8 Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Tips From Starship Troopers
Robert Heinlein’s science fiction classic Starship Troopers, published in December 1959, is a permanent fixture on military reading lists among the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Starship Troopers describes how Johnnie Rico starts as a private in the Mobile Infantry, an Earth-based military force that serves as a galactic and heavily armed raiding force. The Mobile Infantry was similar to a WWII Marine Raider force or the Army Rangers of WWII — high on firepower, shock tactics, and infantry force. The essence of Starship Troopers was a fight for survival of the human race across the galaxy. Humans were threatened by a race of intelligent, highly skilled, and ferocious spider-like creatures (“Bugs”). Standing in their way, the front line of Earth’s defense forces, was the Mobile Infantry. The Mobile Infantry could be considered as interstellar Marines, transported from plant to planet in huge starships and then “parachuted” from planetary orbit. On the ground, the Mobile Infantry fought in incredible, 2,000 lb, powered, armored suits.
Starship Troopers showed us that, despite the technology, being in the Infantry was still the Infantry with constant hard work, impossible odds, and zero thanks. The Mobile Infantry fought and trained as Infantry has always done: outnumbered, in the cold and dark, and against incredible odds to save the human race and each other. Starship Troopers made its way into the modern military lexicon more than a decade ago, most notably during the U.S. involvement in Somalia, where local Somali militia were referenced as “Skinnies” in comparison to one of the antagonist militaries that the Earth forces fought against in the opening chapters of the book.
Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a great refresher on some of the truly vital and critical skill sets that veterans bring to organizations in their post-military careers. If you are on the first day or your 10th year of your military transition, be sure to look down this list to contribute all you can. There are 8 key insights that matter to how effective military veterans can be in business and their second careers.
- The Entire Team Works On The Primary Mission.
The motto of the Mobile Infantry is, “Everybody drops and everybody fights.” On numerous drops, all of Rico’s unit went into combat. Regular soldiers, but also cooks, administrative personnel, and even Chaplain’s — everyone fought. From an organizational standpoint, this was the sheer genius from the Mobile Infantry. Literally, 100% of the organization was dedicated to its primary purpose of combat. The concept of “everybody fights” was a simple and valuable reminder that the majority of your organization should be dedicated to its mission.
Relevance to Military-To-Civilian Career Transition. When you come into a new company or organization, how much of your job should be dedicated to doing what your company does for its customers? If your primary job reinforce safety standards on oil rigs, then how much of your time do you actually spend enforcing and training on oil rig safety standards? In the military and in the corporate world, it can be very, very easy to be distracted by activities that take time and effort, but do not contribute to the primary purpose of your organization towards its customers.
2. Performance in The Present, Not In The Past, Is All Important
Every person in the mobile infantry, and society at large, was judged by what they did, how they performed, and how well they followed orders. This focus on performance as the sole benchmark of personal value weas refreshing. In Heinlein’s sci-fi future, you could be rich or poor, from a great family or a questionable one, or have a PhD or a high school degree, and the only thing that mattered in the mobile infantry was well you performed. In business, you can have a great corporate culture but if the product was bad, the customer service ineffective, or the company was not innovative, then you failed. For both business and the military, performance was everything.
Relevance to Military-To-Civilian Career Transition. Performance was a central driving criteria for veterans because no matter that you were a crewmember on a destroyer or an Apache Helicopter pilot, what mattered was how well you performed your current job. Don’t worry about how your background compares to others in your organization. Worry about how well you perform and always seek to improve.
3. Difference And Diversity Is A Non-Issue In The Modern Workplace
Starship Troopers gets some diversity and gender issues right and others completely wrong. Gender, physical disability, and race played significant roles throughout the book. Women were allowed to perform all combat roles, even direct ground combat. However, there were barely any women in the Mobile Infantry because they were better suited for more vital military roles, like being starship pilots, serving in military intelligence, or weapons development. Women, it turns out, were even more valuable than men in effective combat performance and outcomes. The most important, strategic positions were reserved for women.
What Heinlein missed was the concept that a woman would want a direct combat position? If Heinlein had ever met Ronda Rousey, then the whole Mobile Infantry might have been women. The vast majority of Rico’s teachers were disabled combat veterans. His Strategy instructor was the best military strategist who only happened to be blind. If anything, according to Rico, it made him a better strategist. Based on the concept of superior job performance that permeates the book, disability was an illogical reason to exclude anyone, because everyone’s value was based on how they performed.
Relevance to Military-To-Civilian Career Transition. For military veterans, we are used to dealing with gender, diversity, and other issues on a daily basis. Military members, like the Mobile Infantry, are used to dealing with different races and religions. Veterans will need to work with other non-veteran civilians to have their military service fully understood and how it contributes to their current workplace. Veterans will need to strive at times to be open and understanding with others as they explain and demonstrate the value of their service for their employer’s success. The lesson from Starship Troopers was that when an organization unites under a compelling mission, truly focuses on performance, then difference does not apply.
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