Everybody who has served in any of the military branches has learned innumerable lessons that have been invaluable as a civilian. As the Marines say ” there are no ex-Marines “. It’s true that the transition from Marine to civilian is almost impossible. That’s one reason when asked if we’re a Marine we often say ” yes, the 1st Civ. Div. ” meaning the first civilian division. Although no longer active, still very much a Marine. There’s mindsets in civilians that we will never understand and mindsets that we have that the person who never served will not understand. I hope that in reading this it helps you understand Marines, and other Vets, a little better. The transition from active duty to civilian is hard on us due the difficulty in relating to the civilian, corporate mindset and vise versa.
One is punctuality. We have a saying that if you’re less than 15 minutes early you’re late. Most vets, and just about every Marine will show up early to everything. Often to find their self waiting. A fun game we played on active duty wast to see how early we could show up. It went like this; the battalion C.O. would say we have a battalion formation at 0900. The company commanders would tell the platoon commanders to be in formation at 0830. The platoon commanders would tell the platoon sergeants to be in formation at 0800. They would tell the squad leaders to be in formation at 0730. The squad leaders would tell the squad to be in formation at 0700. So at 0645 the whole platoon would be in formation, usually the whole battalion would be in formation hanging out until the battalion C.O. showed up at 0900. This has permanently effected the actions of the Marine and it can not be shaken off once entering civilian life. So when you set an appointment with a Marine, they will almost always be there waiting on you.
To most civilians the Marines in the workplace appear confrontational. Some have even said intimidating. We don’t see ourselves that way. We just call it straight forward. You want an opinion you’re going to get it in colorful language with no apologies. A job needs done you’re not likely going to hear them asking nicely, they just tell you and thank you later. Sometimes this thanks is in a backhanded compliment. They don’t tend to mumble and look at the floor, They speak clearly and loud enough to be heard while looking at the person they are talking to. This, above all else, has caused many people to be intimidated by me. It’s not intentional at all. I find it disrespectful and rude to mumble, speak softly and look at anything but the person you’re talking to. Our handshakes are firm if not considered hard. Again, not intentional. You’ll probably get a strange look if you give us a weak, limp handshake.
We are ingrained with the concept of taking initiative. If you see something that needs done, do it. If it’s wrong you’ll find out later, but don’t let it sit undone waiting for someone to tell you or someone to do it their self. When you do the job do it right the first time. It’s part of the concept ” work smarter not harder “. This initiative includes making decisions that others won’t without asking a superior ( manager ) what to do. For us, in the interest of time and efficiency ( I know, efficiency and military do not really go hand in hand ) we make decisions and go on. It also makes us look like suck ups, over achievers, etc. but really we just don’t like seeing something not done that needs done because ” it’s not my job “.
We typically walk with a bearing of confidence and authority, even in situations where we have no idea what’s going on. I’ve had people mistake me for a cop or a new manager. Even if I don’t know what’s going on or where I’m going it’s done with an air of confidence that is often confused with authority. This attitude has often intimidated managers. It’s not something meant to, it’s not intentional, it just is. Many people who never served don’t have the sense of self-confidence that many vets, and Marines in particular exude. It’s sometimes confused with arrogance. It really isn’t. We learned early on that you can do tremendously more than your mind tells you. Your mind is weak and meant to be overcome at every opportunity. This also goes back to the feeling of us being confrontational.
Many vets are always aware of what’s going on and always watching, eyes roaming, backs to the wall or preferring a corner table where the whole room is visible. We are paying attention to you, but we are also watching our surroundings. We are multi-tasking and can tell you exactly what you said. As a result we are rarely taken by surprise or unprepared for what’s coming.
An issue many have is they can’t read our facial expressions. We are trained early on to not show emotions. Keep a neutral expression that often comes across serious or stern. This causes a lot of concern, uncertainty and doubt in the people talking to us, especially if brain storming. It’s often confused with displeasure or disagreement. It really isn’t. We are absorbing what is said and already thinking through the ideas to come to a quick and decisive answer.
We learned leadership traits that are acronymed JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. The military loves acronyms and would fall into disarray without them. You think it’s funny, but I’m convinced it’s true! The acronym above stands for Judgement, Justice, tact, knowledge and so on. Do your self a favor, especially if your management, look up the Marine Corps 14 Leadership Traits and the Leadership Principles. It will absolutely improve your performance and effectiveness as a leader.
Our humor is often considered sick, dark or off-color. It often fits in well with the first responder community. You’ll find a lot of us there and a lot driving truck due to the ability to work without being micro managed. Our humor often makes people uncomfortable and leaving them wondering if we are insane or unbalanced. We might be, but we don’t see a problem with it.
There is so much more I learned that can be listed, but I’ll spare you a 5,000 word blog trying to get them all listed. I hope that you can better understand the mindset of the Marines and other vets you encounter on the job. The exception is Air Force vets. They tend to more like the general population simply because their mission statement is different. There are a few occupations in the Air Force that produce individuals more like the rest of the military like P.J’s, A-10 pilots and Combat Controllers. Overall vet’s can be an assett to your organization if you just understood the mindset they bring. They can intigrate into the workforce or with other volunteers and the others can learn to adapt to them. It will bring a good balance.