Don’t Try This at Your New Civilian Job

Chazz Pratt
Occasional Contributor

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Since my military-to-civilian career transition in 1994, I’ve seen first-hand the things that Veterans do that drive some civilian people crazy. In corporate America, some things just don’t sit well amongst our civilian counterparts (When I refer to Civilian, I mean non-Veterans, no the DoD type.). Of course, if you happen to work at a place highly populated by Veterans this may not apply to you. Culture Shock happens when new Employees bring their old ways into the current workplace. And yes, I’m guilty of this too!


So, here’s “Don’t Try This at Your New Civilian Job”!


Don’t use the word HOO-RAH. I once worked for a Fortune 100 company along with a fellow Veteran who not only used this well-known phrase to say “Yes!”, but also as a noun, verb, adjective as well. At first, I could easily identify with what he was saying – after all, I’d used the same military jargon for 5 ½ years on active duty and could relate to what the man was saying. But, in civilian circles with the vast majority of people on our team never having worn the uniform, this came across as just strange to them. (On a side note, I once sat through several hours of training in which the Instructor used the term “By the way…” to begin literally every other sentence he uttered. You know this reached the point of getting on everybody’s nerves when they began to keep score – counting how many times he said it. I think he broke 300 that day. My HOO-RAH Buddy was no different! Then I think we went to the bowling alley for some team bonding. Oh, the irony!)


Don’t bring the locker room talk out in public. Over time, I’ve learned that “potty mouth” is not exclusive to any particular group. In civilian circles, it can become one of the quickest trips to what’s known as an “HR Complaint”. What I’m suggesting here is that you watch your language. Use wise words. Enough said!


Don’t underestimate your non-Veteran Manager’s, Boss’, Owner’s, or Co-Worker’s version of “when lives are at stake”. This is a very sensitive topic that you need to pay close attention to. No doubt that those in uniform put their lives on the line. No doubt that a Veteran had to maintain responsibility for the lives of others – oftentimes in dangerous situations. But, non-Veterans tend to think they too have a level of responsibility for the lives within their organization. For example, providing jobs, payroll, giving time off during a family crisis, calling or visiting an employee during illness, and making sure decisions extend the life of the company may be ways in which a non-Veteran exhibits care for the lives he/she is responsible for. The task of Emergency Preparedness activities conducted by your non-Veteran Managers demonstrates a high level of consideration for when lives are at stake in the event an unexpected situation arises. Keep an ear out for this especially when in discussions about your service arises. Non-Veterans often show their support and patriotism in various ways. They’ll probably thank you for serving. It might be a good idea to show the same gratitude by thanking them for providing a great place to work.


Don’t bring the wrong military tool to the civilian toolbox. The military is known for all kinds of power tools designed to streamline tasks, save time, and get things done. However, some of those things that worked well in the military just don’t fit well in the civilian world – at least not without some modification. For example, I recall a Veteran manager of mine introducing the 5 Paragraph Field Order (as in, Situation/Mission/Execution/Service Support/Command & Signal) into a group of people on our team – half were Veterans, the other half non-Veterans.


Let’s just say the non-Veteran group freaked out! They could not wrap their brains around understanding and using this classic military tool any easier than the manager could not wrap his brain around why the non-Vets didn’t understand the tool. Before you introduce anything that’s “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)” from the military into civilian circles, you probably need to modify it first. It might be best to check to see if there’s an existing form or format to use that won’t set off a firestorm.


Don’t expect people to snap to attention when you enter the room. Whether you were once known as Sergeant or Sir, the idea here is to recognize, realize, and remember that you are not in the military anymore. Barking orders out to civilian people might not go over well anymore. You probably can’t make civilian folks do pushups when they mess up. That sense of urgency you once saw in the old days during an alert just does not exist in most workplaces.  I saved this one for last because it is one of the toughest for Veterans to deal with. I like to call this, “Being too daring with your military bearing.” If you find yourself frustrated with the pace of work or co-workers, if you keep beating your head against the ground wondering when the people around you will “get it”, if you can’t identify a reason why a particular process or procedure is not followed or non-existent, you might be suffering from what I like to call “Snap To/Snap Out”. In simplest terms, if you’re expecting your non-Veteran Co-Workers to “snap to” it, you better “snap out” of it and find a different approach to leadership. You might be the person who needs to change.


Many non-Veterans have shared stories such as these with me over the years. More will appear in future articles and I hope you find these thought-provoking and worth commenting on. Please feel free to share your stories here.

The end result is that we’ll not just focus on things that fall under the “Don’t Try This at Your New Civilian Job!” category, and ultimately improve on the best things we must DO!