So it was an interesting conversation. I had stopped by the cube of someone on my team to see how they were doing. They were a recent hire and had been given an assignment with a tight deadline. We were giving them support but I know how stressful these things can be - especially to someone new.
As the conversation went I realized they were a veteran. I had forgotten that when we hired them they were an Army vet. The conversation drifted into that space.
“So where were you stationed”
“Wow. What did you do?”
I stopped for a second. I had not quite expected this. I had remembered US Army from the resume but had not thought about it in detail.
“Holy cow. Did you see combat.”
They gently explained that artillery were … of course… more behind any traditional lines. I apologized. I was kind of ignorant with regards to military. They laughed.
At this point I was beginning to get curious.
“So you did you see … action?”
“Not as much as some. The guys in the fire base got shot at everyday.”
That is where it got impressive. They were obviously a little uncomfortable and started to downplay things.
“Only about once a week”
OK … full stop here… There was no bragging here. No macho. In fact the reverse. As I asked questions there was quick avoidance that anything was extraordinary. That they had done anything special. Almost treating their experience as something they were embarrassed by.
They went on to describe their first experience under fire and how embarrassing it was for them. Then they described how they would react to the regular weekly sniper fire. They downplayed any compliments and deflected them to others. Fellow soldiers. Commanding officers. Their training.
My mind raced a little. Sensing this had gone far enough I changed tact a little and moved the focus back to work.
“So Tuesday’s deadline is OK?”
They laughed and said yes. Their supervisor was great and would help them. But they would get it done.
My concern about stress on a tight deadline seemed silly. If you’ve been shot at … office deadlines don’t seem so bad.
And or course they delivered.
We had conversations after that. I made sure to introduce them to some other veterans I knew at the company and to let them know there was a Military Employee Resource Group. I let them know there were support systems there.
I made sure to go to the military ERG events. As the supervisor I wanted to set the example that it was OK to go. I wouldn't mention I was going I would just go. People saw. When you run a team people notice. I also used them to understand the space and the hurdles some vets face.
Every veteran I have worked with has been wonderful. They are very team oriented. They understand how to work as a unit to get things done. They jump in to help teammates and are willing to accept help to accomplish the goal. They have always displayed high work ethic. They figure out a way to get it done. In my experience they come in to the work force a little older for a position because they spent time in the military. But that gives them an extra level of maturity that you might not see in other candidates. And as a leadership development program it is hard to beat the military - and I don’t just mean officers.
However, military veterans see a much higher level of unemployment. They face a significant amount of pre-judgement. There are tons of stereotypes about veterans like there are about lots of under-represented groups. That doesn’t mean those stereotypes are right. My experiences with military veterans have been nothing short of extremely positive.
As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
All the best,