DoD goes virtual to help vets transition to civilian life, jobs

Wednesday - 9/21/2011, 10:25am EDT

John Campbell, deputy assistant defense secretary for transition policy, DoD

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

To put returning veterans to work in the civilian world, the Defense Department is often eschewing traditional "brick-and-mortar" training in favor of an online experience, said John Campbell, deputy assistant defense secretary for wounded warrior care and transition policy.

Returning service members face a number of hurdles to civilian employment, Campbell said in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

The weak economy has meant more competition for jobs all around. But the biggest hurdle may be employers' lack of understanding of the military experience, Campbell said.

"When I got out of the service in 1970 ... most of the people that were running companies or in charge of hiring had military experience; they were veterans," he explained. "They knew what veterans could do. Today that's certainly not the case."

The answer is to better prepare service members for civilian careers, Campbell said.

And in that goal, DoD is increasingly turning to virtual seminars.

In the past six months that the seminars have been up and running, about 3,000 users have registered for the hour-long sessions that feature topics, such as interview tips, resume-writing and landing a federal job, Campbell said.

Part of the virtual shift is about convenience.

Online resources can be accessed from almost anywhere, he said. Service members have logged on from bases around the world, including forward-operating bases in Afghanistan and far-flung Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean.

But, the virtual shift is also about connecting with service members in a medium they understand and, in fact, prefer.

"Up until a couple years ago, (transition planning) was nothing more than a brick-and-mortar event that occurred in the last 90 days of someone's service — whether that be two years or 20 years," Campbell said.

"Young men and women today, who just have incredible experience coming out of the military, are used to going to a virtual place — the Web," he added. The Internet is really where they want to get their information and resources."

While the job market has rarely been as competitive, Campbell said today's veterans return with a unique and rich set of skills and experiences.

Not only war fighters, returning service members have also often worked on large-scale civil projects, negotiated with tribal and religious leaders and even acted as "community activists," Campbell said.

"They really have an incredible level of skills that, to be honest, goes far beyond what I had coming out of Vietnam," he said. "They're really incredible young men and women — the best this country's got."