MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Wounded, ill, and injured warriors exhibit a tremendous amount of fortitude during some of their darkest moments --- their often long journeys of recovery.
In the pursuit of physical, emotional and spiritual health, wounded warriors may also face the reality of an unplanned career transition from military to civilian life following their injuries. Formed in January 2012, the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition three-member transition program team works closely with companies across the country to ease that transition, planned or unplanned, for former Special Operations Forces men and women.
Army Lt. Col. Kimberly Moros, the chief of transition and community outreach for the Care Coalition, said it is important to help find wounded SOF team members rewarding careers and provide any assistance in their most critical time of need.
“Any wounded, ill, or injured SOF service member is eligible for transition initiatives,” said Moros. “After the servicemember enters their medical evaluation board, they can step over to transition assistance, while still on active duty.”
The transition team has four main pillars in the program: fellowship opportunities, re-training and education, employment assistance, and outreach to public and private organizations across the United States.
The fellowship program allows service members to gain valuable experiences in the private sector, which increases their chances of viable employment if they do transition out of the military unexpectedly. Transitioning from the military to business world is a cultural shift, said Moros.
“Our job is to create a personal profile for our [men and women] based on their goals and objectives for their transition,” she said. “We are here to guide them in that process.”
With more than 162 business opportunities across the U.S., thanks in part to the team’s networking efforts and partnerships made, former SOF members have completed 132 fellowships. They’ve been offered 619 employment opportunities, and 177 men and women have gained employment following service in the SOF community and to our nation.
“I’ve witnessed some beautiful things in this job,” said Moros. “There is one guy who knew he couldn’t continue on active duty, but wanted to go home to Chicago since he could no longer continue with his [SOF] team.”
As a result of the fellowship program, he got to go back home, had two companies vying for his skills, and picked the company he wanted to work for. The most important thing is that he witnessed a seamless transition and his family was taken care of. The families go through so much stress already…this helped ensure there was limited stress on everyone.”
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Nathan Cruz, a computer forensic analyst for the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, went through the Care Coalition’s transition program and said it didn’t take long for him to decide that he had to do something after being medically retired from the Army.
My advocate called me and told me about the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps program. I thought, ‘sure, why not,” said Cruz.
Cruz, who served as a MH-47 Chinook crew chief with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), in Fort Campbell, Ky., sustained multiple injuries stateside after an accident, soon after returning from deployment.
Nineteen surgeries later, Cruz said that the relationships formed as a result of his involvement with the Care Coalition have been nothing short of amazing. Speaking of two of his advocates, he says they’re more like family, and refers to one as his ‘big brother’ and another as his ‘stepdad.’
“The advocates are wonderful. They would show up to my house, take me to my appointments, and do a lot for me,” he said.
Some veterans decide on pursuing higher education. Here, too, the transition team has tapped into their many resources and collaborated with one of the nation’s top schools. The COMMIT Foundation and Stanford Graduate School of Business have teamed together to present ‘Stanford Ignite Post 9-11 Veterans,’ a certificate program teaching innovators to formulate, develop, and commercialize their ideas. The program exposes veterans to both the fundamentals of business, and the practical aspects of identifying and evaluating business ideas and moving them forward.
“Eight of our Care Coalition guys participated in this program,” said Moros. “They were surprised by what graduate school was like, and the educators at the school were surprised by what these former Special Operators brought to the table.
I really see a shift in education … that the traditional education model is going to be permeable,” said Moros, speaking of the wealth of knowledge, talent, and experience SOF members bring to the civilian workforce. “Schools are now saying, ‘you have what we seek to find: adaptability, leadership, decision-making skills, perseverance’…all those things that cannot be taught in college. That’s what these SOF members bring.”
Many, like Cruz, continue higher education or training programs, but that too, has its own set of challenges.
Having suffered some memory loss from his accident, and having difficulty retaining information was an obstacle Cruz decided to tackle if he was going to pursue his new career.
“I told my advocate, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it,’ but I decided to give it a shot. It took a big effort on my part; I spent 12-13 hours a day studying in order to pass the required certifications in order to be in this program,” he said.
The one year fellowship program taught Cruz how to execute search warrants, conduct undercover work, and retrieve evidence.
Professional realignment does not come without its unique challenges. The complex obstacles faced when making the military-to-civilian transition can force one to balance considerations such as: goals, obligations, and responsibilities; taking into account family, finances, geography, aspirations, and education.
Moros attributes a lot of the success stories to the great partnerships formed between USSOCOM and companies that are strong supporters of our wounded, saying the companies are networking among themselves to support our nation’s servicemen and women.
“Companies are having conversations among themselves, introducing ideas about employing our wounded, ill and injured, and these little links set us up to help our SOF members,” she said. “Companies are saying, ‘Why should we as taxpayers, pay for all of this education and training of our Special Forces, and not implement it into the business sector?’ Companies now understand that,” said Moros.
Retired Army Col. James McDonough, the senior director at The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, understands all too well the importance of easing into the civilian workforce after serving in the military. In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, McDonough said, “The process of separating from military service is often termed as a transition, implying something akin to moving steadily along a continuum. In reality, the experience is abrupt – one day you’re in; the next you’re out – and often involves completely starting over. For too long, we’ve made separating from military service an individual task, one that is supposed to occur over a few days. It needs to be a collective task.”
Cruz echoed the importance of the entire team.
“Even though I’m hired, they [the Care Coalition], calls and checks on me to see how I’m doing, or if I need anything.”
USSOCOM’s Transition Team has definitely adopted the ‘collective’ mindset, and with former SOF members employed by pharmaceutical, insurance, financial management companies, and leading computer companies, there are no doubt the partnerships and opportunities are proving successful.
“Many of our service members who participate in our fellowship program, become employed, or return to school, and that’s a success story,” concluded Moros.