Dear Employers, Please Don’t Fear a Veteran’s War Experiences

Trevor Woods
5 min readDec 22, 2020
Photo by Linda LeBoutillier via Random Thoughts (mettahu.blogspot.com)

I’ve been blessed to learn there are a large number of companies that value bringing Veterans to their teams. Despite the number of Veteran friendly companies, there still seems to be some misconceptions about Veterans, especially those who have been to war. Honestly, the number of Veterans who have experienced the combat “fighting” portrayed in Hollywood movies are becoming far less common.

Contrary to some belief, not all Veterans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not anyone’s fault if they think that, the 24-hour news cycle and Hollywood tend to hyperbolize Veteran experiences. As a career Infantryman my combat deployments were mostly boring with small periods of chaos. If I had to estimate, I would say my time in combat was about 2% chaos and 98% training for the chaos — veteran experiences vary.

What is unique about Army operations, particularly in combat, is the precipice of the worse-case scenario is ever-present. Army leaders understand this and become well-versed in planning contingencies, shaping operations to ensure a high likelihood of success, and thriving in fast-paced and stressful environments — attributes all companies should value.

In fact, there are many strengths veterans can bring to the civilian sector — teamwork, a sense of duty, self-confidence, work ethic, critical thinking, just to name a few. There are many other strengths, but personally, I think these are the least important. Non-Veteran employees can bring these same strengths from other industries.

If I had to estimate, I would say my time in combat was about 2% chaos and 98% training for the chaos — veteran experiences vary.

War leaves a mark. For some that mark is deep and debilitating. The scars of war can manifest itself in unfortunate ways like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicide, and depression. How Veterans choose to deal with these issues can shape how successful they are in life, in this context, their careers. Some Veterans may have less “problems” after coming back from war, or none at all. No matter how small the experience is, it changes our worldview. The new perspective drives how differently we interact with the world from that point forward.

So, how can war experiences put Veterans a cut above the rest? The following three values were instilled in me because of my experiences in war.

Tolerance

I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan on four occasions — both countries are Islamic countries. I say Islamic countries because they do not recognize the separation of church and state. Their government was founded on Islamic ideals. To this day, Islam guides their governing policies. You might have heard of the term “Sharia Law,” commonly referred to Muslims as just “Sharia.” It isn’t uncommon for Muslims to use the word Sharia in both a governing and religious context.

Despite the difference in our countries governing methodologies, I met great people in those countries; they invited us to their homes to break bread; they put themselves in danger for the sake of our safety — they saved me, and my men’s lives on more than one occasion. I was taken back by how welcoming some of these people were. Most of the people who feared the insurgents that infiltrated their lives and communities, just wanted them to leave.

Ultimately, my assumptions of the people of these countries were mostly wrong. I got those assumptions from movies, various media outlets, and social media platforms.

My Platoon realized that despite our differences in religion, ethnic, or traditional background, we can flourish together…hell, become lifelong friends.

Empathy

The two most interesting aspects of going to war is the spectrum of human emotions Soldiers experience, and the intimacy of the relationships that are created. War is an emotional roller-coaster; we had to come to terms with the idea that we may not come back (we were okay with that); leaving our families; losing Soldiers on the battlefield.

The emotional pain associated with these experiences instill an deep empathetic potential in most Veterans. It’s why the leadership mantra “taking care of Soldiers,” is so widely referred to in the Army’s leadership culture and echoed in doctrine. In fact, the Army has integrated Empathy into its leadership framework — The Army Leader Requirements Model, which guides what competencies and attributes we evaluate when developing Army leaders.

Compassion

Empathy can lead to compassion. Sometimes people have a hard time differentiating the two. Empathy allows one to feel what another feels though shared experiences or experiences closely associated with another. Compassion is when someone is compelled to take action to alleviate someone’s pain. Soldiers understand the sacrifice of service and understand the toll it takes on Soldiers and families. Look no further than the divorce rate of the military (One of the highest of any institution in the United States) or the suicide rate. Because we understand the sacrifice associated with military service, there are thousands of Veteran organizations that help other Veterans and their families overcome hardship, whether that be PTSD, homelessness, or Veteran transition, for instance. We must demonstrate compassion to truly take care of each other.

War had an influential role in shaping my perspective when it comes to interacting with people and dealing with conflict. But I would be mistaken if I said these values were ONLY shaped by my war experiences. I’ve had a long Army career where I made a lot of mistakes. My successes and failures obviously played a role in shaping my leadership philosophies.

I’m also not saying non-military folks do not have the capacity to embody these values, in fact we can learn a lot about compassion, empathy, and tolerance from others such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and even the random guy next door. You don’t know a person’s life experiences unless you get to know their story.

This is my story. I’ve been to war. It changed me for the better. And, I bet its changed most Veterans for the better too.

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Trevor Woods

I’m a Father, Husband, and Veteran. I write about Personal Growth, Mental Health, and Careers!