An experienced veteran has next to no success finding a career in the civilian world: Is this just another example of the difficulties former servicemembers are facing on the job market, or is it a case of sour grapes from a man who isn’t making the best use of his military experience? That’s the question when it comes to “the Shooter,” a former member of SEAL Team 6 and recognized as the man who shot Osama bin Laden.
In a lengthy Esquire feature last week that’s already stirred plenty of discussion, the Shooter goes into detail about the operation that led to the takedown of the Taliban leader, and also has plenty to say about his lack of success in transitioning to the civilian world. Who or what is to blame? The Shooter and the Esquire article’s author, Phil Bronstein, seem to point at inadequate transition resources as the culprit:
[W]here do [the Shooter's] sixteen years of training and preparedness go on his résumé? Who in the outside world understands the executive skills and keen psychological fortitude he and his First Tier colleagues have absorbed into their DNA? Who is even allowed to know? And where can he go to get any of these questions answered?
There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it’s largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone’s coffee. There is also a program at MacDill Air Force Base designed to help Special Ops vets navigate various bureaucracies. And the VA does offer five years of health care benefits—through VA physicians and hospitals—for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but it offers nothing for the shooter’s family.
It seems as though the Shooter is not the only man from his unit who has apprehensions about the future.
The Shooter’s friend is also looking for a viable exit from the Navy. As he prepared to deploy again, he agreed to talk with me on the condition that I not identify him.
“My wife doesn’t want me to stay in one more minute than I have to,” he says. But he’s several years away from official retirement. “I agree that civilian life is scary. And I’ve got a family to take care of. Most of us have nothing to offer the public. We can track down and kill the enemy really well, but that’s it.
“If I get killed on this next deployment, I know my family will be taken care of.” (The Navy does offer decent life-insurance policies at low rates.) “College will be paid for, they’ll be fine.
“But if I come back alive and retire, I won’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out for the rest of my life. Sad to say, it’s better if I get killed.”
No doubt there’s many complications when you transition from a high-pressure, covert job in DEVGRU to a completely different life out of uniform, especially when a leakage of your true identity might lead to you becoming a top target on a terrorist hit list. On the other hand, we read about how special operations veterans are the best of the best in training and support, with that support network extending to civilian life, where many of them find jobs as advisors, motivational speakers, as members of management teams, and even part of video game teams (to be fair, the Shooter applied for just such a position in Electronic Arts, with no success). So is our Shooter coming up short in taking advantage of the resources, skills and experiences he’s gained? Or is the military falling short in providing him with the support he needs to create a new life for himself? It’s a question that may have more than one answer, and we invite you to chime in with your thoughts in the comments section below.
[For military transition resources, and to create a transition plan for yourself, visit the Military.com Transition Center.]