four letter expletives. It is now the daily norm that someone will be physically assaulted. (… In fact, we looked forward to it.) I served in the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion, and when we were promoted, it was tradition that the metal chevrons would be placed on the Marine’s collar, and the metal pins on the back were hammered into the skin as a sign of respect. When we consider these norms, some civilians may read this in disgust. This is certainly a very clear list of unacceptable actions in the professional world. Two days ago I had a coworker asking me questions of various topics regarding the military, and at the end of the conversation she said “I am so sorry you had to go through that. That sounds horrible!” However, I can honestly say the military was the most salient timeframe that solidified my personal identity. It was the best time of my life.
We’ve identified one main hurdle of transitioning veterans, and I believe this newly acquired identity is just one variable in the equation that defines the difficult nature of military transitions. There is also an illusion that military members live in for years. While serving in the military, there are focal points that define and judge us as service members. In the Marine Corps, your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), rank, rifle score, PFT (Physical Fitness Test) scores, and combat deployments ARE your only identity. The sad reality is that when we separate from the military, many of us are back to the mentality we had when we were 18. The careers we spent years mastering are often of no significance. Our rifle scores, our PFT, and how many chevrons rested above our cross rifles; trivial. As an Amphibious Armored Vehicle Commander, what ELSE was I supposed to do?
Sean, are you ever going to get back to “Why So Many Veterans Are Finding A Career in I.T.”!? YES! When I began my official path through the IT world with my CompTIA A+, I firmly believe it acted as a conduit to help me utilize the same skills I had sharpened during my time in active duty.
The technology world requires discipline. Ask any successful IT professional, and they’ll confirm that it is not an easy path. The technology world requires endless hours of study, determination, and an unbreakable will to learn and master new skills. The fundamental core values of the military do not end with military service. Honor. Courage. Commitment. Obedience. Zeal. Dedication. The major hurdle I experience in newly separated veterans is a VISIBLE BRIDGE from the military way of life to a professional and a civilian career.
I encounter veterans every day that are studying for their next certification. I hear phrases such as “I wish these tests were as easy as breaking down a Mk19 automatic grenade launcher!” and “I wish this was as easy as scoring ‘rifle expert’ on the range!” I use situations like these to make this bridge visible to veterans. If you’re a veteran, and you’ve thought similar things about hurdles you’ve encountered in the civilian world, I ask you… How long did you study your weapon at first? How many LONG HOURS of trigger time did you put in to being THAT comfortable with a weapon? Was your FIRST PFT score your best? Whether veterans remember or not, those skills initially took time and dedication to master.
In addition to the aforementioned hurdles that veterans experience, one situation I experienced will always serve as a mental nexus between military professionalism and civilian professionalism. I received an email from a Marine I served with in Iraq in 2006. This email contained a picture of five of us on top of an armored vehicle, magnificently adorned with ammunition, grenades and various layers of armor. The only text contained in the email was a simple phrase, “Man, we’ll never be this awesome again”. I firmly disagree.
As veterans, we must embrace the most important aspects of our civilian professionalism, but this doesn’t mean we must relinquish the most valuable aspects of our military careers. Veterans don’t win their chevrons from a government funded claw machine. Medals are just as they suggest, metal. A piece of metal. Rifle scores aren’t gifted as a victory at the base bingo game. These variables are representations of every aspect we were evaluated on in the military. At MyComputerCareer, there exists a visible bridge to continue utilizing these fundamental aspects of our leadership capabilities. Veterans, if you study and attack the material as well as I know you’re all trained to do, the professional opportunities in the world of technology are endless.
Sergeant of Marines, Amphibious Assault Vehicle Commander
Motivated Technical Trainer
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