Networking: It’s a buzzword in today’s highly competitive job market, and for Marines transitioning from active-duty service to civilian life, it’s a practice that’s often critical to success.
In an effort to reduce the challenges and uncertainties that generally accompany such a change, the Marine Corps has spent 15 years growing a nationwide network of Marine veterans, employers, education resources and more—one that in its very name assures those in transition that the Corps stays true to its age-old mantra, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Known as the Marine for Life Network, the program falls under the Marine & Family Programs division of Headquarters Marine Corps. And in recent years, due to the rise of social media networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, the ardent support of HQMC, and the hard work of the program’s staff, the program’s network for Marines has grown exponentially, according to Master Gunnery Sergeant Todd James, USMC (Ret), the program manager for Marine for Life.
“Marine for Life network formally extends our commitment to ‘take care of our own’ by growing and sustaining a self-perpetuating, Marine-friendly network,” said James.
The network, through face-to-face interaction and an active online component, supports Marines, Marine veterans and family members by linking them to employment and education opportunities. Connecting transitioning Marines directly to a variety of people including professionals working in their field of interest; employers interested in hiring veterans; and other veterans who have transitioned already and can provide guidance is generally far more effective than having them submit a traditional job application.
“Recent data shows that an overwhelming 70 to 80 percent of jobs are not even published or posted on job boards and websites—so being able to network effectively is vital to getting the job you want,” said James, who spent the better part of his 30 years on active duty as a career planner, assisting and guiding Marines in their career development within the Corps.
The Marine for Life program was established in 2002 under the direction of General James L. Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps. Initially falling under the auspices of Wounded Warrior Regiment, the program was placed under the Personal and Professional Development Branch of Marine & Family Programs.
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Originally staffed by individual mobilization augmentees and active Marine reservists tasked with the mission of beginning a networking capability, the groundwork was laid for a network of support, said James, who added that in subsequent years, that network has grown “by leaps and bounds.”
According to James, one of the largest hurdles facing veterans is finding a job after they transition to civilian life. And while a Marine who served three years may face different challenges than a Marine who is retiring after 20 or more years, entering the civilian workforce may be equally daunting to those in both categories. Nearly 80 percent of Marines who separate from the military are between the ages of 18 and 24, said James, who added that most do not have higher education degrees and have limited experience in their military occupational specialty. In contrast, a retiring Marine may have challenges with respect to both their age and the fact that they may have little knowledge of the private sector, he said.
Whatever the individual challenges may be, the Marine for Life program staff is ready to help, offering a variety of services both online and face to face. Via the professional networking site LinkedIn, Marine for Life offers several networking groups—one national group, four regional groups and several community-specific groups—which provide a way for Marines to connect with and be introduced to military-friendly employers.
“The online network is the key to a self-sustaining, innovative network in a time of budget constraints,” said James. “Without the online network, there would not be an efficient mechanism for Marines to be able to connect, network and support each other.”
Rather than tying its success directly to employment or job placement, the program considers itself an information and referral service—one that often relies on the support of Marines who have already transitioned and are able to provide support and guidance for those who are going through the same thing they went through.
“The culture within the Marine Corps already facilitates the ‘always faithful’ mindset, and I truly believe the Marines are always willing to connect with other Marines and pay it forward by helping each other,” said James.
Marine veteran Jeremy Pimentel was forward deployed to Djibouti, Africa, up until two months prior to his end of active service (EAS). For him, this presented an additional challenge that many transitioning Marines also face—attempting to line up civilian employment from an overseas, often austere location. Pimentel, who left active duty as a staff sergeant after more than nine years as an avionics technician for the MV-22B Osprey, had attended the mandatory transition readiness seminar where he learned about the Marine for Life Network. He joined one of the LinkedIn groups, but didn’t really interact much at first, he said.
While deployed, Pimentel read a social media post by Emily Lamb, a Marine for Life outreach specialist and member of the program’s headquarters staff, inviting the group members to introduce themselves.
“I decided to give it a shot—I just took the opening conversation I practiced at the transition class and put it in the comment block,” said Pimentel. “I instantly received feedback from numerous employers and mentors willing to help.”
Although he didn’t directly take a position from this introduction, he said, he was able to benefit from guidance he received from individuals who responded to his post, particularly relating to his résumé and interviews.
Pimentel currently works for Bell Helicopter as a field service representative for the MV-22.
“This program gave me the confidence to go out [and] market myself as a highly sought candidate. After hearing the feedback from potential employers and other group members, I felt like I could make this transition,” Pimentel said of the Marine for Life Network.
On a regional and local level, the program has a staff of well-connected representatives with extensive knowledge of educational institutions, employers and veteran organizations that offer opportunities for Marines. They strive to make themselves accessible to transitioning Marines and help them benefit from the network that’s been created for them.
Mark D. Munger, the Marine for Life Southeast Regional Network Coordinator, had a career as a Marine Corps musician before beginning a second career helping Marines transition. His position, based in eastern North Carolina in close proximity to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point, includes providing support to 17 Marine for Life representatives across 10 states. He simultaneously strives to create a network for transitioning Marines that will allow him to effectively connect them with employers and other resources.
For Munger, the opportunity to see Marines at MCB Camp Lejeune who are going through the checkout process and to provide mentorship guidance to them about their future plans is particularly rewarding when he looks at them and sees “the light bulb go on,” he said.
“There have been times when I have discussed the Marine for Life Network, and they seem surprised that I care,” said Munger. “It’s not about job placement; it is trying to provide a situation where the Marine will gain confidence in getting communication from resources and take those communications and turn them into possibilities to build upon,” he added.
Munger has had many opportunities to make connections between Marines and recruiters, a process he calls a “hand-up,” not a “handout.” In one instance, he met with a Marine who was a trained communicator looking for civilian employment. Munger had previously met a recruiter with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service who had explained the need for trained communicators to work in National Parks.
“When I met the transitioning Marine, I was able to provide a warm handoff and be able to include what state he wanted to live and work in,” said Munger of the connection he was able to make between the Marine and the USDA recruiter.
For both the members of the headquarters staff and the “field staff,” which is made up of the regional and local representatives, establishing connections with employers and educational opportunities is of equal importance to getting the word out among Marines—first, to let them know that the program exists, and second, that its staff and network partners are eager to help in any way they can.
To enhance the program’s visibility, a brief entitled “Connecting with the Marine for Life Network” is currently being integrated into the transition readiness seminars held at all Marine Corps bases and stations. Attendance at the seminar is compulsory for transitioning Marines, so no one will leave the Corps without being informed of the network and resources that are available to them.
The continued support of Marine Corps leadership is also crucial to the program’s ability to succeed.
In a March 1, 2016, statement to the House Appropriations Defense Sub-commitee, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller, mentioned the “reinvigoration” of the Marine for Life program, which includes not only the network but also what is referred to as the “Marine for Life Cycle.”
“Overall, the Marine for Life Cycle supports a continuum of learning and experience-based opportunities during a Marine Corps career … [it] identifies critical action points within a Marine’s career to facilitate sound lifelong decisions, denoting the Marine’s journey at the start of, throughout and separation from the service,” said James.
A crucial part of the cycle is the Corps’ responsibility to return quality citizens from the ranks of its Marines back to the civilian world after they have been molded by training and changed by the unique experiences and education that only the Marine Corps can offer. Through its unrivaled Marine for Life Network, the Corps assures its Marines that they won’t have to make that return alone, and that they will have access to support and guidance that will allow them to make the next chapter of their lives just as meaningful as the last.