Over the next five years, more than one million military service members will return from active duty.
By Stan McChrystal
'Wanted for hire: Enterprising, reliable self-starter. Must work well in teams. Technological literacy and leadership experience a plus."
This notice could be posted by many businesses today as they look for employees to help them survive, and thrive, in difficult economic times.
Such employees abound in small forward operating bases in the crags of Konar, and before that in parched Anbar; on anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia; and in Africa, South America and Asia, where in dangerous conditions they dispense humanitarian aid, medicine and training in our name, under our flag.
Luckily for American industry, it will soon have access to this talent pool: Over the next five years, more than one million military service members will leave active duty and return to their communities. Their return presents America not just with an important test of our values, but with an extraordinary opportunityâ€”both to ensure our future and revitalize our economy.
In May 2009, just before deploying to Afghanistan, I read a dispatch that affirmed my faith in the strength and initiative of the young men and women I was soon to lead. It described a young lance corporal, Rolando Cabezas, who was the fire team leader in his Marine infantry unit.
One morning, shortly after Lance Cpl. Cabezas and his team moved into Farah, in southwestern Afghanistan, a farmer approached the Marines. The farmer wanted to dig an irrigation ditch underneath a main road, to connect his fields to water on the other side. But he feared that the Marines, seeing him dig beneath the road, would think he was implanting an improvised explosive device, or IEDâ€”the hidden bombs that have been so deadly to our forces.
The Marines sent out a patrol to stand watch and guard the farmer as he dug. Once there, Lance Cpl. Cabezas greeted the farmer with a few Pashto phrases he had taught himself in his spare time. As fire team leader, he was responsible for the Marines he led and for thousands of dollars of sensitive equipment, and he was trained to run autonomous operations. But he instinctively recognized that the wider mission, beyond the team he was responsible for, required earning the trust and respect of the Afghan people. No task was beneath him if it meant advancing the mission.
So, to the amazement of the Afghan farmer already wowed by the American's Pashto, Lance Cpl. Cabezas removed his helmet, grabbed a shovel and began to help dig.
Soon the other Marines joined. They helped make the construction strong enough to support traffic, using their large, multi-ton mine-resistant vehicle to smooth over the road and pack it down so that the farmer's ditch would not cave in under passing trucks. At a local gathering soon thereafter, the farmer extolled the Marines and his "son"â€”Lance Cpl. Cabezas, who did more to win the crucial support of the population than did millions of dollars that were poured into road projects in that area.
Rolando is representative of the millions of young men and women who have served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He exemplifies the courage and clear-eyed common sense that has been required of our soldiers during the past decade of war. Those traits, and the training that cultivated them, make these veterans huge assets in a business environment: They are adaptable and reliable, and they work with a sense of mission.
For current missions and future threats, we need the military to continue to attract the best the country has to offer. And when their service in uniform is done, we need to ensure veterans are recognized as assets to our communities, companies, schools and government. Most importantly, we need to have their backs. And the best way to show appreciation to our service members is to hire them.
That's why, as an adviser to Joining Forces, the White House's initiative to promote awareness of issues military families face, I am proud to support the "Got Your 6" campaign. Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's call to action and named for the military parlance meaning "I've got your back," this campaign is a collaborative effort that involves every major movie studio, television network, talent agency and union, plus more than two dozen nonprofit partners.
More and more companies are benefiting from veterans' extraordinary reservoir of skill, leadership, work ethic and maturity. Veterans are problem-solvers trained to take whatever task is given to them, then plan and execute it to the highest standards possible. They do so through teamwork, loyalty and selfless focus on completing the mission. Most military members are given a high level of responsibility and leadership training at a relatively young age. After working with Americans of all stripes, and living in and working with different cultures, they are uniquely prepared to be part of a globalized workforce.
In the year since Joining Forces was launched, more than 1,600 companies have hired over 70,000 veterans and military spouses. Companies have pledged to hire an additional 170,000 in the coming years.
Even so, roughly 195,000 post-9/11 veterans remain unemployed. Veterans need the support of American businesses. And businesses need the experience, skills and mindset that veterans have to offer.
Gen. McChrystal, a former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and of the Joint Special Operations Command, is a senior fellow at Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and co-founder of the McChrystal Group.