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My First Labor Day in the Civilian Work Force

September 1st, 2014

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Dear Friends and Supporters,

Today is Labor Day, which is always celebrated on the first Monday in September. Labor Day honors and is a celebration of the American Labor Movement. It is dedicated to the social and economic achievements American workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our great nation.

I served 10 years as an active duty U.S. Navy SEAL, deploying three times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a lead sniper, breacher, JTAC, and navigator. Today I work as the Director of Programs and Outreach for the Gary Sinise Foundation. I am 41 years old and this is the first Labor Day I have ever celebrated in my life as part of the civilian work force.

I am a transitioning veteran.

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Today I use my military experience in almost every facet of my work. Of course it helps that I work for a foundation that helps active duty service members and veterans. There are obvious cross-overs that anyone could quickly see. For example, using my military experience to relate to the rigors, hardships and struggles service members have faced during combat. I use my military experience in other ways too, but before I talk about that let me talk a little bit about who we are as veterans.


I’m not going to give you a bunch of statistics of who veterans are. I’m going to talk from experience and what I know. Those who I served with believed deeply in the ideals of America and have a profound respect for those who have gone before us. We hold men like Washington, Lincoln, King Jr., General MacArthur and women like Betsy Ross, Sara Hale, and Clara Barton in the highest and most sacred places of our hearts. While others in our generation know the stories of sports heroes, we know the stories of men like Axelson, Murphy, Dietz, Monsoor and Kyle. It has often been said that the men and women of America have always been Her greatest resource and we believe this with every fiber of our being and beat of our heart—men and women who helped make America strong, gave Her freedom and provided the peace She needed to prosper.

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During the years after September 11th, 2001, we have gathered our courage and fortitude and deployed multiple times. We have left the land and the people that we love to walk in a place that is foreign to us and face the harsh and violent conditions of combat to protect our way of life. Along the way we have fought valiantly, we have taken life, we have buried our friends, we have faced the toughest of environments with the barest of comforts, we have lost years away from our families, wives, and children, and we carry the weight and burden of all these things. But we also know in a way others could only hope to, the depths and bonds of brotherhood, the true love and faithfulness of family, the immense honor of fighting for what you believe in and something that is greater than yourself, and the true and overwhelming joy of coming home. Collectively, as a whole, we represent the pride, sacrifice, and courage that makes America the greatest nation on earth.

After over a decade of war, many of us are transitioning into the civilian work force. Many of us wonder if there will ever be another way of importance and significance that we can contribute to our country like we did in the military. We want to be part of something that has purpose. We want to be part of a mission. We want to be part of a team. We are willing to do whatever it takes to see that mission succeed. We want to win. While we are contributing to the civilian work force, we want to spend time with our families to make up for the time we lost. We want to watch our children grow in an environment of peace with opportunities and rewards for them if they are willing to work hard. We want to be part of our communities and see that community thrive.

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Today, we as veterans use many of the skills we learned in the military. When we deployed to an area, we had to learn the atmospherics of that environment. We had to form relationships and allies among the locals, and we had to train them so that they could fight alongside us. We had to analyze data and intelligence. We had to use our complete mission planning skills to collect and organize information so we could mitigate potential risks and maximize the chance for mission success. We were constantly trouble shooting logistical problems, dealing with cultural and language barriers and having to think on our feet to make split-second decisions when the bullets started flying. We used leadership skills to mentor and train those that came after us. We are problem solvers, decision-makers and relationship builders. We are willing to work long and hard hours. We are tough. We have a strategic and tactical mindset. We know how to function as a unit and put the mission above self. We are ambitious because we want to continue to contribute and see the country that we fought so hard to defend continue to become stronger.

Today, I use many of the skills in my current job. From analyzing data to help improve our existing programs at the Gary Sinise Foundation to using my interpersonal skills to build relationships with other organizations we might partner with for a strategic purpose.

There are many companies out there in the civilian sector who are trying to help as well. GE’s Get Skills to Work program is accelerating skills training for U.S. veterans, helping veterans and employers translate military skills to advanced manufacturing jobs and empowering employers with tools to recruit and mentor veterans. By doing a quick search on the internet, you can quickly learn about a number of companies that are willing to give veterans all the tools to get started on a new career path.

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It is an exciting time to be a veteran with the vast opportunities that are available to you in the civilian workforce and it’s an exciting time to hire a veteran with the immense experience and strong and adaptive mindset they bring to the workplace.

On this Labor Day, there is a new force in the American Labor Movement that we can celebrate. One that has and will continue to be dedicated to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our great nation—the transitioning veteran.

Semper Fortis,

-William “Billy” Wagasy
Director of Programs & Outreach, Gary Sinise Foundation