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Join date: Nov 1, 2020

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Real commitment to an organization whose environment is filled with challenges, challenges and more challenges is what I think anyone who chooses a career in the military services faces and engages with on a daily basis. High levels of professionalism and morale, esprit de corps, mental and physical toughness and being ready to deploy to places unknown on a moment’s notice are realities that soldiers live with. Military life is not an easy one for the professional soldier and only someone who has dedicated a portion of their life to it understands what I mean, a place where substandard performance or failure are not acceptable terminology. Having served on active duty in the US Army during the 70s, 80s and 90s, primarily as Primary Staff NCO at battalion level, I experienced high energy atmospheres and demanding work environments. The total package of being a soldier, sergeant and eventually a Sergeant Major I think gave me all the tools necessary to succeed as a civilian. Those normal duty days which seemingly were always 12 hours or more and began with early rising, physical fitness and the daily runs that were routine to me and something I enjoyed and took for granted. I sincerely believe that all this in the end were tools that helped me along with becoming a civilian. Throughout my career I always advocated for high levels of physical fitness and mental toughness and held my subordinates to account. I instilled in them a sense of commitment and dedication and ensured that they understood that we were here working as part of a team in the unit and that we could be called upon to deploy at any time in defense of the nation. I realized sometime later as a civilian that I wasn’t going anywhere anymore and that my “Hooah- Hooah” days were over. By my estimation all that’s just a “leg up” when competing for jobs and presenting yourself to prospective employers during interviews. A soldier is just that much more armed than the average Joe or Jill out there competing for the same position. All they need do is demonstrate the courage and confidence to get out there and communicate their knowledge, experience and abilities. My assignments included Korea, Europe, Central America and the Middle East. I would like to say that my stateside assignments were in places other than just Texas but it was Fort Hood and Fort Bliss with Cav units that ended up doing it for me. Of course, that was okay because I am proud to be “Nuthin but Texan”. I also served with other units including two Intelligence Battalions and an Intelligence Group, the III Armored Corps, VII Armored Corps, a Medical Department Activity, a Combat Signal Battalion, a Joint Service Defense Language Center and some others. Combat Arms divisions during my career included the 2nd Infantry division, 2nd Armored division, the 1st Cavalry division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry regiment. I truly believe that soldiers serving with any or all “go to war” units, are that much more mentally tough and adaptable simply because of the nature of the organizational mission. They experience a higher level of readiness and operations tempo that’s filled with rapidly changing conditions and both good and bad stressors. The daily challenges faced in these units daily in garrison, field and wartime environments are extremely demanding. It’s inevitable that those soldiers who have chosen to serve and lead such a demanding life must eventually leave that high-speed environment and undergo transition to civilian life sooner or later. Some would say that in fact the biggest challenge of all is leaving it all behind and becoming a real live civilian. Such a change can have “eye opening” effects as was my experience and not without a degree of high stress. As a Sergeant Major with status, respect and armed with total confidence I took the plunge to retire in lieu of accepting yet another overseas assignment. When I declined that assignment, the Army notified me that I had six months to separate from active duty. Not a whole lot of time to prepare and definitely not a planned and scheduled event. It was difficult for me to imagine myself as “Joe Nobody the Rag Man”. Kind of funny for sure, but true. So, what I can tell you is that when I retired back in July 1995, I could have used so much more guidance and assistance from possibly anyone who had “successfully” gone before me. Unfortunately, that was not the case and the US Army at that time in my opinion was not well prepared to offer effective advisement, assistance, training or whatever you want to call it, to the departing soldier. My transition advisement session came in the form of an interview that I believe hampered me more than helped. It was with someone who basically emphasized to me that I would have to change my attitude, military mindset and other things. He explained to me that I would not have any status, was not a Sergeant Major any longer and that I would have to expect to start at the bottom echelons of any civilian organization that I aspired to be part of. I immediately became more nervous and depressed about separating than I had been before the discussion. I decided to just throw away that worthless bit of advice and went about brainstorming and deciding what would work for me using the tools I had. I believe that the most difficult experience for me during that period was dealing with and fighting depression that had really wrapped its arms around me. The only thing that I’ll say about that is that the three years after leaving the Army were the most challenging for me. Serving as a leader in a highly disciplined professional organization like the Army for 25 years and then from one day to the next never having to report in, wear BDU’s, be responsible for soldiers, weapons, equipment, operations, deployment and so on was really something that made me consider my options. I found out that alcohol seemed to taste better especially red wine and for the next nine months, I grew pretty fond of the stuff, so much that I even started buying the larger bottles. It was easy for me to tune things out when I had something to drink. Writing and submitting resumes and seeking employment was something I found myself making excuses for and telling myself that I would do it later…. went on for 9 months. I did stay somewhat physically fit because I just could not drop the running, did it every day. I also did some bike riding usually long distance, lots of fishing trips mostly to the coast where I felt free of stress and avoided facing the inevitable…. getting a job. I had applied for numerous federal jobs and eventually landed one. An interview was not required and I was selected via my resume. Those days are gone and one on one or panel interviews are now the norm. In closing, I offer you good luck and encourage you to ask every question that’s on your mind, take every opportunity that the Army offers to make your transition into civilian life an easy one where you are well informed of the changes and obstacles you will face and the opportunities that are there for you as a veteran (take advantage because you’ve earned it). Having a really good resume upon separation is just “a given” so make sure that you do. Seek assistance with creating a good one that highlights your experience, your accomplishments, education (both military and civilian), leadership positions that you have held and any special skills or certifications that you may have. If you do not have or just haven’t been able to plus up your education, well that’s just another option to pursue. I took the federal employment route which provided me the opportunity to serve in different agencies within the DoD. It provided me what I had been missing, a sense of commitment, dedication and contribution. It also enabled me to maintain a network of sorts with contacts in the different agencies that I worked for which are the US Army, the US Air Force, the US Navy, and for a brief period, the Veterans Administration. Having a network of friends and coworkers is something that I thought was to my benefit during my federal employment and to this day some of us still maintain contact and keep one another apprised of interesting topics in the federal world including job opportunities that materialize and are available for qualified candidates. This is just a small piece of my life and a story with some information that I thought you may or may not find useful. Again, I offer you good luck with transitioning and with your future endeavors as a civilian in our society.

 

robert.lopez

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