Special Operations Forces are the most highly trained members of the military, both in the United States and among our allies. They are also the most prepared troops to tackle any job, anywhere, anytime… unless it has to do with their own separation from the military.

In a startling “SOF For Life” survey conducted and developed by the Global SOF Foundation and the Honor Foundation, the majority of Special Operations veterans are not properly prepared for their transition to the civilian workforce nor are they receiving the support needed to transition smoothly.

The Global SOF Foundation is a non-profit professional organization for Special Operations Forces and the global moniker is true. They have members across the world and their events are extremely well attended worldwide. The Honor Foundation is an organization founded for Navy SEALs and the Special Operations community whose stated goal is to advance the career goals of this SEAL community for life.

The “SOF For Life” survey began in the late summer of 2016 and up to the present time they have had over 550 responses from SOF and SOF support personnel who have already transitioned from active duty, whether through retirement or separation.

We’ll get to the survey results below, which showed major issues with the soldiers medical benefits, physical health and well-being as well as their mental health. The issues that the respondents have with their financial preparation for separation and their career placement are issues that the SOF For Life program is designed to address.

But first, SpecialOperations.com reached out to Global SOF Foundation President Stu Bradin. We saw the survey, and the results and were more than a bit surprised as the common feeling was that this generation of SOF troops were better positioned for transition than a generation or two before.

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Bradin spent over 30 years in the military and about 25 of those were as a Special Forces officer. He began his SF career leading an A-Team in the 7th SFG during Operation Just Cause and led his team at the Pacora River Bridge fighting the Panamanian mechanized/armor unit Battalion 2000. He finished it at USSOCOM as a member of Admiral McRaven’s staff.

Bradin said that the results speak for themselves, that actually the numbers are actually skewed a bit on positive side because the number of officers responding was about 40 percent of the total. “If we were to get an accurate picture of the force, it should be 80-20 in terms of enlisted and officers,” he said.

“Look,” he said. “The majority of the guys are really unprepared to find and keep meaningful employment after they leave the military.” He spoke about the education that many of troops have but added it wasn’t enough. “I’ve spoken with a few guys who’ve gotten their Masters which is excellent, but many of them want to leave the military sector and go to work in a true civilian environment.”

“The problem is, as Special Operations guys, no one has any experience in the civilian world. The only thing they can point to and understand is the leadership aspect…so, what happens then?”

Bradin said the SOF For Life program is working with some companies and SOCOM to give the troops who know they’re getting ready to transition and opportunity to intern with companies prior to separation. They’re still drawing military pay and allowances but away from the flagpole and would work in a civilian job market that is alien to most operators.

Results of the Survey: There were 555 respondents to the survey. The vast majority were in the Army. And currently, coincidentally, 63 percent of deployed SOF personnel are in the Army. The other 6 respondents were foreign SOF personnel. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents were male, where in SOF, isn’t at all surprising.

 

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It is here where Bradin stated the officer ranks were a bit skewed as to the actual force. And the officers here in the survey reflect 43 percent of the total respondents. Where in the actual force the numbers would be closer to 80-20 in favor of NCOs to Officers.

 

It is here where Bradin stated the officer ranks were a bit skewed as to the actual force. And the officers here in the survey reflect 43 percent of the total respondents.

With 84 percent of the respondents separating between 2004-2016, they served in the time frame of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Health Questions: This was an intriguing part of the survey. Forty-nine percent of the respondents agreed with the statement “I am in excellent health” and 31% disagreed with this statement. Another 20% neither agreed or disagreed with the statement “I am in excellent health.” Yet overall, it shows that less than half of the respondents believe their health is excellent which would suggest attention to medical benefits prior to separation would be a top priority for many. 

With 49 percent stating I am in excellent health it begged the question then why 89 percent of the respondents reported some level of disability. 52 percent of the respondents indicated they separated with a medical disability rating of 50 percent or greater. Almost 20 percent of the respondents were 90-100 percent disabled and an equal number stated that they did not have any level of disability. Of those that indicated they had no disability at all, 70 percent of them (119 respondents) were badged SOF operators.

If you are separated, retired, or medically retired, what is your level of disability? Count %

10-29%

62 11%
30-49% 80 14%
50-69% 91 16%
70-89% 97 17%
90-100% 106 19%
I do not have any level of disability 119 21%
Total 555 100%

 


Planning And Preparation for Civilian Life:  Of the respondents, only 41 percent did any kind of planning for the transition to civilian life.  Of those that did do planning, 72 percent 12 months or less.

Many military service members take career assessments at some point prior to separation. Forty-four percent of the respondents to the survey indicated that the career assessments they took prior to separation did not leave them better prepared to begin a new professional career. Only 23% of the respondents agreed with the statement “the career assessments I have taken prior to separation from military service have better prepared me to begin a new professional career.

Because of the nature of the military, 66 percent of the members in the survey said, that they’d be willing to move 100 miles or more to secure the job of their choice.

In another surprising revelation, only 59 percent of the respondents reported having a professional resume done before departing the military. With no professional feedback on their most important document, their work history and this is particularly important when translating military skills to the civilian workplace.

Only half of the respondents reported that they’d built a professional network that would help them secure job opportunities in the civilian marketplace.

Sixty-two percent of the respondents indicated that they had “developed interviewing skills that would allow them to translate their military knowledge, skills, and experiences so that non-military professionals could understand and appreciate what I could offer.” This left 38 percent who indicated they had not developed effective interviewing skills.

When we return with Part II, we’ll look at some of the financial planning and more importantly what is out there for transitional troops to help ease the transition for the troops into the civilian workforce.

Photo: DOD