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USAA Tips: How to put employers at ease

Content provided courtesy of USAA

Let’s think about the military culture for a moment:

  • We tend to yell a lot. We shout out orders. We give commands with authority.

  • Job descriptions, organization and function, roles, and rank are very clear.

  • Physical fitness, mental toughness, and a warrior spirit is essential.

  • HOO-AH is a noun, verb, adjective, or any other word form.

  • Esprit de corps is something we understand.

  • Going hours without sleep is common.

  • Your experience involved work for the country, not a company.

  • The pay scale is known to all and easy to understand.

  • Your path to employment involved some sort of basic training.

  • What you wear to work is highly predictable and pre-determined.

  • A known set of values, tenets, creeds, and customs is a vital part of the culture.

So, imagine walking into a prospective employer’s company and acting like you did when you were in uniform.

Based on the short list above this begs the question: Do you present yourself to the non-military hiring world as someone who’s still in the military?

Let’s say you’ve done all the right things in order to get hired. You’ve prepared an incredible résumé. You’ve practiced your interview questions so that your answers flow beautifully. You’ve upped your wardrobe so that you look just like the current employees you want to work with. You’ve developed a strong list of personal and professional references who can sing your praises with ease. You’ve done everything possible to get hired now.

Your phone doesn’t ring. Your email doesn’t get answered. You’re still unemployed. Why?

I believe several things happen during a veteran’s transition to civilian life. One of the most vital elements and keys to success I believe exists in your ability to put civilians at ease with you.

That said, here’s a list of questions I’ve put together that might help:

  • Do you have conversations during interviews, or does it sound like you’re briefing someone?

  • Do you come across “hyper-confident”? Do you need to tone it down a bit?

  • Do you use military speak such as “HOO-AH!” and other non-civilian terms?

  • Do you assume the interviewer can connect the dots on your experience, or can you simply provide examples of how you built teams, worked with limited resources, met tight deadlines, or otherwise get the job done using terms they can understand?

  • Do you recognize that most of your non-military counterparts have their own civilian definition of esprit de corps?

  • Do you realize that a non-military person feels strongly about their commitment to the company? (And, they probably have strong positive feelings about those who served our country and may not know how to verbalize it to you.)

  • Do you know that in some companies, pay levels and benefits may be ambiguous? Do you realize that in some companies people negotiate for higher pay? (There may be ranges of pay as in a low end and high end.)

  • Do you appreciate the fact that a non-military employee’s “basic training” may have involved civilian schooling, college, trade school, on-the-job training, or prior work experience?

  • Even though business attire is most likely to be the dress code for the interview, can you interact with the various styles of dress you might find at the company you wish to work for?

  • Do you know the company’s mission statement, tenets, values, and goals? Can you verbalize your understanding of these without referring to “how we did it in the military”?

  • Do you understand how job titles, responsibilities, and duties may or may not be clearly defined?

If you ever walk away from an interview wondering why they didn’t hire you or call you back, maybe you haven’t done enough to put them at ease.

By making a concerted effort to do a self-evaluation, you might uncover some things you need to improve upon. Be honest with yourself. Pay attention to how you carry yourself in the interview setting.

Bladensburg ruling 'victory for freedom'

Citing America’s constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and expression, the leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization hailed today’s 7-2 Supreme Court ruling protecting a popular veterans memorial “an overall victory for freedom.”

“This was not just about a single cross,” American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad said of his organization’s 7-2 victory in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. “This was about the right of a community to honor its fallen heroes. And that’s why the World War I veterans of Bladensburg sacrificed their lives, to protect the freedom of others. The American Legion does not consider these crosses, which honor so many veterans, to be religious memorials. But even if it were, freedom of religion is also a cherished right protected by our First Amendment. Americans can feel more confident today that veterans memorials, cemetery headstones and patriotic monuments throughout our country are safer as a result of this ruling.”

Fishing, relaxing and making a connection

His military career cut short by multiple injuries – including two traumatic brain injuries – U.S. Army Ranger Jesse Sage didn’t handle the transition into the civilian world very well after being medically retired in 2015.

“It’s been pure hell,” said the 41-year-old Sage, who deployed 10 times to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 101st Airborne Division and 3rd Ranger Battalion. “It has been a rough transition. I was not ready to be retired. Losing the connection, that brotherhood, was very tough for me. When I got out I was dealing with a lot of pain – physical and mental. I started using alcohol and prescription drugs poorly to cope with that stuff, and really struggled for about two years.

Sage is in a better place now, but continuing on that road means connecting with fellow veterans, something he is doing this week in Northern Ohio. He’s one of more than 120 wounded veterans in Marblehead, Ohio, spending three days fishing Lake Erie as part of the eighth annual Walleyes for Wounded Heroes event. Sage joined veterans from Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio for four days of angling with professional charter boat captains and, perhaps more importantly, interacting with fellow veterans injured in service.

“The greatest thing about the military was those bonds that were built,” Sage said. “This is a fun event that you can connect with other veterans that have been through similar situations.”

Priority for participation in the event is given to Purple Heart recipients, while veterans rated 50-percent disabled or higher by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and those veterans with a DD-214 showing a debilitating injury occurring in training or other non-combat operations also are eligible to attend.

Veterans pay nothing to participate in the event, thanks in part to The American Legion providing grants to Walleyes for Wounded Warriors since 2014. The grants have grown in size over the years; this year’s grant of $16,000 will cover the cost of lodging for the veterans, as well as breakfast and lunch each day.

“Honestly, we wouldn’t be here without The American Legion,” said Charles Reed, director of the event co-sponsor Kentucky Wounded Heroes. “We would have maybe 12-15 folks here. We’d continue on, seeking our own lodging and trying to get breaks – maybe 10-, 20-, 30-percent off meals and so forth. Without the Legion, we would not be here at this location, I’ll tell you that.”

The veterans arrived June 19 at Little Ted’s Cottages and Family Resort and were treated to a dinner of more than 100 pounds of fried perch and walleye caught in Lake Erie. The opening ceremony included a color guard for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, honoring a Gold Star family and the recognition of the POW-MIA table.

For U.S. Army veteran Jimmy Cantrell, who received a Purple Heart after being injured in Operation Just Cause in Panama and went on to serve in Operation Desert Storm, the weekend is a chance to connect with other veterans. In just the first few hours Cantrell already felt the trip from Kentucky was worth it.

“What’s made me impressed is the people, the attitude, the thankfulness, the appreciation and everything they’ve put forward to do this,” he said. “It’s just the encounters with the people: being able to talk to them and have (similar) stories).”

Veterans invited to conference call with president

The White House is inviting veterans to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the one-year anniversary of the passage of the MISSION Act. Space is limited for the call, which will take place at 11:45 a.m.Eastern time Tuesday, June 25.

Since there will only be 10,000 available spots, interested American Legion members should register immediately at this link: Registered participants will receive the dial-in information at that time.

Legion wins Bladensburg memorial Supreme Court case

The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial isn’t going anywhere.

In a landmark victory for The American Legion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on June 20 that the 40-foot memorial can remain on public land in Prince George’s County, Md., where it has stood since 1925.

“This was not just about a single cross,” American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said. “This was about the right of a community to honor its fallen heroes. And that’s why the World War I veterans of Bladensburg sacrificed their lives, to protect the freedom of others.”

In 1925, The American Legion and Gold Star Mothers erected the memorial as a tribute to 49 Prince George’s County veterans who died during World War I. The cross shape was selected by the Gold Star Mothers to represent their sons’ resting place in Europe.

For decades, the memorial stood peacefully until the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed suit, claiming the memorial violated the First Amendment. The Bladensburg memorial was funded privately and the property where it stands was in private hands when it was erected. However, now it sits on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a governmental agency.

“The American Legion does not consider these crosses which honor so many veterans to be religious memorials,” Reistad explained. “But even if it were, freedom of religion is also a cherished right protected by our First Amendment. Americans can feel more confident today that veterans memorials, cemetery headstones and patriotic monuments throughout our country are safer as a result of this ruling.”

The American Legion was represented at the Supreme Court by the legal teams at First Liberty Institute and Jones Day. Aligning with them was the state of Maryland, which owns and maintains the memorial.

“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, the president, CEO and chief counsel to First Liberty. “The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over. Our founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Michal Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney, said, “We are grateful for this historic victory for the First Amendment. This decision simply affirms the historical understanding of the First Amendment that allows government to acknowledge the value and importance of religion.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion.

“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” he wrote. “For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh also were in the majority. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The ruling was cheered by Amber Longoria, a post-9/11 Navy veteran who is a member of American Legion Post 5208 in Denver. “We have bigger fish to fry than where a monument is located,” she said. “This shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with.”

The Supreme Court victory means that Legionnaires from that area can continue to hold Memorial Day and Veterans ceremonies at the site. In November, Phillip Holdcraft, past commander of Post 131 in Colmar Manor, Md., will be there, along with a strong contingent of Legionnaires from the Department of Maryland.

“There will be a sense of relief,” he said earlier this year of what a victory would mean. “It will be a sense of relief for veterans here in Maryland and all over the United States.”

GI Bill’s 75th birthday celebrated in U.S. Capitol

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., made a promise Wednesday inside the U.S. Capitol Building. “The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will continue to work to improve the GI Bill and ensure that no veterans are robbed of their benefits or denied their benefits. We are there to protect their benefits.”

Takano was among hundreds who gathered in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to help The American Legion and Student Veterans of America celebrate the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Takano’s message was about the role Congress continues to play to ensure that GI Bill benefits are properly overseen and never eroded, as they have been at various times over the last 75 years. “The GI Bill must remain a resource that helps our veterans at home. We cannot let it become a tool for exploitation.”

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., former chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and now ranking member on that committee, reflected on American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery, who drafted the GI Bill on Mayflower Hotel stationery in December 1943. “I bet Harry Colmery had no idea how transformational this GI Bill would be.”

Before he spoke, Roe read every panel of “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” exhibit that has toured the nation in recognition of the organization’s 100th anniversary. “I didn’t know Congressman Gibson, but I think I would have really liked that guy,” Roe said of the Georgia House member who was rushed back to Washington at the last minute to cast the vote that brought the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 out of a deadlocked conference committee on June 10, 1944; otherwise the GI Bill would have died there.

“Nurses, doctors – at least a third of the doctors in 1950 were trained by the GI Bill,” Roe said. “It’s remarkable what that meant for America. Twenty-five million of our citizens used that to make our country a better place.” He said the Post 9/11 GI Bill “will be as transformational as the World War II GI Bill was.”

Roe explained how the GI Bill personally helped him and his young family after he got out of the service and thanked Takano, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Tom Carper, D-Del., for joining him in introducing a resolution in Congress to recognize the GI Bill “and its importance on American society.”

Roe and Takano agreed that the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which continues to evolve after its 2008 reboot, represents more than tuition benefits. “We thank veterans for their service, not with words but with actions, by fighting to close the gaps in opportunity and mitigating the disadvantages they faced because they chose to serve their country,” Takano said. “It is incumbent upon Congress to ensure that GI Bill funding provides the reintegration and readjustment opportunities for veterans, not only as stewards of taxpayer money, but also to fulfill the promise we made to our servicemembers.”

American Legion Past National Commander Denise Rohan added that the GI Bill represents “what can happen when ordinary Americans participate in a democracy. The world can change.

Ordinary Americans set the priorities, drafted the legislation, gained support from Congress – and even the media at the time – and fought off critics to get the original GI Bill passed and made into law.

“As this American Legion centennial display describes, these ordinary Americans identified the problem, came up with a solution, convinced the nation it was the right solution and then nurtured it over the decades.”

Student Veterans of America President and CEO Jared Lyon saluted the “greatest generation” of World War II veterans who used the GI Bill to drive the U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century and “the empowerment of this transformational legislation.” He explained that nearly 77 percent of post-9/11 veterans today are either pursuing college degrees or already have them because of the GI Bill. “We are coming home, succeeding and thriving. We have the potential of being the next greatest generation. This legislation empowers that.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attended the ceremony on Capitol Hill and paid specific attention to the pen President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to sign the GI Bill in 1944, on display by The American Legion. “Isn’t that a treasure? What that pen unleashed in the lives of our veterans, their families and the vitality of our country.”

Pelosi added that the GI Bill is a continuous process, one war era to the next, a key message of the traveling centennial display. “The veterans of World War I were instrumental in helping the veterans of World War II. The veterans of World War II were instrumental in helping veterans of subsequent wars. Isn’t that the way it should be?”



The GI Bill: It helped 'reprogram my brain'

For American Legion Department of Oklahoma Adjutant Carl Kuykendall, using the GI Bill didn’t just provide an education. It helped him deal with the things he saw during his service in the U.S. Army in Baghdad.

The year before he retired from the military, Kuykendall worked in the emergency room as a practical nurse/medical specialist. He was assigned to the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Iraq from January to September of 2004 “and was exposed to horrific trauma on a daily basis while there,” he said. “The thoughts and memories of those days and nights in our Baghdad E.R. were on constant playback in my brain over the next few years. I knew something wasn't right with my brain. I couldn't seem to climb out of the cloud of darkness I was in. I continued to work and function normally, but avoided hospitals and especially working in hospitals.”

Kuykendall sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs and was diagnosed with severe depression. “Knowing that the effect of my year in Iraq would stay with me forever, I decided I needed to fix this problem myself,” he said. “I thought long and hard on how to reprogram my brain. I didn't want constant playback of my experiences with horrific trauma to clutter my brain and bring me down all the time.”

Kuykendall turned to the GI Bill – which turns 75 years old on June 22 and was originally drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery – and was able to, in his words, “reprogram my brain. My idea was to return to school and learn the coding language used to allow websites to exist on the internet.

“School lasted for over three years. There were many nights that I worked countless hours with html, CSS, JavaScript and numerous other website languages in order to be prepared for school the next day. I knew that at the same time that I worked with that coding language, I was also repairing my clustered brain. Many nights of homework and many nights helping me reprogram my brain.”

Kuykendall said he was “very fortunate to have the 9/11 GI Bill. The GI Bill made it possible for me to attend college and finish a bachelor's degree in the studies of Media Arts with emphasis on Web Design. Having a degree would soon open many opportunities for me.”

Kuykendall’s story is one of many positive stories that came from using the GI Bill. Here are just a few others.

• Air Force veteran Virginia Russell went to college on the GI Bill and graduated in May 1987 with an accounting degree. A single mother of three, she went to work for the Internal Revenue Service in July of 1987 and worked there for 28 years before retiring in 2015. “I never would have been able to go back to college and support my children without the GI Bill,” said Russell.

• Past Department of Massachusetts Commander and National Executive Committeeman Frank MacDonald retired from a military career that included the Navy, National Guard and Army reserve as a command sergeant major. MacDonald didn’t limit his usage of his GI Bill benefits to an education, though he did get that – one he calls “second to none.” But in addition to that, “my homes have been financed through the VA Home Loan Program, my health care is primarily provided by the local VA outpatient clinic, and I retired from what I consider to be a lucrative career with the federal government – a career that began with an appointment under the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Act. So I guess all in all the GI Bill has made me the person I am today.”

• U.S. Navy veteran John Thomas served in the Vietnam War and then earned a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “If not for the GI Bill, I probably would not have enough funds to accomplish this,” said Thomas.

• Twitter user Cain A (@Nakoaokekai) used the GI Bill to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, which helped him get a “good federal job, as most good federal jobs require a degree nowadays to stay competitive. Once tuition assistance is up every veteran should use and take full advantage of the GI Bill benefits.”

• Facebook user Bill Risener: “I used every bit of mine. It pays off daily. Wouldn't be where I am today without it.”

• Facebook user Bill Howlett: “Thank you FDR! BA in History in 3 yrs after Nam. Couldn’t have done it without the GI Bill!”

• Facebook user Edward Sullivan: “It allowed me to go to Palmer College of Chiropractic and covered my four years of professional training. In August I will be at Palmer in Davenport, Iowa, celebrating my 50th year in practice with my class of 1969!”

American Legion Baseball to honor All-Centennial Team

American Legion Baseball will be honoring the greatest players from the first 100 years of The American Legion, which celebrated its centennial on March 15.

Fans will be able to vote online at for the team, which will be announced at the 2019 American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., Aug.15-20.

A total of 85 nominees, including all of the 78 former American Legion Baseball players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as players or coaches, were presented to the American Legion Baseball Committee, which pared the list down to 60 for a fan vote.

Fans can vote for as many or as few players as they see fit for their ballot.

The finalists are as follows:

Catchers: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Iván Rodríguez

First Basemen: Jeff Bagwell, Harmon Killebrew, Albert Pujols, Eddie Murray, Willie Stargell, Jim Thome

Second Basemen: Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg

Shortstops: Barry Larkin, Pee Wee Reese, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount

Third Basemen: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson

Outfielders: Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski

Starting Pitchers: Bert Blyleven, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Roy Halladay, Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, Justin Verlander

Relief Pitchers: Rollie Fingers, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm

Coaches: Sparky Anderson, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Earl Weaver

The 25 remaining nominees, considered honorable mentions to the team are, by position: Roy Campanella, Don Mattingly, Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, George Kell, Ron Santo, Richie Ashburn, Harold Baines, Bryce Harper, Joe Medwick, Tim Raines, Jim Rice, Tom Glavine, Catfish Hunter, Bob Lemon, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Hal Newhouser, Robin Roberts, Max Scherzer, Early Wynn, Whitey Herzog and Dick Williams

Voting is available at

American Legion Baseball’s junior program sees increased registration

American Legion Baseball’s junior program will have more teams in 2019.

The under-17 league, which registers nationwide, will have 1,308 teams competing this season. That is an increase of 43 teams in 2019 over 2018.

Much of the growth comes from the 13- to 16-year-old age group, one that has been a focus of the program recently.

“Getting younger players into American Legion Baseball has been a major focus for us,” said Gary Stone, chairman of the American Legion Baseball Committee. “Players who join our junior program tend to stay and become senior American Legion Baseball players.”

The push to focus on the junior program has been a fruitful one, as the program still focuses on Americanism, citizenship, sportsmanship, loyalty, physical fitness and team spirit.

“More time playing American Legion Baseball doesn’t just make for better players,” Stone added. “It makes better teammates who are also better citizens.”

South Carolina's Boys State store is big business

The store at Palmetto Boys State is a year-round venture for staff members Whit Campbell and Daiten McCraw — and a sizable source of revenue for the program.

“The revenue that it brings in for us is the lifeblood of the organization for sure,” McCraw said, noting that the income from the store helps pay for the charter buses that take the Boys Staters from Anderson University to the capital in Columbia for inauguration day, as well as funding scholarships. “It’s just a huge pump of revenue into the organization.”

Campbell and McCraw both previously served as counselors for the program. After Campbell’s third year as counselor, he was asked by director of branding Tom Merritt to come back as his assistant. As Merritt sought to transition out of the store, McCraw came on board.

“(Merritt) knew what prices were supposed to be, and he knew what these guys were paying for shirts, therefore we knew what we should be paying for shirts, and we still do because we’ve always had those numbers basically in the backs of our heads. That, plus using the buying power of saying, ‘Hey, I’m about to buy 8,000 shirts, work a deal with me,’” Campbell said.

“We work year-round doing all this stuff, buying all the inventory,” McCraw said. “You need at least two guys dedicated to it year-round.”

The store stocks a variety of merchandise for the week, including shirts, shorts, neckties, journals, water bottles and coffee mugs, and graduation cords — an idea the South Carolina staff borrowed from Texas and which has become one of Palmetto Boys State’s best-selling items.

Perhaps nothing is more important than the branding that goes into the items Campbell and McCraw order.

“You can find the coolest piece of merchandise, but if the logo isn’t good, it’s not going to do a thing,” McCraw said. “Everything that we do in the store is basically, we set a brand standard. We find things that a guy this age, 16 to 17, is going to want to wear. We spent a lot of time developing that logo to where it was something that you could wear outside of the week.”

“That’s the biggest thing is making sure that a 16- or 17-year-old is going to wear it when they go home, because then that makes people ask questions about it and they can tell their experience,” Campbell said.

Campbell and McCraw track sales and compile data to keep track of what’s selling and what days are the top sales days year over year.

“For inventory purposes, we track all that. It used to be we would have to make midweek orders, run to the screen printer for shirts because we ran out. This year we didn’t really have to do it,” McCraw said.

“There’s a lot of overhead in, but fortunately, a lot of our vendors, we don’t have to pay until Boys State is over,” Campbell said.

“The other big thing is, we don’t put years on anything,” McCraw said. “Everything we do is something we can carry over, so eventually that inventory pays for itself. … Our target is to try to find the leanest we can be and still have enough.”

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