You sat at Green Ramp for hours. After harnessing, JMPI, and more waiting, you waddled to the bird, sat down, and flew to the DZ. Your chalk got up on the 2nd pass and exited. After a safe landing (although you bumped your head a bit on the ground), you placed your weapon into operation, secured all your equipment and moved out to the company rally point. There, you assembled a hodge-podge group of individuals for the minimum force needed and moved out to your objective. After securing the objective, you dug in and waited for the next mission needed to secure the airfield.
Sounds like a normal airborne operation right?
Now how the hell do you explain this to a civilian employer in words they can understand?
Translating what you did in the military into words that civilian employers can understand is a struggle for every veteran. You ran patrols in Afghanistan, jumped out of planes, and bailed privates out of jail on a Sunday morning — how does that translate to the civilian world?
First, know that despite these difficulties, civilian employers still recognize the value of bringing veterans onto their team. They recognize the intangible skills that veterans have and want these qualities in their organization. The trouble is, they do not always know how to value what you did in the military and how that will benefit their organization.
Eventually, you will have to put your military actions into a resume or communicate with a hiring manager in an interview about what you did in the military and why it matters to them. And there can be the serious challenge. How do you take that heavy weapons range that you led and demonstrate to a civilian employer that you can take the same skills that made that range successful into making their company successful?
Here are some actions you likely completed as a paratrooper, and how you can describe them to a potential employer:
Ability to adapt
Military action: Formed an LGOP (Little Group of Paratroopers) on the drop zone and ended up going after an objective that wasn’t yours.
Civilian explanation: Serving as a paratrooper, I participated in some extremely complex operations. These operations were prone to serious complications due to issues with the aircraft or the uncertainty of parachuting at night. Because of this, I was expected to know the missions of the units around me, as well as two levels above me. I had to understand the commander’s intent and be prepared to adapt to a dynamic situation on the ground. It was expected that I could lead a group of paratroopers from another unit to an objective, despite the fact that we had not trained together. What I learned was that it wasn’t always important who got something done, or how, but that the mission was accomplished within the commander’s intent.
Military action: Working with partner forces.
Civilian explanation: On my first deployment to Afghanistan, my unit worked directly with an Afghan army unit. We trained them on basic military operations and patrolled with them on missions in Afghanistan. Though we come from cultures that seem drastically different on the surface, I learned the importance of finding similarities. Our partner Afghan soldiers also wanted a home where they did not have to worry about the safety of their loved ones. Like us, they enjoyed sharing a meal with their friends. From this experience, I learned the importance of working across cultural barriers to find similarities in order to work together toward a common objective.
Military action: There was a company range that was about to be all jacked up, so you told your chain of command what you thought, and they put you in charge of fixing it. You worked with the company HQ and other platoons to make the range better than it would have been had you not said something.
Civilian explanation: My unit was a few weeks away from preparing for a major training event. In speaking with my subordinates, they expressed some concerns that the event was not going to be sufficient to meet our training objectives. I worked with them to identify the shortfalls and how they could be fixed. I then presented these findings to my supervisor, detailing what the issues were, how they could be fixed, and what we would need to make this happen. I was then put in charge of the event and began working across the different functional areas within our department to improve it. After the event, we saw our company marksmanship effectiveness increased by 15% from our historical average. The event taught me the importance of listening to my subordinates, preparing to pitch a new idea to my supervisor, and how to work across functional areas to create a better result.
These are by no means exhaustive examples and they may not apply to what exactly you did in the military. The keys to making this translation are in a few areas.