Dustie Mercer is the Chief of Staff at Eleven Fifty Academy and a proud Gold Star sister to Army Pfc. Robert W. Murray Jr. In her role at the Academy she guides alignment between student expectations and experience so the Academy can serve as a tool for career transformation for anyone who has the skill and will to complete the program.
Veterans Day is a confusing and emotional time for my family. We are a Gold Star Family, which means my brother didn’t make it home from his deployment. Naturally, that makes any conversation around military service, sacrifice, and homecoming full of mixed emotions—for me, those emotions are heartache for my own loss, but also love and pride for what he did in service to our country. Part of what makes Veteran’s Day difficult for others when they meet someone like me is a cultural desire to be sympathetic to someone’s loss and a confusion between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. On Memorial Day, we remember our fallen soldiers and remember the sacrifices of all their families. On Veteran’s Day, we celebrate all of the wonderful men and women who made it home — an honor that fills me with love for my brother and his sacrifice. He didn’t come home so that someone else could, and at the same time, those that came home deserve every bit and more of the celebration, encouragement, and support.
Yes, we set aside one day a year to celebrate veterans…but to me, the real way to celebrate is by working every day to support our veterans because sometimes the job of coming home can be extremely difficult. Many of our veterans, particularly in the last decade have seen things some of us can never imagine, and each is looking for something different when they leave service. Each has committed their time to a good that is higher than them and they are entitled to use their earned benefits of that to their fullest. Many want to return to civilian life as effectively as possible—in fact, 25% of veterans have a job lined up before their discharge date, while another 48% of veterans start job hunting right away.
What qualities and marketable skills do veterans uniquely bring to an employer? Veterans have life experience and gained perspective civilians will never possess. When feeling pressure, it is not uncommon for me to gain perspective by thinking of my brother. Everyday he went to work, he had a real risk of not coming home… I’m probably going to survive whatever is happening to me today. Veterans learn how to work under this unique pressure and they have to decide what matters and doesn’t matter in a crisis. Life or death. They are taught shortcuts to understand people and how to work together toward a common, high-stakes goal.
That’s not to say civilians can’t possess these skills, but many of us fortunately have not been as challenged to develop them. Veterans’ life experience position them to be exceptional leaders. But depending on their mode of service while enlisted, some may have to close a technical education gap to be on equal footing. And outside of technical ability, veterans may also fall victim to what is known as the network gap. While 55% of veterans want to pursue different careers than they had in the military, their personal and professional networks still make it more likely they will be employed in industries like defense and space, government administration, and aviation. That’s simply because they are more likely to know people already working in those industries.
Something I hear from many veterans is that they are worried they have lost time. That their service, whether it was two years or two decades, isn’t worth the same as two years of work experience as a civilian. But breaking into a new career field with the benefit of military experience is just about tying the very real and universal skills veterans possess to what is marketable in specific industries. That’s one of the things I know we do well at Eleven Fifty Academy. Whether our veteran students want to become web designers, write phone apps, manage tech projects, or defend systems from cyberattack, we work to help them understand how all their skills and personality traits align with their learning goals and career needs. And we do it through a curriculum that prepares students for high-paying jobs where they can start climbing the ladder in 4-5 months, not 4-5 years.
Because, again, veterans already worry they have lost time. They don’t want to lose any more of it. And if they are anything like me, many veterans see the life they live after military service as still being committed to something higher than themselves. Veterans have a duty to come back from service and live their lives to the fullest, chasing every dream they fought for. And the country they defended has a responsibility in turn, to create programs that enable veterans to enjoy their families, do the things they love, and be who they want to be. At least at Eleven Fifty Academy, I’m proud we are on the right track.