What’s a day at the office without a crisis? There are impossible deadlines, of course, and important clients who drop by just as the new receptionist is throwing a tantrum. There are key documents that go missing minutes before the big presentation and Internet service that cuts out late in the evening when everyone is desperate to finish up and go home. No workplace is immune — as the NFL, CBS, and the folks who manage the New Orleans Super Dome found out when the power went out during the biggest sporting event of the year.
Who do you want working for you when stress is approaching the bursting point? Jim Mylott, staff sergeant, U.S. Army (retired), has an answer. “When there’s a crisis, when everyone else has lost their heads and are just running around, veterans remain calm,” he says. They have been through a lot worse than a jammed copier — or even a dark stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.
Mylott, who is on the Wounded Warrior Project’s national ad campaign team, speaks on Thursday, February 21, at 11:30 a.m. on “Benefits of Hiring a Veteran” at a luncheon meeting of the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce at the Princeton Hyatt. Also speaking are William Liess, a lieutenant colonel in the New Jersey Air National Guard as well as an attorney with Pepper Hamilton, and First Lieutenant Eddy S. Mayan (retired). Cost: $60. Call 609-689-9960 ext. 22.
Mylott, one of 10 children, grew up on Long Island, where his dad worked in maintenance at a hospital and his mom was a bookkeeper. He was so eager to join the Army that he completed his last two years of high school in one year and enlisted at 17.
Mostly working as an MP and a criminal investigator, he was deployed to Panama in 1989 and then to Kuwait after it was attacked by Iraq. Subsequently, he saw action in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and then Iraq again.
His active military career ended at a checkpoint in Iraq. “I was squad leader,” he recounts, “and when one of my men had a birthday, I would work in his place.” He was doing that, and almost made it through the night. But “just as the sun came up, a tractor trailer truck ran into the checkpoint.” One of his men tried to push him to safety, and was killed when he was caught between an Army vehicle and the tractor trailer. Mylott was thrown into the tractor trailer.
He thought he was all right at first, but he says that others in his unit observed that his personality had changed. It turned out that he had a tear in his brain stem that had caused a slow bleed. He was treated in Germany and then in Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., before being transferred to Fort Dix as Walter Reed became overcrowded with injured soldiers. His recovery took years, as a hole drilled in his skull drained excess fluid and relieved pressure on his brain. “They called me the juice box,” he jokes.
The best part of his recovery occurred at Fort Dix, where he met his wife, Jana, a former Air Force mechanic. The couple lives in Toms River with their daughter, Megan, who appears with her dad in promotional materials for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Mylott would like to be a motivational speaker or perhaps a corporate trainer. But when he left the military he says he “took the first thing I could get,” and works as a custodian for the Manchester School District. He doesn’t dislike the work, but thinks he could do better.
Veterans face many hurdles in getting hired, he says. One of the big ones is that certificates earned in the military generally aren’t accepted by civilian employers, despite the fact that the skills may be identical to those accumulated through state licensing programs.
As an example, Mylott says that the training he received to become an MP was even more vigorous than the training provided by police academies, yet, he says, “if Toms River needs a new policeman, and someone from New Egypt applies, the only thing they have to do is give him a uniform.” His MP training does not transfer, so he says that he is at a disadvantage in applying for police force jobs. The same is true in many other fields.
But if employers would look past a strict definition of qualifications and give veterans a chance, Mylott is sure that they would find themselves with superior employees for a number of reasons.
Team work. “It’s a hard adjustment,” Mylott says of the gap between the military mindset and the civilian mindset. “In the military, it’s all teamwork,” he says. “In the private sector, it’s everyone from themselves. A veteran thinks ‘we’ve got to better the organization. The better the organization does, the better we all do.’ Any personal gain is just gravy.”
What employer wouldn’t love to hire someone with that attitude? And what’s more, says Mylott, it’s pretty much guaranteed. “Teamwork is just so deeply ingrained,” he says. “If you hire a veteran, you get someone committed to the goals of the organization.”
Responsibility. “A 22-year-old veteran may have been in a leadership role for three years,” says Mylott. “It’s not unusual to see a 19 year old running security for 75 vehicles. A veteran has no trouble taking on responsibility.”
Where a civilian at age 22, 25, or 29 may have spent most of his work life as an intern, just learning the ropes, a veteran of the same age has generally had significant responsibility for projects, people, and outcomes. “He is ready to hit the ground running,” Mylott says.
Adaptability. “I used to make sure that everyone in my platoon could perform everyone’s position,” says Mylott, “because if something happens, they might have to. I used to ask my guys, who’s the least important person?” The answer, he says, is that he, the leader, was the least important. “I know if something happens to me, so-and-so will sit in my spot, and you guys will do the mission,” he recalls telling his men, right down to the youngest recruit.
This training, he says, translates to the civilian world. “Let’s says you’re working at an ad agency,” he gives as an example. “There’s a woman who does the paste boards, but her kid is down with the measles. Someone has to do the paste boards.” A veteran, long used to picking up the slack, would be inclined to seek cross-training and to volunteer to step in to help out.
Experience with diversity. Men and women in the military, often stationed in countries with unfamiliar languages and customs, receive training in both verbal and non-verbal communication. In addition, military units have long been made up of individuals from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds. Employers with worldwide operations and clients can benefit from the in-depth cultural experiences veterans bring.
Rapid responses. Members of the military can think on their feet. “They have to,” says Mylott. “Sometimes a mission has to be put together in an hour.” Personnel, equipment, and vehicles may need to be rounded up and readied, and a superior’s signature obtained — all in less time than it might take the average civilian office to secure a conference room for the next strategy meeting.
So veterans are likely to put the good of the company before their own goals, readily accept responsibility, excel at multi-tasking, pitch in where needed, work well with people from many backgrounds, and quickly solve problems. And they will do all of this without complaining?
“Well,” Mylott says with a smile, “a soldier’s not happy unless he’s complaining.”
He’s joking, mostly, and he hopes that more employers will think about what it takes to succeed in the military and how those qualities could benefit their companies.