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The Character of the American Veteran: My Project RELO Experience

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When I was asked to participate in Project RELO, I was excited at the prospect of c-suite executives coming together and learning from transitioning veterans. But what I couldn’t grasp was the life altering experience that would come with this “retreat.”

Of course, Sharp Decisions supports veterans through our V.E.T.S. Program and I take great pride in our partnership at our firm. I have a clear understanding what veterans can do from the perspective of our program. But overall? I wanted a different perspective; I wanted a personal perspective. One that was meaningful to me. If I was going to continue supporting and growing our V.E.T.S. Program, I needed a more profound understanding of their training and experience before they transition out of service.

I wanted to understand the building blocks of training, humility and gratitude and of who our vets are and what they had to endure.

Project RELO is a non-profit that brings business leaders together with veterans on a multi-day series of “missions” on a military base. For a short three days, business leaders live what can only be described as a glimpse of the military experience. We witness the kind of deep professional education, personal development, character building, and intellectual challenges that have defined their military careers.

The veterans, domain experts in these environments, capably demonstrate their knowledge, selflessness, mission orientation and ethic. It is here the character and competence of veterans is experienced first-hand. It is also here Project RELO begins to change the mindset of the executive participants on the quality of our veterans.

When each RELO mission is complete, the newly formed network of executives begin to work and collaborate with the new understanding that hiring a vet is more than a social good, it is simply good business.

During the day, our military vets were our guides at the massive Camp Grayling in Northern Michigan. Our “battle buddies” took us through simulators where we fired imitation rounds from real machine guns and other military weapons. They ran us through convoy training and virtual reality simulations. We experienced mock negotiations with tribal leaders, navigated underground sewer tunnels, and simulated an urban assault.

At night, we debriefed, ate dinner, and had deeply earnest discussions around the fire. We learn from the veterans, in a very personal way, what they bring to an organization.

Although it can hardly be compared to a military experience, Project RELO enabled me to formulate a mental model of how military experience brings out the adaptive, collaborative, communicative, and loyalty traits in these men and women. These are merits that so many companies in corporate America say are terribly hard to find.

What I learned about our military veterans in this immersive training experience was nothing short of profound. Everything I knew about vets before was cliché. I came to admire how they go about their business in less than ideal environments. But then I realized: If they could give me this transformation in just three days, imagine what they could provide your organization as a whole.