There is an article from Reuters this morning about the difficulty that veterans are having in finding a job. This is nothing new, and I blame the military and its recruiting system. When I got out of the Navy in 1992, I thought that I had a large bank of skills that employers would value. After all, that is one of the big pitches that you hear from the recruiters, is that the military teaches you skills that employers want. When it was time to get out, the pressure from the military was high: I was told that there were no jobs out there, and that I would either be back within a year or wind up homeless. They were right. I wound up homeless within a year.

I was trained as an Electrician’s Mate. During the six years that I spent in the Navy, I went to the Electrician school, where I learned to repair all sorts of electrical systems, run the ship’s electrical power plant, and other valuable (I thought) skills. I spent nearly 4 years performing those activities, and then topped it off my going to Motor Rewind School and learning to rebuild and repair electric motors, another allegedly valuable skill.

It turns out that the best training that I got while I was in the Navy had nothing to do with the Navy. While stationed in Virginia, I had been a volunteer firefighter in a nearby town during what spare time I had, and the volunteer department had trained me to be an EMT.

When I got out of the military, I was in for a rude awakening. I tried to secure a job repairing electric motors, but no one would hire me to do anything other than entry level work for $6.50 an hour, because military equipment and repair procedures tend to be ten to twenty years behind what industry is up to. When I got out in 1992, the Navy was still using amplifiers that had vacuum tubes. I tried running my own business, but it turns out that I was ill prepared for that, and my wife, children, and I were soon living in the storeroom of my business.

We thought it was the job market where we were, so the wife and I picked up and went to Orlando, Florida. I tried to get jobs at power plants, theme parks, factories, and many other places. Many employers told me that military equipment, skills, and training were outdated and meant nothing. They also explained to me that many of the things the military trained me to do required a license to do out in the civilian world. A license that I did not have.
I finally wound up as an electrician’s helper, building houses for $7 an hour. I traded jobs as I could find a higher paying one, and we ate a lot of meals that consisted of hot dogs sliced into a pot of macaroni and cheese. We ate so much Hamburger Helper that now, fifteen years later, I still can’t stand to even look at the stuff. (neither can my kids.)

During the entire episode, I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT.  Four years after moving to Florida, at the age of 31, I was able to scrape together enough money and pay for the school that would earn me Florida certifications as a firefighter and as an EMT. Once I got my licenses, I was able to secure a job with the fire department for $8.50 an hour, and the rest, as they say, is history. It was tough doing this, as many fire departments have physical agility tests as a part of the hiring process, and I found myself physically competing against men who were 12 years younger than I was. I had effectively started over at the age of 31.

The moral of this story is that the recruiters will tell you that will be learning valuable skills in the military. It is a lie. The general rule is that the skills you learn in the military are loosely connected to the outside world, and when you get out, you will find yourself being treated as if you were right out of high school.

Do yourself a favor, and remember this: Do not join the military for the education and training. If you want to join to defend your country (I can understand that, even though our military hasn’t had to defend our country in over 70 years) but go to college first and do it as an officer. At least then you can use the degree to get a decent job when you get out.

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