Retired Army Colonel and Zebra VETZ Co-Chair Dan Jaquint
By Shannon Swanson | November 10, 2022

Military Expert: One of the Best Ways to Honor Veterans is to Help Them Thrive After Their Service Ends

Military veteran and Zebra VETZ inclusion network co-chair Dan Jaquint offers suggestions on what you can do to help veterans find their purpose, even if you don’t know any personally.

Military veterans are proud people, and they should be. Their repeated heroism is the reason we have the freedoms we do in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand and many other nations around the world. 

However, this pride often prevents some of them from admitting when they need help. As a result, they struggle tremendously after they separate or retire from the service – some mentally or emotionally, others physically, many silently.

You would be surprised at how many veterans who seem well-adjusted to their friends, family and neighbors have challenges finding jobs, maintaining financial stability, and connecting with others after they separate. This includes veterans who served in leadership positions. 

So, I asked Dan Jaquint, the co-chair of Zebra’s Veterans Inclusion Network (VETZ) and an Army veteran, what you and I can do to better support military veterans – not just today (Veterans Day/Armistice Day) or during times of conflict, but every day.

Dan, who was just named a 2022 Notable Military Veteran Executive by Crain’s Chicago, served 30 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a Colonel in 2020. After serving as a Field Artillery Officer for six years and completing a deployment during Operation Desert Storm, Dan transitioned into the Army Reserve, subsequently serving in USACE in Korea, deploying as a NATO Senior Military Advisor to Afghanistan and serving as the National Police Counter-IED directorate. He also commanded the 1st/383rd CS BN, 181 Infantry Regiment, and served as the Chief of Staff and G3 Operations Officer for the 85th Support Command.

Despite his diverse military career and extensive leadership experience, he found the transition out of the military profoundly challenging. So, he has made it his mission to ease the transition for other veterans. He has some great advice on how you and I can help veterans find stability and their purpose in the civilian world, even if we don’t know any personally. Check it out:

Shannon: What’s it really like to leave the military? 

Dan: I don’t think a person ever truly “leaves” the military. There is such a strong culture and uniqueness to military service that it becomes ingrained in you, it's part of who you are, and you never lose that.  Transitioning from the military to the corporate environment was challenging, and it took some time to adjust. The military has a strong culture, and a lot of time and resources go into preparing and assimilating somebody into that culture. The military prepares you for what’s ahead; that isn’t necessarily the case in the civilian world. 

Some of the biggest challenges I had were changing certain behaviors, especially around communications. There were small things I was doing that had a big effect on those I worked with – things I had learned in the military that aren’t standard practice in corporate environments. For example, I was calling people by their last names, doing things in a purposeful manner, having a presence and speaking directly.  In the military, your last name is on your uniform, that way people know who you are. So, we call people by their last name because, in a large group, it provides clarity. There can be 20 Dan’s in an Artillery Battalion, 45 John’s, etc., but likely only one Jaquint. So, I was calling my co-workers by their last names, and many of them saw that as rude, cold and insensitive. It wasn’t meant to be; it was just what I was accustomed to. 

In the military, you are taught to do everything “with a purpose” – even walking. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. On the battlefield coordination and speed are critical for success. So, military folks walk fast and try to take the fastest routes, thus “walking with a purpose.” Initially the folks I worked with in the corporate environment thought I was cocky and arrogant. That shocked me.  When I finally asked people about it, they said, you stand and walk around “like you think you’re all that.”  That wasn’t arrogance, it was what my mother and father told me to always do and what the Army demanded… “stand up straight.” Soldiers march in formation, and the cadence you march at is set for a reason. At that pace, a large group can walk 20 miles a day, every day, without much risk of injury – and speed on the battlefield is critical. I wasn’t being arrogant; I was walking with a purpose and had been walking that way for years. To quote Aerosmith, I still “walk this way.”  

Plus, leadership in the military requires confidence. If you are not confident in yourself, you can’t expect others to have confidence in you. Soldiers are always watching their leaders, and they are very good at “sizing them up.” Can they trust you? Do you know what you are doing? Would you want to follow somebody in a combat zone that you didn’t trust or have confidence in? I wouldn’t. Having confidence doesn’t mean you think you have all the answers, that you aren’t uncomfortable, not sure or scared.  At times you are all those things. But you must overcome this to convey confidence and motivate people to do things that normally they wouldn’t want to do. So, it isn’t uncommon for a veteran to come across as confident; they needed to be. Some people can mistake that for arrogance or being mean when that isn’t the case.  And these are just a few of the things you don’t think of when transitioning from the military to the corporate world.   

Shannon: I know it’s not always obvious how we as individuals or companies can help veterans, in part because the challenges they face aren’t always vocalized. But is there a way you’ve come to recognize when a veteran might need help and how best to support them?

Dan: That’s a difficult thing to assess. I am not an expert nor trained to identify if and when somebody may need help, outside of the obvious things such as them reaching out to you expressing concerns, etc. In my opinion, if people are interested in helping veterans, the best thing they can do is to support a reputable charity that specializes in providing services to veterans. Reputable charities have the knowledge, experience and expertise required to support veterans across a wide range of challenges. Providing the experts with monetary donations and/or spending time volunteering at a charity event is the best thing most of us can do.   

Shannon: I know you have really championed work with the nonprofit Hiring Our Heroes in the past year, which has helped at least nine veterans find meaningful employment with Zebra in 2022 alone. Why did you choose to align with this organization? 

Dan: VETZ identified Hiring our Heroes as an organization that provides a much-needed service to transitioning military members. Hiring quality talent is a top priority for every organization, as you want the best and brightest. You want to find people that will fit into your culture, that are self-motivated and able to take on a challenge. 

When you think about Zebra’s core values – accountability, agility, innovation, integrity and teamwork – those are the same values we emphasize in the military. So, hiring transitioning military members is a natural fit for Zebra as they already embody our core values. They bring a very broad set of skills and experiences that are hard to find. The military is a learning organization, and education is key. You spend time in the classroom learning skills, leadership and decision-making techniques, and you are always training and honing those skills before putting them in action by executing missions. A member of the military often develops these critical skills at a faster pace than the general population because of the continuous education, training and experiences that they get.

Hiring Our Heroes

Shannon: In other words, the military has taught them the skills they need, and Zebra gets a highly qualified individual that we know is a cultural fit.  

Dan: Exactly. Hiring Our Heroes is basically an internship program, but in this case, the internship is funded by the Department of Defense, not Zebra. This is a win/win as Zebra can assess the individual at no cost or risk and the veteran gets an opportunity to learn and make the transition out of military gradually.  

Shannon: I understand that several Zebra partners, such as Lowry Solutions, are also taking steps to help veterans find jobs, right?

Dan: They are. We have had several Zebra partners express interest in participating with our various Inclusion & Diversity teams. Recently, Lowry heard about the success we were having with our veteran recruiting activities with Hiring Our Heroes and DAV (Disabled American Veterans). We were able to connect the Lowry team with our contacts at DAV, and they’re working together to find veterans who are looking for jobs in the software industry. We are really glad we were able to make that connection because there is so much hidden talent in the veteran community. Lowry is going to be able to offer jobs to vets who might not have felt they were qualified for whatever reason, even though they’re more than qualified. 

DAV - Disabled American Veterans
Lowry Solutions

I think having companies like Lowry show veterans that the skills they acquired in the military translate well to the civilian world is so valuable, because it’s not always obvious what’s transferable. Someone who spent their entire military career in the field, on the front lines, might not think they could succeed as a software product manager. But it’s because they know what front-line teams need that they would make a great advisor to software engineers. They know the use case better than anyone. 

Shannon: Knowing that veterans may experience a little bit of culture shock as they transition into civilian roles, is there something companies can do to help them integrate easier?

Dan: Based on my experiences from deployments, transitioning off active duty and being a Reservist for several years, I think there are few basic things organizations can do.

  1. Give them time. If a military member is returning from a deployment, provide that person with as much time as possible to integrate into the corporate world. Everybody is different, there is no single formula for this. Anything that can be done by both sides, the military member and the organization, to allow for time is important. As an example, I waited over 30 days after I returned from Afghanistan before returning to Zebra.  When I returned from Afghanistan, I made up my mind that I would never go back to the corporate world, as I was in the combat zone mindset. If I was told, “You must be back in the office within a week of returning home,” I would have walked away. 

  2. Provide them with a “Battle Buddy.” In the military, whenever you are assigned to a new unit (you rotate units roughly every three years in the Army), the gaining unit assigns you a “Battle Buddy.”  This person is a peer who helps you transition into the organization. They will take you around to the various departments to ensure you have what you need, introduce you to key work partners, share information about the organization, and more.  You “shadow” that person for a few weeks until you are fully settled in. VETZ is doing this with the Hiring Our Heroes interns. We “assign” them a VETZ Battle Buddy that can help them navigate life at Zebra.

  3. Give them flexibility. Work/life balance is a common corporate expression. However, balance implies a 50/50 split. In the military, there is no such thing. You will spend more than 50% of your time in the military doing something military-related – it is always “Mission First.” There is no balance but there is work/life harmony. Many military personnel will leave active duty for the civilian world but will remain a member of the Reserve or National Guard, so they go from being a full-time Soldier to a part-time Soldier. In reality, at least for the roles I had in the Army Reserve, you had two full-time jobs. There were times I participated in a military-related meeting from the Zebra office or had to leave the office early to deal with a military-related issue.  Military Reservists have military commitments that are nonnegotiable, they must do them. Companies can help by understanding that and ensuring that the service member knows that the organization will support them. The military member needs to know there will be no negative impacts when they must do required military duty.  This can be stressful for the service member, as all they think about is, “I must be out of the office for two weeks this month and three days next month.” And, unlike the corporate world, you will not have access to your civilian phone, email, computers, etc. when on military duty. Think about it, how many times have you done work while on “PTO” or changed your PTO plans due to a work project? A service member on duty can’t do those things. So, they will worry that they will be viewed as not dedicated and not pulling their weight and that they won’t get advancement opportunities. 

Shannon: Along those lines, a recent Pew Research study revealed that biases exist both within the veteran community and about veterans. For example, veterans are perceived to be more disciplined and harder working than non-veterans. Do you think such assumptions help or harm veterans’ ability to integrate into the civilian workforce?

Dan: That’s an interesting question, as I can see the bias as both a positive and a negative. We can’t predict people’s perceptions – your perception is your reality, right, wrong or indifferent. A person could be anti-military for any number of reasons and that bias can negatively impact a veteran's ability to integrate into a group where that bias may exist. Others will be the opposite; they will have a very positive view of military service, and they may even be a veteran, and that can help a veteran to transition into that team. Most people have no direct experience with the realities of military service, so they likely get their impressions from movies, grandpa’s “war stories,” and the like. Chances are none of those sources are accurate, but they cause people to form an opinion.  

Some biases that I have come across that do make transitioning difficult are: 

  • “People go into the military because it’s the only job they could get - they take everybody.”

  • “The military is too strict.”

  • “You just do what you are told, so you don’t know how to think.”

  • “Military skills are just for war fighting; they don’t apply in the corporate world.”

All of these are false, and these biases hurt veterans because they are so off base. What is true is that you must obey lawful orders in the military, which is the case in every job in every organization. The only difference is you can quit your civilian job at any time; you can’t quit the military. 

What’s interesting is that the most dynamic organizations I have ever been in, the best leaders I have ever dealt with, and the most agile and adaptive group of problem solvers I have ever worked with were in military units. That’s because the challenges and risks you must manage through, and magnitude of the impacts of decisions made, are far greater in military operations than in most other organizations.  

Shannon: Perhaps this is more of an assumption than a bias, but I believe many people feel veterans are well taken care of because there’s so much PR done by nonprofits highlighting their support of the military community. But the few veterans lucky enough to receive nonprofits’ support aren’t representative of the collective. So, what are some other ways companies – and communities – can come together to help veterans?

Dan: I think pooling resources and working your personal and professional networks to proactively connect veterans with people who may be able to offer them jobs is very important. Helping veterans find stable jobs is arguably the single best way to help them thrive, not just survive, after they serve. A job leads to stable housing, transportation, and food, and gives them the ability to support a family if that’s important to them. It also gives them confidence and, most importantly, purpose once again. 


Did You Know?

Back in 2018, Dan nominated his supervisor Joe White, then-Senior Vice President of Enterprise Mobile Computing for Zebra, for the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Patriot Award, which is the highest recognition the U.S. government gives to supervisors for their outstanding support of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. 

He felt compelled to celebrate Joe because the Patriot Award reflects the efforts made to support citizen warriors through a wide range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence if needed:

“As a military leader I learned many things, one of them was that what an organization does – or fails to do – and how it acts and reacts are all a direct reflection of its leadership. I was in Zebra’s Mobile Computing business unit during the time I was an Army Reserve Battalion Commander, Division Chief of Staff and the Operations Officer for a Support Command. These were all incredibly big jobs with significant responsibilities. I had various roles within the Mobile Computing business, and I had a management team that was 100% supportive of my military requirements. They always ensured I had the support and flexibility that I needed, and I had broad support across the entire business unit. There is an American Flag that flew over a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan, and it is now on display in the main lobby of the Zebra Holtsville office. I presented that flag to the Mobile Computing team as a token of my appreciation for the support they provided to me and my family while I was deployed to Afghanistan – that's how much the organization did for me, and it was the least I could do.  

I was reporting to Joe over a three-year period, and he was exceptional. He went above and beyond in his support of my military obligation. He created a role within the organization tailored for me, and it aligned with many of the skills that I learned in the military. It provided me with a lot of flexibility to manage my time between the Army and Zebra’s Mobile Computing business. Joe didn’t have to do that, but he did. I think the folks in my unit were a bit jealous because many of them weren’t given that level of flexibility by their civilian employers. My unit was ranked #1 out of 26 in the Command, and that doesn’t happen by accident. A lot of that success was due to the support and flexibility that Joe provided to me. It gave me the time I needed to ensure Soldiers were properly led and trained, and that paid huge dividends. Junior leaders in the Command learned from me, and some of them would go on to become senior Army leaders. They pulled from their exercises to mentor their junior leaders, which is a critical element for establishing an enduring organization. I was fortunate to have had the time to do my part to the fullest extent possible.  

All organizations speak about the importance of their people, but very few take it to the level that the Mobile Computing business unit and Joe White did. I owe them a debt of gratitude.”

You, too, can take steps to support citizen warriors within your organization by teaming with Hiring Our Heroes, DAV, and similar groups to ensure veterans have access to tailored resources.


You May Also Be Interested In These Veterans' Transition Stories:

Four Military Veterans Share What It Was Really Like to Transition to Civilian Life and Civilian Jobs

Corporate Social Responsibility, Inside Zebra Nation,
Shannon Swanson
Shannon Swanson

Shannon Swanson is Manager, Product Management, Healthcare Supplies Portfolio at Zebra Technologies.

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