High-Tech Troops and Low-Tech Transition

I’m honored today to have as a guest writer Major General Melvin G. Spiese, USMC-Ret. The general possesses not only a deep concern for the successful transition of service men and women, but also a career spent planning and helping to mobilize large-scale operations. 

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Veteran unemployment has been an ongoing issue for several years.  Manifested in numbers significantly higher than the national average, this holds a significant cost to the DOD in unemployment compensation, being stripped from “must pay” manpower accounts, and squanders a population of proven, high capacity human capital that should be an engine of change and growth in the nation’s work force.

Major General Melvin Spiese, USMC-Ret.

Major General Melvin Spiese, USMC-Ret.

DoD, has at the direction of Congress, dramatically revised the process of preparing separating service members for discharge, and for life after service on active duty.  Although complaints can always be rendered, and improvements always be made, the transition program had a solid structure and process.

At the same time, there are a large number of companies seeking to hire separating service members and veterans, and other placement companies and organizations attempting to get separating service members and veterans into jobs.

While this is all very positive, the problem of high unemployment for veterans remains, in particular for more junior enlisted service members without readily transferable hard or technical skills.  This is troubling for a number of reasons, and in many ways, difficult to understand given the steady, high unemployment in the country, and what we here as character shortcomings in the work force.  In general, the majority of job placement for separating service members is focused on hard or technical skills, with character quality and skills being greatly ignored.

Preparation for transition can only go so far, particularly for the junior enlisted without readily transferable hard skills.  Separating service members with easily transferrable skills, such as electronics or aviation technicians, and junior officers, are reasonably well postured for transition, though finding a job is still a challenge.  But how many ways can we write the resume for a sailor who spent years on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier rearming and refueling aircraft, at sea, at night and foul weather?  The same for the infantryman who conducted countless patrols in Afghanistan, and rose to be a fire team leader or squad leader?  Yet those experiences bring unmatched maturity, judgment, and leadership, among many other superior character qualities that simply cannot be “purchased” in the normal pool of people seeking employment.  How many businesses and industries can benefit from the infusion of that quality of human capital?

DoD, responding to Congressional direction, has put into place a sound structure for preparation, enabling separating service members enough time to move soundly to separation, and the opportunity for training prior to leaving the active duty.  What remains lacking is a sound, systemic means by which separating service members can be matched against job opportunities.

Job placement companies, organizations, and businesses seeking veterans, and local base or regional job fairs are all good, but they are not standardized and generally random in making contact.  Moreover, things currently in place do not give anyone seeking separating veterans a means by which the entire population of departing service members can be screened and assessed, and a mechanism for communications- there is no central clearing house where the 2 parties can meet.

The present position of DoD is that this is a matter between the individual parties.  Businesses or industries seeking service members must do their own local engagement at bases and stations around the country, even around the world.  Separating service members must similarly run into those efforts to be engaged.

A reasonable argument can be made that this is really a matter between the parties, and short of whatever local commanders do, and whatever businesses want to do, the Department has no place, or this is really a matter for the Department of Veteran Affairs.  That logic is reasonable.  On the other hand, one can easily conclude that the requirement to fund unemployment compensation is a statement by Congress that this is a matter of interest to DoD.  Further, even if one takes the position DoD is not responsible for finding separating service members jobs, the incredible costs being levied against the Department in unemployment compensation would make changing that practice a sound return on investment.

Statistics show the majority of separating service members do not remain local to the base from which they leave active duty.  Something like 85 percent of the Marines separating from Camp Pendleton do not stay in the Southern California area.  Located on the Pacific Ocean is one of the most temperate and beautiful areas of the world, if that great percentage of the separating population head somewhere else, what can we expect in more difficult locations, and even overseas?  The approach of local engagement, despite how good that tends to sound, is not going to fix this problem.

DoD can easily develop a mechanism by which all separating service members build a comprehensive profile of themselves, and similarly businesses, once vetted, do the same.  Matches can be made to varying degrees and the parties can then engage in dialogue that can better lead to opportunities.  In speaking to the CEO of a major US energy company, as he reflected on the upcoming turnover of a huge population reaching retirement age, he said he would love to search a data to assess people and make offers to go to his plants- meaning a real job, one that brings with it a livelihood.  Today, he has to put up posters, put out ads, or send representatives to every base.  Even then, the population to be touched is only those who might happen across the announcement.  That is not practical in any manner.

This certainly does not get to hard or technical skill disparity, but expanding awareness on the parts of businesses to this high capacity pollution of people with unmatched personal qualities, can get them to rethink their priorities, and what they may be willing to do to attract some of the best human capital in the world- human capital that has already benefitted from the huge investment made by the nation in building them to be the kind of people we will charge with our national security, and do so with confidence that our nation will be secure.

This is consistent with the structure already in place.  There is, truthfully, little work to be done.  Match.com and e-Harmony have shown the way.  Doing a tailoring to the Armed Forces is well within reach to the Department, and it should be done with a sense of urgency that matches the magnitude of the problem presented in the disappointing numbers of unemployed veterans.

 

About the Author:

Major Gen. Melvin Spiese was commissioned via the NROTC program after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in May of 1976.

After The Basic School, Major General Spiese was assigned to 3d Battalion, 4th Marines as a Rifle Platoon Commander, Executive Officer and Commanding Officer with Company L, and served on the battalion staff.  Upon return to CONUS, Major General Spiese was assigned to Marine Barracks, Naval Weapons Station, Concord, CA. In May of 1981 he was assigned to 3d Battalion, 9th Marines as the Commanding Officer of Company I and Battalion S-4.  In May 1983 he was transferred to the NROTC Unit, Illinois Institute of Technology as the Marine Officer Instructor.

Leaving Illinois in June 1986, Major General Spiese was posted to Headquarters Marine Corps, serving as the Head of Regular Officer Procurement.  Following his tour at Headquarters, he attended Marine Corps Command and Staff College, graduating in May of 1990.  After graduation, Major General Spiese was transferred to Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan and was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 12 as the Assistant Operations Officer and Ground Combat Liaison.

Major General Spiese was assigned to 6th Marines in July of 1991 as the Executive Officer of 3d Battalion, then Regiment S-3.  He assumed command of 2d Force Reconnaissance Company in December 1993.  Upon relinquishing command in July 1995, Major General Spiese was reassigned to U.S. Special Operations Command, serving as a Policy Officer dealing with Counter Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Marine Corps matters.  Upon his departure from USSOCOM, Major General Spiese attended Top Level School at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies as a Fellow in the Advanced Operational Arts Studies program.  He remained a second year serving as a seminar leader for the Advanced Military Studies Program, a second year program for majors attending the Army Command and General Staff College.

Major General Spiese was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in June of 1999 as the Director, Tactical Training Exercise Control Group.  He assumed command of the School of Infantry (East) in June of 2001, and was assigned as the Director, Expeditionary Warfare School upon relinquishing command in July of 2003.  In March of 2005, Major General Spiese assumed the duties of Commanding General Training Command, Deputy Commanding General Training and Education Command.
Major General Spiese transferred to U.S. European Command and served as the Deputy Director for Strategy, Policy and Assessments, in October 2005.  He assumed Command of Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA, in July 2007.  He commanded Training and Education Command in Quantico, VA, from May 2008 to August 2010.

His final assignment before retiring earlier this year was Deputy Commanding General, IMarine Expeditionary Force, and Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Major General Spiese has been awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, three Legions of Merit, the Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and the Joint Service Achievement Medal.  He is a Military Freefall Parachutist and Marine Combatant Diver.  Major General Spiese has earned a Masters of Science degree from the University of Southern California, and a Masters of Military Arts and Science degree from the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies.