Home : Media : Speeches

Adm. Winnefeld's Remarks at the Mission Transition Summit

By Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

WINNEFELD: Alright, well that’s a tough act to follow, but good morning everyone and thank you so much for including Mary and me in this important discussion, and what a great program the whole team has put together. I want to thank Tom Donahue and the chamber for putting us in the “chamber,” it’s a great place to hold this event.

We in uniform are really very grateful to the Military Service Initiative and Hiring our Heroes, that whole team for arranging this Mission Transition event.

Starting at the top, this means thanks to the dos amigos, Eric and Miguel. Thank you all for, and your whole organization, for what you’ve done.

And of course, we’re also grateful to President and Mrs. Bush, it goes without saying that your gift of personal attention to this effort is immensely important and deeply appreciated by all of us. Thank you so much. [Clapping]

Thanks to all of you for being here, and for your enduring support to our veterans, including recognizing their potential as employees once they transition out of the military.

These men and women have raised their right hand and volunteered, they’ve donned the cloth of our nation, they’ve gained valuable training and experience, they’ve breathed in a culture of integrity and hard work, and they’ve become leaders under stressful conditions, and many of them, in many cases, have sacrificed deeply for our country. They’ve grown personally like nobody’s business.

And they – and their spouses – are now a tremendous win-win opportunity that should be everybody’s business.

As much as we’d like to keep them all, as with those in the many generations before them, huge numbers of them are shifting back into civilian life, and are eager to find honest work.

As President Bush said, over the next five years, over a million of these volunteers are going to make this transition. Yet despite the sea of goodwill generated by the literally thousands of non-profits and veterans services organizations dedicated to helping with their transition, too many of them are still finding it difficult to find a job.

While the overall veterans unemployment rate has, to be sure, fallen below the national average, the post-9/11 rate is not there yet. But there are good reasons why American businesses should hire our veterans, and this room is a critical part of getting the word out on that.

First, our people are motivated by the right ideals. Our recruiting statistics show that most of these people entered the military because they wanted to do something important. That’s no surprise, it’s a signature characteristic of the millennial generation.

In fact, a recent survey about why people join the military found that the number one reason was pride, self-esteem, and honor, followed by a desire to better their lives, and then duty and obligation to country, and then everything else you would imagine came after that. Now, I would sure want to hire someone mature enough at a young age to think of country before self.

And Americans can count on the fact that we’ve only added to that maturity over their time in uniform. I was exposed to this early-on, in college, many years ago, when I became friends with a fellow who had flunked out of college and joined the Navy during the Vietnam War. When he left the Navy, he came to Georgia Tech, where I was a student, and literally aced the course in Aerospace Engineering. That pretty much captures how motivated and mature these young people can be.

Second, we all know, we’ve already talked about today, its good business to hire a veteran. We’ve invested a lot in these people, including, for those who have taken advantage of it, additional education. In many cases these veterans offer technical expertise directly relevant to the job for which they are applying. In other cases, they bring the ability to quickly absorb new training in a skill similar to what they might have been doing in the service. Or even not similar. They just know how to learn.

The reality is that military experience confers on service members’ skills and experiences that are highly-sought-after in business and industry. It’s a diverse workforce that made the cut to get into the military in the first place from a generation in which only 3 of 10 young people qualify. Over 40 years of peer-reviewed academic articles from several fields suggest there are a number of key attributes required for success in business and industry that we in the military inculcate in its veterans.

These include, being entrepreneurial, assuming high levels of trust, being adept at skills transfer across contexts and tasks, leveraging their advanced technical training and their ability to learn, being comfortable and adaptive working in discontinuous environments, bringing high levels of resiliency, exhibiting advanced team building skills, having strong levels of organizational commitment, leveraging cross-cultural experiences, and definitely being enabled to work in diverse settings. Who wouldn’t want these characteristics in their workforce? And that’s before you consider the tax credits that are available under several programs under which you can hire a veteran.

Third, these young men and women also bring values vital to any organization – including loyalty, integrity, and teamwork. When asked about employees they’ve recently released, employers most often cite character flaws rather than gaps in skills as their rationale. Well, we’re pretty good at ironing out those character flaws in the military.

Yet many companies hire for a skill set listed in a vacancy announcement, not character. I’ll cite a study done by the Corporate Executive Board aimed at capturing the value proposition of veteran employees. They found that veteran performance is 4 percent higher than for non-veterans, and that veteran’s experience 3 percent less turnover. When you apply this to a company with a work force of only 25 percent veterans, it translates into at least an extra percent or two in annual revenue.

I’d also point to a Monster survey that noted 99 percent of employers believed their veterans perform as well or better than their non-veteran peers. Now, those of you here in business, already have helped veterans and you’ve seen their adaptability, their interpersonal skills, and their ability to perform under pressure and go the extra mile when it’s required. We just need to also help ensure these folks are getting a job that’s the right fit, because we want to make sure that they’re successful on their first try.

Now, to be sure, there are other imperatives about hiring vets that do not translate into the bottom line. In this regard, I would ask that we advocate not looking upon hiring a veteran as an act of charity, but that it can be an act of patriotism, because it actually contributes to our military’s future. That’s because, as I believe again, President Bush mentioned, the next generation of service members will be influenced by how well those before them are treated.

One of the most important drivers for a young person signing up in the first place is key influencers who have served in the military before. A positive narrative from one these veterans can open the door to others’ willingness to serve.

So what are we in the military doing to help our members with their transition? We recently redesigned our Transition Assistance Program – known as TAP to many of you – to provide contemporary, relevant, and mandatory information, tools, and training to ensure our members are prepared for civilian life. This year, the services will begin implementing the Military Life Cycle model into their TAP programs, including grabbing on to whatever equivalency certifications that we can find.

We recognized that simply briefing people as they walk out the door will not lead to their success. Rather, this model is designed to ensure our members’ careers are aligned with their civilian career goals and highlight things that they should address well before they separate. Successful transition is ultimately an individual responsibility that requires planning and deliberate execution.

The veteran Employment Transition Roadmap, that you’ll hear about later, and that I believe you have a copy of, the dos amigos are probably going to talk about it, are unveiling today could be very helpful in this regard, and in my view we need to propagate it as fast as we can through our system.

But we’ve also made transition a leadership priority. I believe it will take a while to get our program right, and we definitely need your feedback -- what we’re looking for is continuous improvement over time. Even with such a program, veterans still face stereotypes that can raise barriers to their ability to find employment. Many prospective employers are scared off by the misimpression that veterans suffer disproportionately from post traumatic stress.

Indeed, 46 percent of HR pros surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management cited PTS and mental health issues as potential barriers to hiring employees with military experience. What a shame. The reality is that while a small minority of veterans do experience PTS and mild Traumatic Brain Injury, their susceptibility to it is no greater than the average American.

Moreover, these conditions can be treated, and they probably might, may well have been treated better, for some veterans, than any other sector of society, though I would side with Pete Chiarelli in saying there is much, much more we can do. But there is no data that confidently links PTS with a propensity for violence. So we need to dispense with that narrative.

Now I’ll close by saying that all Americans should take an interest in successfully transitioning our nation’s veterans. For over 40 years we’ve relied on volunteers to fill our ranks. Raising one’s hand and taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States has regained the rightful place of dignity in our land that it unfairly lost decades ago.

That dignity is extended, and I would say leveraged in a good and honorable and profitable way, when these magnificent men and women come home and their talents are put to use in the private sector. I don’t use the phrase “give them a job.” That sounds like a handout. I much prefer “recognize their exceptional potential to make a solid contribution to the bottom line.”

It is a win-win for them and for American business. veterans maintain stability in their lives, and business does well by doing good. I again thank the organizers of this Mission Transition event for getting the word out on that, if anything I’ve said today can help you do that, then I’ve done my job. This is room full of passionate advocates, a powerful coalition and an amazing network.

And as a member of that network, and I would like to include Ellen Dunford, who I’m so proud to see her today, whose husband, pending confirmation from the Senate, will be our next Chairman. It’s so important, Ellen, to have you in this audience today, and thank you for being here. [Clapping]

This is a powerful network in this room, all you have to do is see the many connections that are being made and the many, many familiar faces that we see in so many venues we have and it’s passionate caring for our military members and veterans is incredible.

So, thank you, for your continued support for our men and women both in and transitioning out of uniform. We have much more to do, but you’re making a huge difference. And may God bless those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and Marines, who are on watch this morning across the globe protecting our nation. Thank you very much.