'If you would've asked me, when I was sitting on a carrier in the Gulf in 2006, what I'd be doing after leaving the military, I never would've thought I'd be working for a beverage company in HR,' says Tim Shubzda, a Navy pilot who deployed three times, including once in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, before joining Dr Pepper Snapple's human resources department.
Tim's not alone. Many veterans find it tricky to transition from the military back into the civilian workforce. That's why he was glad to find HEROES, which stands for Honoring, Engaging and Retaining Our Exceptional Service members, an employee resource group (ERG) at DPS that brings together veterans as well as employees interested in supporting veterans, first responders and their families.
'All of a sudden I had this instant network of people who had walked in my shoes before and understood what it's like to transition to the private sector,' says Katie Ball, a Navy commander who joined HEROES shortly after being hired, where she now heads up the company's leadership development and training program. 'It's a feeling of inclusiveness and support that's unmatched.'
What is HEROES?
'The idea around an ERG is to gather people with a similar background, get them together and get them talking,' says Nickole Keenan, who sits on the HEROES board. The group currently has nearly 180 members who are military veterans, first responders or employees with an interest in issues affecting those communities.
Members meet every month to connect with one another or hear inspiring presentations from speakers like Stephen Holley, president and CEO of Carry the Load and former Navy SEAL, and Medal of Honor recipients Leroy Petry and Dana Bowman, both retired U.S. Army. Leroy and Dana shared stories of overcoming obstacles and finding success after the loss of limbs during their service.
'The transition from soldier to civilian is a difficult one, no matter how long you served,' says Ryan Smith, a former Army field artillery officer and one of the group's founding members. He helped start HEROES because he recognized how well the skills he learned in the military can translate to the business world. 'People want to know their job matters, that what they do brings value to an organization, and the military does an incredible job of feeding that.'
Developing Business Leaders
'When you think of vets, people tend to automatically think of the battlefield and deployment and being away from families,' Shubzda says. 'There's still a bit of a struggle to understand how they can join your team and make an impact.'
At first, Smith says, corporate America seems like a whole new world. 'Everything changes, from the vernacular that's used in the organization to the culture, even what you wear,' he says. 'You're nervous because you may have experienced a ton of success in the military, but now this is new, and you're not sure what tomorrow will bring.'
HEROES gives these veterans a sense of normalcy and community, not to mention access to a network of potential friends and mentors. 'That's a value that's never going to be captured on a P&L,' says Smith.
'Corporate America has come a long way in understanding the capabilities that vets can bring to the business world, but we still have a long way to go,' echoes Shubzda.
More than just an employee support network, HEROES members also come together to sponsor community events for military, first responders and their families. They've organized fundraising and volunteer drives for organizations including Carry the Load, Snowball Express, Homes for Our Troops and the Fisher House Foundation.
When the nonprofit group 22 Kill organized the #22pushupchallenge to raise awareness of the suicide epidemic among veterans, HEROES members rallied almost 100 employees to participate in less than a day. The group also sends care packages to troops deployed overseas, complete with DPS treats like sporting goods for entertainment on the base, beverages and T-shirts.
'We do it to provide them with a taste of home,' says Smith. 'Those of us who've been deployed realize how important that is; it lifts morale.'
'It's important to continue honoring our servicemen and women even after they've retired from service,' says Keenan. 'Especially at a time when it's all too easy to forget about war and the sacrifices they make. It's part of the HEROES mission.'
'If we keep the word out about respecting, honoring and serving those who served for us, it's going to show these people that they're not forgotten,' she says. 'We're always thinking about you, your kids, your family.'