Matt Stevens, Chief Executive Officer of The Honor Foundation, said an effective transition from military to civilian life should begin at least a year in advance. That’s why this week, approximately 40 active-duty members of the special operations community will attend the foundation’s two-day seminar in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
The seminar is part of the Global SOF Foundation’s Special Air Warfare Symposium, running from Feb. 22 to Feb. 24.
While the two-day seminar is much shorter than The Honor Foundation’s typical three-month program, Stevens says it’s essential to begin the transition process as soon as possible. Further, Stevens hopes that those attending the two-day seminar will eventually sign up for the more extended three-month program.
“You aren’t going to get everything you know in two days,” Stevens said. “But, we really want to expose these folks to what they need to start thinking about to have a successful transition. The earlier they can do it, the better they’re going to be prepared.”
Stevens spent 26 years on active duty as a Navy SEAL and successfully transitioned from the military to the private sector in 2017. After a stint in business, he took over as the CEO of The Honor Foundation in 2019.
Stevens says finding your “why” during the transition process is of the utmost importance.
“The folks have to think deeply about what their ‘why’ is, what their purpose on the planet is,” Stevens said. “Because it gets a little less clear when you take the uniform off.”
According to Stevens, a sense of purpose is effectively issued to servicemembers when in the military. They’re used to having a mission and serving a higher purpose. However, at some point, every servicemember leaves this military and finding what drives an individual is a key to success when the uniform comes off for the last time.
“The whole transition piece wasn’t really clear to them,” Richard Lamb a retired Army command sergeant major and current military liaison for the Global SOF Foundation, told Military Times in September.
Lamb’s comments followed a Global SOF survey in which only 29 percent of transitioning SOF members found the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program “helpful.” A further 90 percent of those surveyed said that DoD should design a TAP specifically for the SOF community. According to Lamb, a significant part of the transition process is starting it early so that soon the to-be civilians have enough time to adjust to the demands of civilian life and land on their feet.
“Because if you wait till the guy’s 24 months out [to begin TAP],” Lamb said, [The service member] may decide tomorrow, I’m getting out in 90 days, then you’re way behind the power curve.”
Stevens also says that those exiting the military from the SOF community have a more challenging time doing so. Another aspect to this transition, says Stevens, is that military personnel tie their identity to their job in the military. Identity, according to Stevens, is not a bad thing, and it just needs contextualization for success in the private sector.
“Your identity is always going to be tied to what you were doing [in the military],” Stevens said. “But, it’s not going to define you moving forward. It should be a strength for growth, but it shouldn’t be ‘I was a SEAL or a Marine Raider and the best years are behind me.’”
Those years spent serving in some of the military’s most elite units should be a “leverage point,” says Stevens. In particular, it’s the mindset that servicemembers applied to get into SOF units and endure harsh deployments with an unrelenting operational tempo.
“Use that, but then move forward,” Stevens said. “And find your next Elysium.”
After helping servicemembers figure out their “why,” the next step is to focus on how to get hired in the civilian world. While there is focus on what Stevens calls “tactical tools” such as building a resume, navigating LinkedIn, and salary negotiation, Stevens says the most important piece is “building out the narrative.”
“One of the things a lot of us in the military don’t like to do is talk about ourselves,” Stevens said. “But you have to develop that narrative about what value you’re going to bring to a company or investors.”
Stevens says that he hopes the two days of assistance that The Honor Foundation provides will drive attendees to attend the whole course and make them hungry to succeed in the private sector.
“We want them to have a graceful landing that’s successful, versus a hard [parachute landing fall],” Stevens said. “You don’t want a crappy landing. You want a smooth one.”
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.