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"...it was like he was speaking another language."

I heard this today for the second time this week (hint: today is Tuesday). When I speak to civilians about Veteran employment, I hear the same challenges every time. People want to help, they just can't figure out what the heck Veterans aresaying when they speak! 

I consider myself blessed to be bilingual - I speak Civilian at a fluent level and Military at a conversational level.

I grew up in a house where both my parents had enlisted and served in the Army. My parents met at Ft Huachuca. My parents' dating stories were peppered with tales of who outranked who and which private/specialist/sargeant said or did what. My mom was one of the first women integrated from the Womens Army Corps into the "regular Army", which means she was one of very few females working alongside men when an integrated military wasn't a thing. My dad taught calculus and played volleyball in the Army. I'm not sure exactly how he managed those arrangements, but I remember a lot of pictures of him on a beach and a lot fewer of him working. Apparently that's what a job in Military Intel will get you! 

 My mom made us run in formation when she substituted for my gym class - true story!

Much to my Army parents' chagrin, I married a Marine. Granted, he is now a Reservist, a "weekend warrior" as some like to call them, but he was pretty badass in his active duty days (at least before he decided to become an officer!) All kidding aside, I'm insanely proud of him. I've been lucky to watch his career progress and learn many important leadership lessons from how he interacts with his Marines. I've met his Marines, the men he deployed with, I know their families. I've been to the FRG meetings (Family Readiness Group) and attempted to figure out which rank insignia means what on whose lapels and what each uniform is called.

I still like to poke at hubby by calling his uniforms his "outfits".

All this to say, "Military Speak" has been in my vocabulary my whole life. I have lived it, breathed it, and sought to understand it. I've asked my husband to explain things so many times he may be ready to scream. I ask what this MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) is, or what that title means or who is actually in charge of the unit (I suspect it's the XO - Executive Officer - not the CO - Commanding Officer even though the CO likes to think he's the big cheese!) I sit while he patiently explains. And after all that, all those years, I still need frequent translation.

Because the military is a different world all unto itself.

There are reasons for that - discipline, clear communication, Operational Security (OpSec), and the basic need to help human beings unlearn their most primal instinct - the one that tells them to run from danger in order to save their own lives. 

So it's natural for civilians not to understand when a veteran explains what s/he did while in the military. They are basically speaking a foreign language.

In fact, I've learned Russian and can tell you that learning Military Speak is almost as challenging. 

So how do we bridge this gap? How can we cross over the divide which prevents so many veterans from getting that first interview so they can land that next job once they've separated from the military?


1. Listen for things that sound familiar and work from there. 

When learning Russian, we did listening exercises. At first we could only pick up one word in a 30 second clip. A month later, we caught 5 words. The only way you begin to understand a foreign language is to listen intently and find the words you understand and latch on to them.

2. Ask questions.

Don't ask "Did you kill someone?" That's the fastest way to get blown off by a vet.Do ask, "Can you explain more about this job?" or "What does that mean? How did that work?" Veterans aren't the enemy and they aren't a scary creature from the abyss. They're pretty amazing human beings. And human beings love to feel understood. Most vets I know are amazingly patient when I pepper them with clarifying questions and appreciate that I am taking the time to try to learn. Try it!

3. Google it!

It's 2016. The fact that I have to write this is silly. If something doesn't make sense, Google it. Today I saw a profile of someone I just knew was a vet. He had "11b" on his profile in a fairly unnoticeable location. Dear Google: "11b". Guess what? He was in the Army Infantry! Thanks, Google!


1. Listen for things that sound familiar and work from there. 

See above. 

2. Ask questions.

As a person who had conducted over 75 informational interviews in 2 months, I can tell you this right now, people love to help other people and love to share their knowledge. Civilians aren't the boogey man silently protesting your existence by refusing to open their world to you. They're just going about their daily lives. The lives you made possible by putting yours on the line. Many of them get that and are grateful and would be more than willing to walk you step-by-step through a job role, share their company culture, or explain the skills required to do their jobs. But you have to ask. They aren't going to come to you. Remember the harsh face you learned at Basic/Boot Camp? In the civilian world we call it Resting Bitch Face and you have it!

3. Google it!

Same concept as above. If something doesn't make sense, use the resources the good Lord gave you. Remember when you couldn't get comms to call your wife on her birthday? This is the exact opposite of that! You have internet on your phone for goodness sake. Don't waste that luxury! 

I look forward to the day when I hear more stories of vets and civilians exploring each other's worlds and fewer of them not knowing what to do and running the other way. The only way to get there is one conversation at a time. Let's open the dialogue!