Veterans: The Best Employees You’re Not Hiring

If leadership, teamwork and global perspective are characteristics you value in your team members, you should have more military vets on your payroll.

November 8, 2017

Contributed by Dave Petri, VP Marketing, Nester Hosiery. This article originally ran in 2016.

Navy Pic 1 - Version 2

Commander David Petri, USN, Retired

What if your retail store or your product manufacturing facility moved every day or every week or even every month? Can you imagine the logistical challenges your purchasing manager or supply chain manager would face? Well, that’s exactly what the United States military branches deal with on a regular basis. During a typical six-month deployment, for example, Navy ships pass through multiple operational theaters. A ship’s supply department has to request supplies from multiple logistic centers. Likewise, Navy fulfillment centers must continually monitor multiple ship locations to coordinate resupply efforts, many of which are done at sea.

As operations officer on the USS Harry W. Hill, I worked closely with the ship’s supply officer to plan and execute our at-sea-replenishments. His department directed materials planning and warehouse/inventory management; my department oversaw materials receiving (which often involved transferring pallets on cables between two moving ships). Although that specific task seemingly bears little resemblance to my current job in outdoor retail, it exemplifies the type of strategic planning, coordination and organization skills that soldiers acquire in the military. With those skills in hand, they’re uniquely equipped for roles in the private sector, especially manufacturing and retail.

Yet some people and companies have negative stereotypes of veterans. Common misbeliefs are that those with prior military service are accustomed to following orders and cannot adapt, take initiative or adjust to company culture. In this Fortune.com article, Katherine Lewis points out that “companies that go out of their way to recruit and hire veterans actually value their creative thinking and ability to solve unusual problems.” She also notes that the biggest deterrent for an employer is the perceived inability to match military skills to a civilian job description.

The Outdoor Industry has a wide variety of job opportunities that are directly related to military experience and could be filled by veterans. Here are a few military occupations that could translate into potential positions within your supply chain or sales business:

  • Operational planner → Product development manager or materials manager
  • Mechanic → Manufacturing equipment operator
  • Ordinance depot supervisor → Warehouse or shipping manager
  • Supply clerk → Retail floor or inventory manager
  • Information specialist → IT or e-commerce manager
  • Public affairs officer → communications or public relations manager
  • Photographic specialist → Outdoor event photographer

The examples are innumerable. According to Assistant Secretary of Labor Ray Jefferson, 80 percent of all private sector jobs have a direct correlation to a military one. In addition to having employment-ready experience, military veterans bring other tangible skills to our industry:

  • Leadership. The military not only trains its members to be leaders but also provides them with valuable on-the-job experience in the most demanding situations.
  • Global Perspective. Many veterans have served overseas, where they’ve gained cultural awareness and knowledge of global markets.
  • Teamwork. Regardless of size, pulling together is an essential part of success in the military. Veterans bring this culture of teamwork with them to their civilian careers.

As an industry, however, we are largely unaware that this deep talent pool exists. Considering the trend of military service, this is not surprising. According to recent census data, less than 8 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18 has served in the military. Additionally, a 2006 Harvard/MIT study found that only 8 percent of CEOs in publicly traded companies were veterans compared to 59 percent in 1980. Based on these statistics, people are less likely to know either a veteran or someone currently serving in the military. This means that most companies fail to consider recruiting new employees with a military background.

In order to overcome this, veterans must translate their military experience into civilian skills. Upon leaving active service, all veterans are required to complete the military’s Transitioning Assistance Program, which provides guidance on translating military skills into civilian terms. Fortunately, similar resources are available to assist civilian employers. In this article published on LinkedIn, hiring managers can learn about online tools such as Military.com or O*Net Online Military Crosswalk. These sites aid companies by matching their required job skills with correlating military professions.

Outdoor industry companies should choose candidates whose education and experience meets their needs, while simultaneously considering other factors. Dismissing a candidate solely based on prior military service is shortsighted. The outdoor industry as a whole and the companies and organizations it comprises could greatly benefit from the value of veterans. Not only do veterans provide proven technical expertise, they also bring to the industry their culture of teamwork, global perspective, and, most important, battle-tested leadership.


Commander David Petri, USN, retired is now the vice president of marketing for Nester Hosiery and a member of OIA’s Sustainability Advisory Council.