RTFU

On Military Service

By
Updated: November 11, 2013
solider saluting

 

By Nick Palmisciano

Veterans Day is a weird day for most veterans.

Like you, I get a lot of texts and emails and Facebook messages and the like from my civilian friends telling me, “Thank you for your service.” And while I know many veterans dislike hearing that statement from people, it doesn’t bother me. I’m appreciative of the sentiment, much in the same way that I am appreciative of “Happy Birthday”.

And I think most of us should take it that way. Yes, I know it is frustrating hearing that same cliché line from every human being that realizes you served, but let’s be fair, most of them don’t know what else to say. It’s ingrained in our culture now, as much as “Bless you” is when someone sneezes.

And while I fully admit that I often fumble with a response – usually I babble on about “It isn’t necessary. I chose to serve,” or “I appreciate it” – the fact of the matter is that most people are trying to be kind, and we shouldn’t read more into it than that.

A common thread that I hear in the veteran community is that “they have no idea what it’s like to serve,” and that’s true, much in the same way that I have no idea what it’s like to cut into someone’s brain as a neurosurgeon or hang off of a skyscraper as a construction worker. We all have unique experiences in life that define who we are and how we look at the world. There is no question that we are different. The veteran community is the most special group of people I have ever encountered, and I literally have devoted my life to giving back to our community, but we have to apply a reasonable standard to people or we are only hurting ourselves.

There are fewer and fewer of us as a percentage of the population. That means fewer and fewer people will understand what it’s like to don the uniform. When there are less real world encounters with veterans, people fall back on books, articles, the internet, video games, and Hollywood. Hence, the stereotypes emerge: we all have PTSD, we all are alcoholics, we are straight-backed authoritarian types who don’t play well with others, all we know how to do is kill and we can’t succeed in the real world, we aren’t flexible, and all the rest of the nonsense that the mainstream media espouses.

Six months after I began attending graduate school, I had to interview for internships. Internships were a huge deal at business school and the quality of your internship set the tone for the quality of the job that you would attain upon graduation.

Luckily for me, my good friend Bob, who had served with me as an infantryman, was a year ahead of me at school. He spent a lot of time teaching me how to conduct interviews, and especially the case interview, a specific interview that revolved around consulting, which at the time was the job that was considered to be the premium profession. I became really good at it, because I worked at it nonstop, and eventually started teaching my classmates how to ace a case interview. I kind of became the “go to” guy for them over the three months when we were all prepping and I took great pride in it.

When interview time came, I got some job offers, and didn’t get others, as is the way of things, but one company stood out to me. They are a big three consulting firm. Some of you know what that means, and for those that don’t, they make a whole lot of money to tell people how to run their businesses. I aced three rounds of interviews and finally was sitting in front of a partner who would give me my last interview and make a decision on my employment. He gave me the interview case and I worked through it easily. I knew I aced it and I could see he was impressed. What he told me at the end though, was shocking. He looked at me and said, “Nick, you nailed every case. Everyone thought you did great. Our question though is whether you can add value coming directly from the military or whether you need to have an industry job first. We were split on it, but I think you need to get some experience in a more flexible environment. After all, we have a matrix organization and you have to work with a lot of people. You won’t have people to order around like you did in the military and what you need to accomplish will not come from a direct order. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. I think you’ll be better suited to succeed next year. So go and do an internship somewhere else and I will hire you next year.”

That’s the real enemy. The belief by many people in the country that we are less than someone who chose a different path in life, or that we are somehow broken. That our experience doesn’t add value the way other “real world” experience does. It is an obstacle many veterans are struggling to overcome. But there’s one enemy that is even greater, and that’s a veteran’s belief that something is owed to him.

Now let me clarify: I believe it is a nation’s obligation to take care of its wounded. I am thankful for the many great organizations that help veterans in need, help veterans obtain work, and help veterans get a leg up upon leaving service. But for most of us, we need to find success ourselves. We need to. We need to find the same motivation that we had to achieve during our service and apply it to civilian life.

A person doesn’t show up on Day 1 and graduate Ranger School. He goes to Basic, then to AIT, then his unit, then Airborne School, then Pre-Ranger, and finally Ranger. There is a progression there of effort, learning, and toughness. The man that pins on the Ranger Tab is much greater and more capable than the man who joined the military 2-3 years previous. And the important lesson there is that to achieve a significant goal requires blood, sweat and tears, not simply the passage of time.

I won’t lie. That rejection, especially for the reason of having served rather than having had a civilian job, hurt. And it would have been easy for me to feel I would never find work or that no one would ever appreciate what I could do. When he told me I wasn’t good enough for him as an intern, he was all smiles. He thought he was giving me good news by telling me that next year I’d be good enough. When I told my civilian classmates what he said, many of them were excited for me. “That’s great, Nick! Next year you’ll be working for X Corp!” I, on the other hand was pissed off. I would never work for that asshole. I would never work for that shitty company. I dug in. I worked harder, practiced more, and chased more employment opportunities.

I accepted an internship with John Deere, a mid-western company that I felt had great values and better people. I had a great summer and came back with a lot of industry experience. The comments from my supervisors were superb. They highlighted the fact that my military service gave me leadership and problem solving experience that my contemporaries did not have. In short, they respected my experience enough to give me a chance, and I refused to tarnish my or my service’s reputation by doing anything other than my best work. As it should be, I believe.

When the summer was over and the full-time job recruiting season started, suddenly I was at a high premium. Several firms came calling, including the same manager who had snubbed me the year before. With all the other firms, I respectfully declined, but with him, I told him that I would never work for a firm that wasn’t military-friendly. He was shocked. They donated money to this charity and that charity, he stated. I then relived the interview from the year previous from my perspective. I explained how he had marginalized my experience, despite my performance, based solely on his ignorance of what members of the military actually are required to do. Now, whether I had any impact on him or not, I have no idea. And I’m not worried about it. The market has a way of working these things out. I would have crushed that job, as I’m sure would the other vets he had a predisposition against in the past. Instead I was going elsewhere. John Deere had believed in me. I would go work for them for a few years until my hobby (RU) completely consumed me and I moved on to the world of fulltime entrepreneurship.

I realize not everyone has the same experience I had, but I believe many of us have similar challenges as we exit military service. I believe the answer for every single one of us is to find a mission and work like hell to achieve it. We all need to find our “Ranger School” to work towards, and when we attain it, we must find the next challenge. There is no better argument against the naysayers than success, and there is nothing that aligns our life more than the pursuit of it.

So on this Veterans Day, rather than get hung up on whether it is weird, or not, that civilians are thanking you for your service, ask yourself if you’ve found your mission and whether you’re working towards it. My personal opinion is that there is nothing more powerful than a veteran with a mission, and nothing sadder than a vet without one. Most of the hires at Ranger Up are veterans. I don’t do this because I am a good dude who wants to give back. That’s what charity is for. I hire veterans because veterans kick ass. They never stop working, never stop pushing, never stop creating, and never stop executing until the mission is done – 100 percent and then some.

And one other thing, thank you for your service.

 

Comments

comments

33 Comments

  1. William

    November 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Great article, Nick! And hey… Thank you for your service.

  2. Jay

    November 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Awesome article, well written and completely inspiring. Just shared it with a ton of my old airborne buddies.

  3. James Black

    November 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I usually respond to people i like in a similar fashion, “Thanks man” or “its all good”. But to the douche bags trying to look like they actually give a damn I look them dead in the eye and say “Your Welcome”. My tone of voice and demeanor usually tell the true meaning that I do not hold a very high opinion of them.

    Few people understand what it is to be a service member and even fewer have experienced combat. I often say it must be like experience childbirth as the mother. I can study it, know every fact, anecdote, and lie about childbirth; but as a male I’ll never understand what that experience is like. We all must seek out our “Ranger-Up” moments.

    I, like many other Vets, have struggled with translating my military work and leadership experience into real world professions. I believe this is in part of the fact that the world of academia has a four-point hold on what is considered “professional training”. It is absolutely exhausting to try and explain that leadership in the Army was more encouragement and reinforcement of subordinates then what most civilians saw in Full Metal Jacket.

    You are dead on when it comes to hiring vets. If we don’t know what we need to do we’ll figure it out. We are not scared to carve a path through uncharted territory. We don’t give up when work gets hard.

    Hoah, and thanks for filling boots with awesome!

  4. Dave

    November 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    This was a great article! RLTW!

  5. Darik Forrest

    November 11, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you Mr Palmisciano. For your military service, and what you are doing now.

    Darik Forrest

  6. Frankie

    November 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    This is an amazing article!! For the record, vets have been some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, and if I ever own a business, I’d hire a qualified vet in a heartbeat.

    This article should be an inspiration to both vets and civilians. 🙂

    • Adam

      November 11, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Wow, you would hire a qualified person? What a patriot.

      • Robert

        November 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

        Why would you hire an unqualified person? Adam you are a Richard if I ever met one sir.

  7. Todd

    November 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Good article, and thanks for your service! BTW, Do you know Steve?

    • John

      November 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

      I think know Steve … skinny white guy with a short haircut, right?

  8. Matt

    November 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Well said! I’m just thankful that we didn’t get the “appreciation” my Uncles received when they came back from Vietnam. Thanks for your service, and thanks for RU!

  9. Arrny Veteren

    November 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I am always glad when someone thanks me for being a Veteran. I have issues with PTSD and it’s generally worse on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. But no matter how I may feel, I am always glad to hear someone thanking me for my service. But not for me, I’m happy that they care enough to remember what Veterans as a whole have done for the nation and that they go out of their way to let me know.

  10. Kat

    November 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    My father serviced in the Vietnam war and the website I attached here is an article that was written about him for Veterans Day. It’s been more than 30 years since he was in the service but he still remembers vividly what it was like to come home on emergency leave and be spat on. THAT is why I thank our Veterans, all Veterans, all wars. Because our Vietnam Veterans were treated poorly and they made a promise to future generations that THAT would never happen again. That is why I thank Veterans and active duty, that is why I visit the monuments, wall and Arlington and THAT is why I’m truly grateful for all that you do to protect the way of life I and all other Americans enjoy. We can never know what you go through, but we can respect it, appreciate it and acknowledge.

  11. Alan

    November 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Great article and thanks for your service and site. I had a similar scenario switching gears to a new field that I had little direct experience in. The hiring manager was 8 years Army and he saw my 4 years 82d ABN and degree from a top school and said if I could accomplish that he would give me a shot. He never regretted it.

  12. Ed

    November 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Nick, Thanks for talking about the topic. When someone thanks me for my service, I thank them for their support. Like you said in the article, they might not know what else to say, but they feel compelled to say something. I think it is also one of our “implied tasks” to graciously accept their thanks. We only survive through the support of the greatest support group on Earth. So, Thank you Nick for your service, and Thanks to all who support us.

  13. Froggy

    November 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Nick,

    Well stated. I’m in B-School right now, and my classmates donated $1000 to homeless veterans in LA on behalf of the 12 vets in our UCLA EMBA class this morning. I have no doubt in their sincerity and their urge to thank and honor us, and I really appreciate it. I told them so on FB and then added, in a similar vein to your thoughts, that the best thing they could do for all of us in the future was to give a vet an opportunity at some point down the road be it at work, or just in their daily lives. This clearly is the most impactful thanks that they could offer, and allows those currently benefiting from “Feed Our Vets” the most enduring thank you of all.

    -Matt

  14. Nate Culbertson

    November 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I tell them the truth. It’s my family tradition and a right of passage.

  15. Murphy

    November 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    I like what you have to say, and I like the way you are saying it.
    Thank you for this article, though it reminds me I need to focus in on just what I want my mission to be. It’s hard when you find your limits, but I seem to have found a few here in college.
    None the less, the reminder here is one I needed this week/month!

    Also, I suppose it really is high time for me to stop answering the thanks for my service by offering directions to the nearest recruiting office; a bit juvenile, I guess… but so is my sense of humor…

    • Shane Schmutz

      November 11, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      That was an awesome read. I had very similar experience. Very well written. Wow.

  16. Brendan

    November 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Nick:

    While I didn’t serve, it was in relation to a medical condition that wasn’t acceptable to any branch at the time, I am thankful for those who could serve. For me, and I speak only for myself, the feeling of thankfulness is based more upon respect than anything else.

  17. Dustin

    November 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I usually say thank you for your support in response.

  18. Cassie

    November 12, 2013 at 2:03 am

    As an IT recruiter, I always try to give military people a leg up (“Hey, you should probably add this to your resume,” etc). I want to see military guys hired because they know what it means to work hard.

    And my husband always remarks on how awkward he feels when a stranger thanks him for his service, and this is a very good testament to that experience. Definitely sharing. Thanks for posting.

  19. Chris Barrows

    November 12, 2013 at 5:05 am

    Nick I always enjoy your perspective so much. Thanks for what you’re about brother.
    RLTW!

  20. Carolyn

    November 12, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I am wondering, what should we say? I would rather say something that you guys would appreciate and would like to hear. You do something that most people won’t, or in my case couldn’t – 4F, you deserve our gratitude and support. What do you suggest?

  21. Miles Veteranus

    November 12, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I learn so much from here. Nick you could not be more accurate with what you scribe. I have had non military friendly bosses in the past, I have non military friendly people around me currently. I think they do not say anything out of fear, of what I have no clue, but I catch a snide quark here and there. Which is fine with me. I know I have nothing to be ashamed of with my tenure.

    Stay the course!

  22. Malachias

    November 12, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Great read! Well put and something for all of us as Veterans to think about.

  23. John

    November 12, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    As a very recent college grad and fourteen year vet who is looking for a job, I will take this to heart. Thank you guys for all that you do for us!

    AATW

  24. Mike

    November 12, 2013 at 11:54 pm

  25. Daniel

    November 13, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Nick,
    People tell me thank you for your service… I tell them thanks, now do your job as a citizen and vote with the Constitution!
    V/R,
    Daniel

  26. John

    November 13, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Great read! I’m glad you’re not still working for John Deere. We need Ranger Up!

  27. Ron

    November 13, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for the excellent article.

  28. Uncle Buster

    November 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Excellent article, Nick!

    You remind me of my initial foray into the corporate world. There I was, a newly-minted MBA (that I paid for myself), and I was up in Crystal City doing interviews. It was down to three companies: HP, Texas Instruments, and some semi-conductor firm that I’d never even heard of.

    The female interviewer from HP told me “I don’t think our needs will be met by an ‘Army officer.’ Thank you for coming.” That was before I even got to sit down. I walked out thinking about how I would love to pound her condescending, feminist smile back down her throat.

    The TI interview went great, and I got an offer to move to Versailles, KY. to work in the electro-mechanical switch operation they had there.

    The third interview…well, I was early, and the interviewer was late. When he finally showed up, he was obviously in serious hang-over territory. What’s more, he didn’t make any excuses at all. He introduced himself, and then said “I see you’re a West Point grad. I’m an Annapolis grad, so tell me why in HELL I would want one of you guys in my company?”

    I considered…and the chemistry seemed right…so I went for it.

    “Well, sir, if for no other reason than to get you to appointments on time. How about that for starters?”

    We stared eyeball to eyeball until he finally broke out laughing.

    “Well, sh*t, Army! The interview is now over. When can you start?”

    I actually accepted then and there and we spent the rest of the afternoon in the bar going over salary, temporary lodging, moving, etc.

    So, I wound up working for a Marine and it was GREAT. I wish more people in the private sector had served…American Industry wouldn’t be nearly as f*cked as it is now otherwise.

  29. cole

    November 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Its knowing I work with people like this that keeps my head up and back straight, I’m a bit late in saying this, but thank you to all of those who have lead the way for me, and before me, the brothers in arms to my left and right who set the standard that our fellow countrymen should strive to meet and exceed, civilian, enlisted, and commissioned alike.

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