For enlisted Special Forces soldiers transitioning out of the Army: a word of caution. Despite increased understanding of our training, role, and mission, there is still a nagging stereotype for enlisted versus officers. While internally, we have our knowledge of NCOs and team sergeants and their importance on a team, there’s much more educating to do in the private sector.
My first experience with this issue was at my first and last job fair that I attended a year ago. I walked in looking sharp, resumes in hand, elevator pitch ready to go. I spoke with a few other people milling around, talked to a few companies and went up to a company that I had minimal interest in, but it was a chance to practice my elevator pitch.
I introduced myself as a soon to be retiring Special Forces Team Sergeant and continued. The gentleman from this company said, “Nice to meet you, you would be great in our warehouse.” A lot of emotions and thoughts went through my mind the instant he said that: anger, surprise, frustration, and humor to name a few. I thanked him for his time, and as I was walking away, I overheard a junior officer introduce himself to the company. They started talking about rotational leadership positions and management opportunities.
Now, all work is noble, and I’m sure there was no offense intended in his statement. However, given my experience as a Green Beret, just months ago, I was leading a team that was an integral part of a multi-billion-dollar operation. We had multiple stakeholders across an array of countries with our actions impacting decisions up to the strategic level and our National Security Council. Fresh off of that experience while operating across cultures and languages. You’re right I would be great in your warehouse, it would become the best operating warehouse in the history of warehouses.
Like other enlisted Special Forces soldiers, I have had to solve countless problems in ambiguous situations with lives on the line or with US national policy implications at stake. The ability to work cross-functionally across cultures had been tested and proven on countless missions. Having led teams ranging in size from 2 to over 200, I’ve been able to hone my leadership skills by making a connection with people. I had proven my flexibility under high-stress situations, the ability to adapt.
What was evident to me at that point was one thing, there is a misunderstanding of the military and especially Special Forces (SF) Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO). I could whine about it and become disgruntled with this lack of understanding, but like every Green Beret, I believe in generating solutions to problems, not hiding from them. Educating people is the way to close that information gap.
The fact is when Green Berets deploy, these NCO’s often have responsibilities on par or exceeding their conventional officer counterparts. Each of these can and often lead and/or advise a company size force of over 100 foreign fighters. With no formal chain of command structure to follow like conventional forces, these men have to earn the respect of their counterparts and use all of their interpersonal skills to accomplish the mission. This all takes place in a foreign language, in their culture and often under challenging circumstances. Special Forces NCO’s thrive in this environment and can do the same in any organization or business.
Enlisted SF NCO’s need to translate our experiences in a way that shows our value. Our SF officers need to spread the word about our importance. Our trusted advocates out there across America need to talk to others about our merit. If all of these people translate and educate others about our value, we will be successful.
For the prospective employers out there, some nuances in how Special Forces enlisted team members can stand out on your private sector team. They bring five characteristics of who they are and what they have honed over time in countries around the world.
Special Forces veterans are known for their problem-solving ability around the world. These NCO’s have had to solve problems in ambiguous situations where the results were life or death. Their training and experience with their planning process allow them to approach problems uniquely. These are the guys that you want on your team to develop solutions, no matter the problem. If you hire these individuals, they will develop solutions for you.
These NCO’s are highly adaptable. They have proven their ability to work cross-functionally and across cultures on missions spanning the globe. When these men are put into situations they are the tip of the spear for US forces and policy, they have had to be flexible and fill multiple roles to succeed. One minute they may be negotiating with a tribal elder, the next they are training a foreign force to protect their community and then they may be briefing a US Ambassador alongside foreign dignitaries on the ground truth in a given country. You can count on these Green Berets to take on a multitude of tasks.
Due to these Special Forces NCOs having to work by, with, and through a foreign partner force they have developed a high level of emotional intelligence. Their ability to build rapport and read people in a short period has kept them alive and enabled them to achieve mission success. Few people in the workforce have mastered this skill as much as an SF NCO, these are masters of the human domain. Their ability to empathize and relate with a wide variety of people is what has allowed them to succeed around the world with indigenous forces. These men will be able to read the people around your organization and adjust decisions based off of the ground truth.
Men going through SF selection, qualification, and missions have proven their grit. These men will not quit. They will ensure the mission is accomplished. The NCOs of Special Forces will not be deterred by a bad day or a tough deal, they will keep going until they have a solution for your organization. You can count on them to continue working in your business until you meet your goals.
Lastly, these men are force multipliers. Quite simply, they make others better. They have spent a career going overseas in small teams and empowering much larger forces to improve their capabilities. They will get in your company and improve your team. These Green Berets will enhance your company from within.
I ask that you look at these enlisted Green Berets as value added to your organization. I understand it is difficult to understand their experiences, but they will become assets in your organization. Take a moment to think about what value they bring the next time you talk with one or review their resume.
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