Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

No, Ben Bernanke was right. Just trying finding a job if you are a 38-year-old vet.

Out five months now with no luck in the job hunt.

Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927
Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927

 

By Jason Ballinger
Best Defense guest respondent

I was recently cut from the Army by the OSB. I have been out five months now with no luck in the job hunt — plus three months of terminal leave that I spent looking, and so far nothing. Based on my experience so far I have to agree with Bernanke.

 

By Jason Ballinger
Best Defense guest respondent

I was recently cut from the Army by the OSB. I have been out five months now with no luck in the job hunt — plus three months of terminal leave that I spent looking, and so far nothing. Based on my experience so far I have to agree with Bernanke.

I started out as an Infantry Officer then did a branch transfer to a Special Forces Battalion as an AG officer, didn’t want to be AG but I was chasing my dream to be an SF Officer. I did not get a chance to try out while I was in the Infantry. While with SF I took on any work that needed to be done, including contributing to operational plans, NEOs, HVT missions, regional campaign plans, all in order to get a letter of recommendation to cross over and try out for SF or other Special Mission Units. By the end of the first year my first Battalion Commander there rated me as one of the top CPTs in the battalion, but unfortunately SF Branch decided I was too senior a CPT to cross over. But I was recommend to try out for the Army’s Foreign Area Officer Program and try to work with DIA HUMINT instead.

Unfortunately the second battalion commander was toxic with a napoleon complex, hated anyone without a long tab and threw more temper tantrums than a two-year-old, type of guy who cussed out his SGT MAJ in front of the battalion right after his change of command because his vehicle was not ready for him to attend a meeting that was taking place in another three hours, and  needlessly endangered his soldiers lives on several occasion. I worked 24/7 for the guy doing every menial slave task possible in addition to my day job. But he was one of those guys you just can’t please no matter what. I went from being one of the top five CPTs in my Battalion to one of the worst in his opinion even though I was working harder than ever. When it came time for my last eval I got a fully qualified instead of best qualified on my OER. That was seven years ago but for the OSB that was enough to boot me out.

In the meantime I entered the Army’s Foreign Area Officer Program specializing in Russia and Eastern Europe. I finished DLI then went to the Marshall Center in Germany for further training and traveling throughout the former Soviet Union, including serving as Assistant Attache in Armenia. I then went to grad school. After Grad School and the Command General Staff School I was deployed to Iraq from 2012-13. I managed over 30 active Foreign Military Sales and training projects worth $2 Billion plus another $10 Billion in future sales projects and advised the Armor, Infantry, Artillery, Ammunition, Logistics and Maintenance and Acquisitions Directorates and 8th, 9th, and 10th Divisions as the lead for the Iraqi  Every M113, M198, M109 that ISIS captured was one of mine. I watched the Syrian conflict grow first hand and warned that we needed to change our strategies and training policies because the Iraqis were not ready for what was about to come over the border. But no one in the U.S. chain of command thought a MAJ knew what he was talking about back then. I thought about writing a book, but it would be to damning for the Army and DOS.

After Iraq I served as a Conventional Arms Control Inspector for the Defense Threat Reductions Agency (Europe). There I completed several arms control missions including patrolling Transdniestria for Russian provocations, led the first U.S. inspection of Russian bases and training in Tajikistan in anticipation of our draw down in Afghanistan, I was one of the primary U.S. representatives to the first OSCE special monitoring mission to Ukraine (right after Crimea was seized) and then tagged along on a Canadian led mission a few weeks later. We were supposed to replace a German team, but they were the ones that were captured and held hostage in Slaviansk the day we flew in. We then spent 3 weeks reporting on the conflict, watching the emergence of the Ukrainian volunteer battalions, witnessed the riots in Odessa that killed 50, and occasionally dodging provocation and capture by Russians.

I then came home and was told I was being kicked out (forced to retire early). The only thing I ever dreamed of doing and was really good at it, when not micromanaged, I could no longer do. I was given the mandatory 1 week of separation counseling, then forced to work full time right up until my terminal leave date without even time to take care of medical issues.

Since separation I have looked day and night at Defense Contractors, GS positions and pure corporate America.  Despite all my experience I have yet to find anything. My TS-SCI security clearance renewal packet was lost while I was in Iraq, Everything had been approved all I needed was an interview by an investigator. I then spent two years fighting to get someone to find the packet and get the investigation re-initiated. By the time any of the lazy people we had in that convoluted chain took any action they then decided I was being put out and did not need a clearance. So bottom line is now, even with all my experience in Russia, Middle East and North Africa no Defense Contractor will touch me with out an active TS-SCI clearance. A rep from Booze Allen pretty much laughed at me at a recent job fair, and I have been told by others that they will take a brand new enlisted analyst with no real experience over me just because they have an active clearance.

On the pure corporate side, as Bernanke stated, I have met severe resistance because of a lack of certifications (and my Bachelors was a double major in marketing and management). The most comparable field to the general leadership and management that we learn in the military is “Project/Program Management” on the civilian side. Now 20 years ago it was probably a lot easier to directly transfer over with this experience because there were no certifications back then. But now between PMP, Lean and Sigma Six certification you are S*** Out of Luck with just your military management experience and I managed billion dollar programs in Iraq affecting over 10,000 people. As I said I recently attended a job fair in DC with over 60 companies and many were mainstream corporations not just defense contractors. It was really 50/50 AT A MILITARY ORIENTED FAIR whether or not a company would let you get a foot in the door without any comparable civilian certifications. It is worse outside the fairs when you are just dealing with Linkedin or Indeed. A retired COL I knew from Iraq was there recruiting for a major company and he put it this way, “We have around 2000 applications for every position, and although PMP is not required for most positions it will normally say preferred, and if 1900 other civilians apply with PMP certs and 100 vets apply who have experience but not certs, then the vets are going to lose and not even make it to the face to face interview stage where they could really fight and sell themselves.”

And every other field is just like that, without an MBA ,CPA or PMP, an Active Clearance, Civilian Medical Training Certs, HR/Talent Mgt certs, or the literally tons of IT certs that are out there, a military person is going to be at a disadvantage against a civilian who spent the last five to 10 years or more getting those certifications or programs and using them to execute in a civilian setting that clearly translates. Especially when there are so many of them applying and so few of us vets.

And the GS system (USAJobs) is a complete nepotistic waste of time. If you are not personal friends with the person doing the hiring then you are not getting hired. I have been rejected for positions well below my qualifications with out even a referral and told I am not qualified, when I used to do the same job two grades higher while in uniform. In one case I did get referred, it was for the State Department Office responsible for arms control policy for Europe, NATO, OSCE, with emphasis on Russia and Ukraine. I did make it to the interview stage and it turned out the interviewer had been following my reports while in Ukraine and remembered my name. But then instead asking me as some one in the field how do I see the current problems and what directions would I take, all I was asked was whether or not I had ever actually written foreign policy. I was like I am a former ARMY Foreign Area Officer, we don’t write policy, State writes policy. I am the trained expert for policy on the Army’s implementation end. The interviewer knew this going in, it was a complete waste of time. And a friend of mine with similar qualifications who is getting kicked out this year got the same treatment. And that was one of about five State Department positions that were not limited to current DOS employees. That’s the other problem, many of the GS 11-15 grade positions are limited to current agency/department employees. Many of the jobs that I would be best for I can’t even apply for.

I wholeheartedly agree with you, that the Army needs to reform its personnel system, and interviews, referrals, by name reqs should play a bigger part, I believe they along with 360 degree performance evals would weed out some of the many toxic bosses I have encountered in my career. I also agree that 1 week transition counseling is an absolute joke. I believe the Army should incorporate more civilian certification programs in its Enlisted and Officer Education systems. If it is not willing to do this then military recruiters need to stop advertising that military service gives you an advantage in the civilian world. I understand the military’s first priority is to fight and win the nation’s wars and the argument can be made that civilian education programs are to costly and a distraction from warfighting. I would argue that we have been a long way from doing what is necessary to fight and win our nations wars for quite sometime and most of the reasons lie in politics and not with the military. So why not some more robust civilian education programs and if that is not the case then a more robust salary and compensation package is necessary for military members separating at all ranks if more steps toward a real transition to the civilian world are not taken. Also all these generals and admirals that take on executive positions at corporations mainly for their influence with friends still on active duty and political weight, could push these corporations to take a little risk and higher vets without certifications.

But ultimately I have to agree with Bernanke, a vet without civilian certifications is highly disadvantage more than ever before because of the increasingly technical nature of the job market. It may even up in the long run for me, but so far that remains to be seen. More and more it looks like I will be starting at the beginning and working my way up from scratch and yes I have already encountered age discrimination and I am only 38.

Maj. Jason Ballinger, U.S. Army (Ret.), Eurasian Foreign Area Officer

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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