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Chris Allen
Mar 22, 2011

The "So What" Factor, Part Two

In this week’s blog, we will explore sub-cultural challenges. I planned on covering transition from military service to private industry employment, the Veteran market, and partnership potential but realized early on that a cultural perspective needs to be explored first. I will answer some of the questions posed in my last blog in the next blog.

In previous blogs, I’ve talked generally about the military sub culture, without going much into specifics. Before discussing the topics of transition, the Veteran Market, and partnership (subject of next blog), we must take a brief look at military sub-cultural influences as they impact Veterans and their family members. Since most of you reading this blog are Counselors, I encourage you to think about how you might assist in some of these issues. Ask yourself what some of the second and third ordered affects are for Veteran and Family members transitioning out of the military. My list of challenges is certainly not exhaustive, and I’m sure others will be able to point out things that I have probably missed.

Try and think about these issues from a life span approach. Keep in mind that Veterans and Families leave the military for different reasons and at different times. Some retire after 30 years of service, some leave after a 4 year enlistment, while some are discharged due to injury or for disciplinary reasons. Note: I will almost always say “Veteran & Family” because military service inevitably involves both, whether a servicemen or Veteran is married or not.

Here are some cultural aspects that are often taken for granted by the civilian world, Veterans, and their families. I’ve listed these in no particular order of importance; it’s just the order in which I thought of them. Keep the Cheers theme lyrics (Where everybody knows your name) in your head as you read this. I’ve never read the full version till just now, and it’s pretty funny.

Sub Cultural Challenges:
“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Isn’t this true for all of us? I mean, when you refer someone out, do you generally refer to someone unknown and untested? Or, do you prefer to go with a person that you know is a better fit for your client? It’s the same process in the military, especially the higher in rank you go.

It also follows that with increasing rank, the higher your families’ status within the military community is. Both individual and family identity is often tied to a service member’s rank and position. Is this a good thing? It all depends on if the attachment to rank is healthy or not. A lack of cultural understanding on this point could inhibit a Counselor’s progress with a military / Veteran client.

Retirees and their families generally leave the military when they are in their 40’s. Sometimes retirees know people in the civilian sector that will assist in the transition to corporate life, but often this is not the case. Usually, but not always, a person will have difficulty adjusting to life in a civilian company.

For example, if you tell me that a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) or a Command Sergeant Major (CSM) is coming to work for you, I will have a fairly good idea of the experience and story he or she brings to the table.

Sometimes Veterans assume employers and new co-workers automatically understand and identify with their past rank and experience. They presume too much and get frustrated by not being known.

Spouses & Children: What about “military dependents?” What are the goals and aspirations for these people? In the case of a retired Veteran, children have moved to numerous schools, entirely dependent on military assignments. Think about the implications for you as a teenager. Let’s say that as a child and teenager, you moved all over the globe following your father in the Navy. Your time was spent with other kids in similar situations. You understood their culture. Suddenly, your parents tell you that dad is retiring and that the family is moving back to your mother’s small home town in Idaho. Your mom finds a job and her roots. Your dad enjoys his retirement and maybe has a part time job. Unfortunately for you, everyone else is happy. You are going to a school where everyone else grew up together, sharing one story while you have yours.

Let’s say that you are the spouse of someone in the Military. You have an advanced degree in something or are trying to complete an advanced degree but have trouble because of constant moves. Or, and this is a story that I’ve heard just recently from a friend, that you are being turned down for a job in a local community because the HR representatives know that within 3 years you will re-locate to another base. As a Counselor, you can easily see the potential problems.

Military members and their families grapple with these issues all of the time; some deal with things better than others.

Church / Story: Some of us go to Church and some of us don’t, but we all have a story to tell. In the military, there are four primary faith groups: Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, and Islam. Obviously, there are other faith and religious groups in the military, but the numbers are much smaller.

Although each of these groups has differing core beliefs and practices, they each provide their members with shared fellowship and understanding. Members automatically have a shared understanding of the hardships and joys being experienced by fellow members, even when fellow members have different ranks.

Sometimes when leaving the military, finding a good Church is difficult. Some denominations view war and military service skeptically, thus inadvertently rejecting a family’s story and cultural experience. In the times where Veterans and their families need the Church the most, the Church is not found. Life stories are overlooked and opportunities to assist in transition are lost. Veterans and their family members are afraid to ask for help, and Church leaders do not offer it, not out of spite or malice, but out of simply not knowing that the need exists.

A similar discussion and thought process also exists for degree granting institutions.

Profit verses Mission Motive: Not sure how to describe the difference between cultural motives, but I will try.

Let us begin by taking a look at corporate America. Without corporate America and private ingenuity, the U.S. Government would not collect taxes, and I wouldn’t receive a paycheck. Rightly so, managers look at the bottom line when it comes to production costs, labor, etc… Salaries and hourly wages should be directly proportional to revenue generated and market demand for goods. Keeping the books in the black is of primary importance. I’m sure that many of the clients you see feel lost and alone in the process, even when their companies tout the fact that they put employee concerns first. The mission for corporate America is to undoubtedly make a profit. Employees that are not viewed as productive are not usually employed for long.

On the other hand, the military mission is people focused because it has to be. In the most simplistic of descriptions, we try and kill our enemies while protecting our friends. We are taught to “look out for your battle buddy,” and to “watch your six.” Leaders in the military are expected to train those under them so that if a leader is not able to perform his or her job, the person subordinate to that leader is prepared and equipped to take over. Being in the military, we have all been taught about watching for signs of suicide, preventing sexual harassment, race relations, drug use, honesty, spousal abuse, and homosexual integration. Soldiers are counseled quarterly and yearly in order to ensure that the missions we are given get accomplished. Our first course of action with a Soldier having trouble is not to fire them; instead, our first response is to find out what’s going on in their personal lives.

From my brief descriptions here, I hope that you can see the difference in culture. Military members leaving the service often have difficulties making the transition because they are not mentally prepared for the change.

A brief discussion of the military subculture was needed before the next blog. I have now hopefully set the background for discussing transition from military service to private industry employment, the Veteran market, and partnership potential for healing professionals.

As always, I welcome questions and comments.Thanks for reading.

Chris Allen is an Army Officer currently serving in Afghanistan who counsels Soldiers on a volunteer basis and will pursue licensure upon his return. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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