Student Veterans: Military Service Fosters Leadership Skills

Leadership skills honed in the military can go a long way in the business world, according to a group of student veterans who shared their military experiences with classmates, faculty, and staff at a November 8 event to commemorate Veterans Day.

Christopher Kennedy '13, who served as an Army officer for five years, moderated the panel of five Yale SOM students. The panelists included Sarah Barbo '14, Kyle Hathaway '14, Andy Cook '14, Matt Trevino '14, and Guy Benjamin '14. Most had served in the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both; Benjamin served for 13 years in the Israeli Air Force. The students credited the military for teaching them an array of professional and social skills and allowing them to take on levels of responsibility usually available in civilian life only to older, more experienced individuals.

Panelists also agreed that their military training helped prepare them for future roles as business leaders. "The military really taught me how to be a quick study," said Hathaway, who served as a Navy intelligence officer. "You learn how to get yourself up to speed and leverage all the resources you have."

Cultivating a flexible outlook and a willingness to adapt to any task is another benefit of serving in the military, said Barbo, who served with the Army as a Medical Service Corps officer in Iraq. "Often in the military things just have to be done," Barbo said. "I think that's directly transferable to careers. You can open up big opportunities for yourself if you're not afraid to say yes to a task or job and then just dig in and go for it."

Business organizations can benefit by emulating the shared mission aspect that is so prominent in military culture, said Trevino, who served with the Air Force Medical Services Corps in Afghanistan. "Successful companies should have a unifying theme that brings employees together—we're all here for the company and we want to make it work," Trevino said.

While transitioning to civilian life has its challenges, panelists said that a supportive atmosphere goes a long way, and they encouraged non-military classmates and colleagues to engage with them. Cook, who served as a Marine in Afghanistan and then in the Philippines with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force, said that civilians familiar with media coverage about veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder are too often wary of asking vets questions about the military. "More vets than not would like to talk about their experiences," Cook said. "Take the time to have a conversation with us. It shows that you care."