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The Mission-Driven Talent

The following is an excerpt: “From INTENT to IMPACT: The 5 Dualities of Diversity and Inclusion”

The abrupt and instantaneous pull of “the trap” meant that our plane (a Carrier Onboard Delivery, or COD) had successfully hooked one of the arresting wires on the flight deck. Inside the plane, I was still wearing a Navy safety cranial helmet, gigantic goggles and a tight vest that securely strapped me to the plane seat. The roar of this floating city, navigating in the middle of the ocean, was the signal that it was time to release my seat’s buckle. We were now onboard the USS Ronald Reagan.[1]

This was the beginning of a 24-hour experience of living and working on a nuclear aircraft carrier. This Navy outreach effort would give business leaders (with no military service) an experience to broaden their views about the jobs and levels of responsibility veterans could take on when they transition out of the military.

One of my first “aha” moments was the realization that this floating city with nuclear weapons was mainly run by teenagers, or at least people in their early twenties. I should have known better, since one of my own sons enlisted in the military a few weeks before his eighteenth birthday, but still… There seemed to be an endless number of young people there, who were probably on curfew and borrowing mom or dad’s car a year or even a few months before, who were now responsible, in so many ways, for running this ship.

Those working on the flight deck were easily identified by the bright colors of the long-sleeved tee shirts they wore. Each color was a visual sign of the duties they were there to perform—to securely catapult or arrest the flight of military planes on the relatively small runway that was the flight deck. Every day, dozens of airplanes would come and go, driven by the signals of these bright colored-shirt sailors.

Off the flight deck, there were sailors working on all kinds of jobs: wellness and fitness, including a medical section and a surgical room; internal communications, using all kinds of multimedia to keep shipmates engaged and motivated; food and beverage, to ensure nutritious and diverse menus were served every day; ship (facilities) maintenance, to keep this floating city in top working condition. Not only were they doing a huge variety of jobs, they all needed to perform at a certain level, a military standard, where “good” is not necessarily “good enough.” Precision and adherence to standards of performance is the norm. They are expected to “never take away from a regulation, but add to it,” which drives a commitment to enhance their own performance and ensure all improvements are communicated to others performing similar duties.

As it was explained to me by several non-commissioned officers, leadership in the military is interpreted as being ultimately responsible for the lives and livelihoods of those who report to them. It is their duty to be “in the lives” of those who rely on their leadership, to know them personally and tend to their strength and their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. For them, there is no other way of leading but to build personal connections with those under their command.

What I already knew coming into this experience, as probably you do as well, is that language—translating military experience in civilian terminology—is one of the main barriers in qualifying veterans for jobs outside the military.[2] I’ve always found this to be quite ironic since, for better or worse, much of the core terminology—strategy, tactics, operations, execution, and so on—and management practices used in corporate America actually originated in the military.

As stated in a SHRM publication from retired Lieutenant Colonel US Marine Corps Justin Constantine,[3] there were at least three realizations about this mission-driven talent pool that became crystal-clear to me:

  • The remarkable abundance of transferable skills and experiences. Of all active-duty military, only 14 percent are combat specialists. Nearly nine in ten military occupations are directly linked to civilian jobs. In essence, you can find qualified veterans for a very broad range of jobs you would have available in almost any company.
  • The armed forces have become increasingly diverse. Similar to the focus on gender equality in business, the military has increasingly seen women gain more access to combat experience and leadership roles. From a racial / ethnic standpoint, the percentage of Latino / Hispanic service members has increased by 33 percent over the last decade. And at 17 percent of active-duty military, African Americans aged 18 to 44 have a 4 percent higher representation in the military than in the US population (which is 13%).
  • Veterans are required to be agile and autonomous. While the military has ranks and hierarchy, veterans are given objectives to accomplish their mission, not a “laundry list of specific tasks” to do. They are expected to carry them within a core set of values and integrity. This is basically the same thing you would most likely expect from any employee in your organization.

While I have always been an advocate for veterans—as a DEI professional and a veteran’s mother—coming out of the immersion experience at the USS Ronald Reagan, gave me a broader and deeper understanding of the jobs that I thought they could do in our company. The insights gathered during this immersion experience gave me practical knowledge to counter some of the prejudices veterans experience when transitioning out of the military.[4] Knowing (not only thinking) how they applied their skills and competencies gave me the ability to legitimately challenge the thinking of others as well. This resulted in expanded sourcing and hiring strategies we could use to attract veterans to an even broader range of jobs. From the intent to be a veteran-friendly organization, you can move to a more positive impact in being a veteran-ready organization.

[1] “USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76),” United States Navy, accessed July 25, 2020,

[2] Brian Harmsen and Michelle Winkley, “Break the Language Barrier Between Recruiters and Veterans,” ERE Media, October 8, 2019,

[3] Justin Constantine, “Guide to Veteran Hiring: 8 Facts to Break Down Barriers and Stereotypes,” SHRM, August 8, 2018,

[4] “7 Common Misconceptions About Veterans (and Why They’re Harmful),” Leader Quest, May 15, 2020,

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