Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

"Did You Shoot Anyone?" A Practioner's Guide to Combat Veteran Workplace and Classroom Reintegration

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

"Did You Shoot Anyone?" A Practioner's Guide to Combat Veteran Workplace and Classroom Reintegration

Article excerpt


"What the Hell Happened to Terry?" (1)

Nothing seems out of the ordinary this day at the California-based health care firm. On the fourth floor, the marketing staff goes about their business as warm autumn sunshine streams through the glass panels that form the building's exterior walls. A project team casually gaggles around a worktable spread with charts and documents. Suddenly, a voice calls out, "Hey! Look at that!" A large, black military helicopter zooms low across a nearby field, heading toward the building. As employees gather at the glass wall, the chopper seems almost to fill the sky, the droning of its blades rising to a roar. It soars over the building, vanishing toward a nearby military base, leaving a wave of excitement in its wake. As people drift back to work, one of the project team members looks around. "Where's Terry?" Silently, a secretary point to a desk, its chair overturned. There, beneath the desk, hands clasped over his head, crouches Terry. As he sheepishly emerges, a voice from the back of the group mutters, "Jeez, Terry, what the hell happened?"

Since the onset of the Global War on Terror, more than 1.6 million men and women of the United States Armed Forces have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. A large percentage of these are Guard (247,695) and Reserve (195,796). Many have experienced two and some even three or four tours of duty in combat zones. As these combat veterans leave the military and return to civilian life, they bring with them the physical and mental consequences of wartime service. While advances in medical care have saved numerous lives on the battlefield, we are still faced with a staggering number of men and women who have sustained serious psychological injuries as a result of combat. One in four soldiers discharged from Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) have filed disability claims with the Veterans Administration, over 40,000 of which have been for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Meagher, 2007).

America has come a long way from the time when returning Vietnam War veterans were greeted with hostility and suspicion. "Support the Troops" has become everything from a fashion statement to a national mantra. Yet when we move from the general to the specific, when we encounter the returning combat veteran in the workplace or the classroom, when a helmet-clad every soldier in a news magazine becomes a real person sitting behind a desk, what does "support" mean?

This paper proposes that there are practical things managers and educators can do to help combat veterans reintegrate into the workplace and classroom. We'll begin laying the groundwork with what makes the War on Terror different from previous U.S. conflicts. Next, we'll consider the psychological stress that can result from combat operations, specifically PTSD. Finally, we'll examine specific attitudes, behaviors, and strategies that can help ease the combat veteran's transition to the civilian work and school environment, presenting some dos and don'ts for managers and educators seeking to support successful veteran reintegration.

A Different Kind of War

"I feel like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day."

Indiana soldier preparing for a return deployment to Iraq (Bode, 2007)

It seems patently obvious to say that the war on terror is a different kind of war. Every war is distinguishable in such ways as cause, place, technology, and political consequence. Author Ronald Manderscheid (2007) points out three distinctions affecting social reintegration following Iraq and Afghanistan service: duty tour length and pattern; danger level; and disengagement from civilian culture. To that we add two more: uncertainty of duration and the types of casualties the War on Terror brings.

Both Vietnam and Gulf War combatants saw relatively short tours of duty. Most Vietnam tours lasted approximately 12 months, and for most individuals, one tour was all that their service demanded. …

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