This guest blog was written by Jason Gonzales, a former Airborne Ranger, Green Beret, and an Honor Foundation alumnus — retired from Active Duty on Sep 1st, 2019.
Don’t Start with ‘WHAT’
About a year ago, I declared my decision to retire from the military. And the very first question people asked was, “What do you want to do next?” Heck if I knew. I had the best job in the world – leading America’s finest Warriors, Paratroopers, Rangers, and Green Berets. But the fact remains: 50-year-old SOF warriors are rare – I am never going to do that again!
So, what’s next? There was that WHAT question again. I equated this question to being asked to give my order at a restaurant I’ve never been to … without seeing the menu. I had no idea what the other 99% of Americans actually did for a living. What’s on the menu? What are my options? Not knowing how to answer this question caused an enormous amount of fear and anxiety – and I realized that I was not prepared for the next evolution.
And guess what? No one around you wearing a uniform is going to help you figure it out. Your peers in uniform are rightfully focused on fighting and winning our nations wars. But once you commit to transitioning, this is no longer your mission! Your mission is to figure out ‘what’s’ next for you. But ‘What’ is not the first question you should start with…
…By the way, ‘Information Meetings’ (cups of coffee) are the best way to figure out the menu of things out there. You have to network and talk to a lot of people who don’t wear a combat uniform.
Take Advantage of Resources
Trust me, the five-day, congressionally mandated, government run, military Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a good start. But you should not rely on this as your primary transition resource. There are literally thousands of non-profit, military transition programs out there. Do the research and make a plan to take advantage of – while you are still in – all of the different organizations trying to support you in your journey:
Certifications: Some organizations will help you bridge the qualification gap. I leveraged Syracuse University’s Onward to Opportunity program for my PMP Certification.
Mentorship: Some organizations will help you with an executive coach. I leveraged the American Corporate Partners (ACP).
Corporate Exposure: Some organizations will introduce and give you exposure to leading industries. I leveraged FourBlock and Hiring Our Heroes (HOH), Corporate Fellowship Program (a DOD Skillbridge Program). By the way, HOH was instrumental in helping me land my next job.
Introspection: And some organizations really focus on helping high-performing veterans understand their purpose. I leveraged the Commit Foundation and The Honor Foundation (THF) to help me better understand myself.
All of these types of organizations are great. And all of them will help you with the requisite elevator pitch, resume writing, networking strategies, and interview tips. But if you are a SOF Warrior separating from service within the next 24 months – I cannot emphasize this enough – you need to take advantage of The Honor Foundation.
…By the way, if you ever find yourself in a transition class that tries to translate what you’ve done, and then tells you ‘What” you are qualified to do … immediately walk out.
Don’t Do it Alone – Find your Transition Tribe
You have never been a sole jumper in the stick. You have never left the wire on a patrol by yourself. Military transition is a new operation that you’ll be going through it for the first time. While there is no singular, right way to transition, I can guarantee you will fail this mission if you passively let it happen or if you decide to go it alone.
I found my own retired-SOF-family-tree to be an amazing source of mentorship, encouragement, and support. Don’t ask these gray-beards for a checklist of what to do next. But get their advice on how to approach this transition period. It’s in our SOF nature to look after each other and I found this network to be incredibly valuable.
When you join The Honor Foundation, you will be part of a new cohort of SOF brothers and sisters. This element of a Transition Tribe is not to be understated. I was absolutely floored by the common bond amongst a team of high performing, SOF operators – we understood each other, shared common challenges, and supported each other like no other. You want this kind of support network during your transition.
In The Honor Foundation, You’ll Start with ‘WHY’
The Honor Foundation is a world-class, transition program built specifically for SOF operators. They currently have campuses in San Diego, Virginia Beach, and Camp Lejeune. But since I live in the National Capital Region, I took advantage of their newly implemented Virtual Campus. It was awesome.
An immediate distinguisher of this program is an all-pro group of faculty, coaches, and mentors. I have no idea how they do it, but I can tell you this, you don’t have enough money to pay for this level of instruction. They pull in some amazing, accomplished instructors and guest speakers who want nothing less than success for you. Go to the THF website and look these people up.
Their curriculum and approach are different. They don’t start with ‘What,’ they start with ‘Why.’ The initial questions you should be asking yourself are “what is my core purpose, cause, or belief? What makes me want to get up in the morning? What am I passionate about? When am I at my best? These are tough, introspection questions – but the answers you develop will guide you in making life-decisions.
I can tell you, ‘My Why’ is to clear obstacles and provide opportunity so that my team(mates) can accomplish excellence. Essentially, I love to see people excel. And I want to be part of a team where I can lead and inspire – where I can have an impact on allowing people and teams to achieve their full potential – to succeed.
You’ll then go through ‘How’ you accomplish this purpose – to include identifying your strengths, values, and skills. By the way, the military values you’ve been living are not yours – you get to choose you own values!
Finally, you’ll identify what is most important to you, how to evaluate a company’s culture, how to articulate your value, and much more. But the point being, once you understand yourself and what you bring to the plate, you can then answer for yourself, “What’s next?”
Transitioning is Not the Time for Excuses, it’s a Time to Get to Work
Think about all of the YEARS of training – literal blood, sweat, and tears – you invested to become a qualified, kick-ass SOF Warrior. This will not be your next profession! So how much time and effort are you going to invest in being a qualified, kick-ass civilian?
During my transition, I was literally busier than any time during my entire military career – well, except for that one time I helped stand up SOJTF-A … those were some long days.
I’m not going to lie to you, when you join The Honor Foundation, you have to commit to the process and put in the work. You need to set aside two nights per week for 12 weeks. You may think this is a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the time I put in at SFARTAETC.
This brings me to my last point. You may be thinking of excuses of why you cannot cut loose to do The Honor Foundation. You may be thinking you are an important, critical component to the mission and unit. But guess what? They are going to get along without you sooner or later. Your service and organization will survive without you…at least the “Army goes rolling along.” In fact, the military is uniquely designed to run as a next-person-up organization.
After decades of selfless service to the nation, you need to give yourself permission to be a bit selfish. Find your non-uniform-wearing, transition support network; use your research and strategic skills to make a plan; take advantage of different transition resources; make the investment in you; and start with your ‘WHY.’
Go to https://www.honor.org/ and learn more about the program.