Corporate America's Military Opportunity

A version of this opinion article appeared Mar. 27, 2012, on page A13 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Corporate America's Military Opportunity. It is being re-posted here with permission. 

By Ann Curry
NBC News

In his State of the Union address this January, President Obama rang a bell that is still sounding 10 years after our wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq. "At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations," he said about our men and women in uniform. "They're not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example."

We can do better than imagine. We can remember.

As World War II drew to a close, many Americans worried about how to assimilate returning veterans. Some feared the economic boom of the war would quickly fall back to the hard times of the Great Depression as millions in uniform arrived home looking for work. But these military veterans—the Greatest Generation, in Tom Brokaw's phrase—had the resilience and leadership skills to become not a weight but an engine driving the economy and the American Century.

Whether today's military men and women—the best-trained and most experienced military force in the history of our nation—can similarly drive our economy largely depends on whether we remember our history.

After World War II, veterans were rewarded with the G.I. bill and favorable housing loans. Perhaps as important, they came to be seen as a boon to any business that wanted to recruit disciplined, mission-oriented and motivated workers. Veterans then even wore military veteran pins on their lapels because it singled them out as worthy of special consideration as potential employees.

Today's veterans, many of whom enlisted after America was attacked on 9/11, are as deserving as their World War II predecessors. And putting them to work may well be the most selfish thing our nation can do right now. Where else might any business find better, more "can-do" men and women?

When a person has been repeatedly willing to run toward battle under orders despite the risk of death, imagine what he or she might do to inspire a company to find the grit to succeed. How do you say "no" to working overtime when your colleague is a former war veteran who is willing to say "yes?"

About veterans whose skills have been honed in hostile environments, Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn notes that, "Whether they're part of a factory floor team, whether they're part of an executive group trying to steer a company in a certain direction, cohesion, coherence, the ability to follow others and work with others toward a common goal is incredibly important in generating those widgets and the clothes and the computers and the smartphones of GDP."

The good news is that corporate America is beginning to wake up to the benefits of bringing a fighting spirit into their companies. Executives are learning that despite misconceptions, the vast majority of veterans—82%-90% of men and 80% of women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the RAND Corporation—do not have a post-traumatic stress syndrome that could affect their readiness to work.

Prudential, FedEx, Gamestop, JetBlue, J.P. Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Sears, AT&T, NBC Universal and its parent company Comcast are among an increasing number of companies that are now seeking to hire veterans.

Gary Taylor, a top executive at power company Entergy (and a retired captain in the Air Force), puts it this way: "The skills that they bring back are a real competitive advantage, whether they're electricians, mechanics, computer scientists, engineers—that skill seems to fit well."

And even when a skill does not fit exactly, why would anyone doubt whether former Apache helicopter pilots or company master sergeants would be trainable? The sooner more American businesses realize the value of this sudden wealth of returning military veterans, the sooner we can stop worrying about our economy.

Our military veterans have exceeded all expectations. What could our businesses, our economy and our nation accomplish if we put their talents and courage to work here at home?

Ms. Curry, an NBC News anchor and correspondent, has traveled six times to Iraq and Afghanistan and is a daughter of a war veteran. On March 28 on NBC's "Today" show, she will help broadcast "Hiring Our Heroes Today," a nationwide hiring fair put on by NBC News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hosted at the USS Intrepid museum.

Discuss this post

Is there some way to volunteer to help with this ? Phones, paperwork, anything ? Who would someone get in touch with to volunteer ?


    Reply#1 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:06 PM EDT

    I am a vietnam era vet and I strongly support finding work for our brave troops rerurning or retiring. I heard tonight that 82% of the jobs in the military have a private sector equivalent. I find that stat hard to believe.

    The best thing that can happen for our Vets is that companies recognize the character, work ethic, and dedication that they bring and to provide targeted training programs for them.

      Reply#2 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:10 PM EDT

      Great remarks by President Obama about soldiers.. That said, our heroes should be in Congress, and they would get the job done.

        Reply#3 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:13 PM EDT

        How dare this government make an issue of hiring our veterans. First of all, no one in this government did a damn thing to help any of the Vietnam vets. They were treated like low life killers after serving this country and told to NOT tell people they had served. No one got these veterans any jobs or worried about their PTSO, nor their families. And furthermore....we have people in the country that have been out of work for two years or more and I don't see this government doing job fairs all over the country to hire them. I find this entire idea of "Hiring Our Heros" disgusting. My son served for 20 years in the Air Force with 7 tours overseas and no one helped him find a job when he left the service. And my significant other served 4 years in the Navy and was in Vietnam for 14 months. Did this government work to find him a job?? You bet NOT. So while we are finding jobs for our "HEROS", lets get all of our homeless off the streets, and find jobs for all of those that have been trying to find jobs for years!!!! This country really needs a reality check BIG TIME.

          Reply#4 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:48 PM EDT

          Kozy first of all, from a current solider to a spouse of a vietnam vet thanks for all of you and your family's sacrifices and service. Maybe its a good thing that the government is trying finally to help it's veterans. Since your spouse and son are a veterans, they would be considered a "HERO", and they could take advantage of these job fairs along with any other vet my generations war or any other vet in america. That being said I do agree with you that vietnam vets were not treated fairly when they came home, but that was a different war, time, and culture. I'm not saying that Iraq and Afghanistan vets are any better or worse than your spouse's brothers in arms. I do however believe that our government has started to learn from their mistakes, maybe not in the timely manner that it should have happened, but it is progress. The fed and state governments do however have job fairs for the average joe, they just aren't as publicized in the media. I am currently in the process of separating from the army, no one is working to find me a job but MYSELF. I am taking classes to help educate me in the processes of writing a resume and finding a job that I am qualified for, but I'm still going to have to compete with the rest of America for a job, veteran or not. And Kozy, the homeless? Really?? Yes they need help, most of them mental help and a good scrub down, but where is that money going to come from? If we don't employ the capable and create jobs to rebuild our countries infrastructure, including, state homes to house them in and counselors to help with their problems. Who better to do this than veterans, we work hard and could possibly relate to the homeless who may have been your spouse's peers in vietnam. This system works, it has been proven, FDR did it after world war II. Maybe its not the country who needs a reality check, but the people who live here to be more informed and not as lazy and dependent on the government that they can't stand. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT CHANGE IT, ADAPT AND OVERCOME. It's an election year, do some research and vote, don't just rely on what the media says ( no offense NBC), but the media has a tendency to skew things. SAPPERS LEAD THE WAY.

            #4.1 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:34 PM EDT

            careyhayden.....well said!

              #4.2 - Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:31 AM EDT

              I remember Vietnam who we had a Draft and 2/3 of the guys in my senior year in high school died. Officers came to the school to make sure students of age signed up. We can't go backward but we can learn from our mistakes. The same Law Makers denying help the the young soldiers today are some of the same people who were Draft Dodgers. We elected officials who without thought rushed into War and even quickly invaded Iraq. To assure the public believe the lies we were told this would be a quick War with little money spent. To save Americans from knowing the horror the Media had to report what was ordered by the White House and no photos of the caskets brought home would be shown. For the Military families we knew what was really happening and all Americans seem to do is believe the WMD, Mushroom cloud stories and Bin Laden was living in a Cave. As Law Makers only used soldiers for bills/money and votes. Few even knew the photos for TV with Bush and soldiers surrounding him were set up. Soldiers signed up for 1,000 dollars to be part of the act. As many soldiers were from the national guard they needed the money for their families. No soldier dare speak up of a concern to President Bush only Commanders could do that. Well 2009 a new President had a different policy an ask soldier to freely speak up to him about their concerns. We aren't making the mistake of the Vietnam War. But we might had a new President who did Dodge the Draft like Dick Cheney and others did when it became time to serve the USA. I lost my brother in the Vietnam War so I do have a right to speak for what War is and my daughter served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Many have an opinion and view of our troops as some have family members who served or died as Patriots. But President Obama is looking first to what our current soldiers need and have earned which shows the leadership of a Commander-in-Chief.

                Reply#5 - Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:15 PM EDT

                I think there is a real issue in this country with companies willing to train anybody -- whether they are veterans or not. The companies that are complaining about not having enough workers to fill the positions they have open are the same companies that are overlooking tons of fols who are available but might not have the exact skill set that the company is looking for.

                The willingness to spend money to get newcomers up to speed is really lacking. True, there are some spectacualr companies out there that are willing and they get highlighted on the news, their faces splashed across newspapers and the Internet, but I would venture a guess that for every one of those, there are at least three that let these potential workers pass by because they don't want to make the effort or use the resources to train them.

                I would like to see some sort of government initiative to get all of these people good paying, reliable jobs whether their skill set comes from four years of flying apache helicopters or having spent four years earning a liberal arts degree.

                I won't even touch the issue concerning whether or not veterans should get preferential treatment (at least from the government) because I come from a long line of veterans (even though I did not serve) and many people might not like my opinion. I just think that the overall attitude of American business really needs to change before we can ever recover from this economic crisis.

                The time for picking and choosing is done. Beggars can't be choosers. We need to be willing to sacrifice in order to overcome these difficulties, not drive our heads farther into the sand and wait for those perfect employees.

                  Reply#6 - Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:12 AM EDT

                  This is a story about a great man, his name is Charles Pixley. who served two tours in Vietnam.

                  While living and working in New York City, as a commercial mortgage banker, when the market crashed it forced him off his career on Madison Avenue.

                  To demonstrate his personal "marketing" skills, refusing to give up, he stood on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks,

                  holding a poster which said:

                  IF YOU WANT TO STIMULATE THE ECONOMY, HIRE ME! 35 Years Enlightened Leadership, Sales, PR, Author,
                  Health Care Reform expert, and his phone number, 585 217 2191.

                  Praised by thousands of tourists, interviewed for broadcast by 20 International CABLE NEWS companies, picture published in the Wall Street Journal and an employment segment done on

                  LOCAL NY1 island-news-content/ny1_living/employment/108290/determination-key-on--the-street-


                  Maybe you know an employer who would interest in him?

                  • 1 vote
                  Reply#7 - Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:39 AM EDT

                  @lightoftruth, man that's pretty depressing! Doesn't suprise me. There are a lot of people flocking to this chamber of commerce initiative. I just hope that people are getting hired out of all of this. There sure are a lot of people patting themselves on the back.

                    Reply#8 - Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:31 PM EDT

                    Glad that President Obama is championing this. Wonder how many people in his inner circle are former vets. I mean the type of working man aka NCO who could actually get some stuff done. I imagine he isn't surrounded by a lot of real military vets other than the yes men Generals and other busy body types. Eiither way, we should be greatful that he is standing up for our heroes though for sure. I am.

                      Reply#9 - Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:34 PM EDT
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