Do military retirees have a positive impact on our community?
Yes, and it’s more than you may think.
By Kelly Murphy-Redd, CEcD
- Florida has the highest number of retiring or separating United States Air Force members in the country.
- Florida ranks #1 out of the top 10 states.
- Northwest Florida has more than double the number than the rest of the state combined.
- 708 out of the 850 in Northwest Florida are located at Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field.
Ok, so what does this mean and how does it affect our community?
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Col. Gary Dorman, Commander of the 1st Special Operations Mission Support Group at Hurlburt, Field.
I asked him why so many military folks retire here.
He immediately mentioned the beauty and quality of life. But more than that, he talked about how welcoming our community is to the military. He has lived all over the world and along with a tiny town in Germany, we are the most welcoming and supportive community he has experienced.
He is very enthusiastic about the fact that the cost of living is lower. For example, his research shows that a management consultant would have to earn $175,773 in Denver to achieve the same lifestyle if he earned $145,306 in the Fort Walton Beach area. A program manager would have to earn $169,452 in Washington D.C. as opposed to earning $92,798 in Fort Walton Beach. Coming from Washington, D.C., Col. Dorman finds homes are less expensive along with many things including his pet’s vet bill.
I asked him why transitioning military members entering the community workforce is important. What do they offer to employers?
Col. Dorman said he can’t overstate the experience these individuals bring to our community.
The list is impressive:
- Veterans are highly trained in fields such as civil engineering, medical, network operations, aircraft maintenance, and cyber to name a few. There are electricians, HVAC technicians, carpenters and more.
- They are highly educated. The military stresses education. Advanced education is tied to promotion. 58% of transitioning USAF members have an associate’s degree or above. The education never stops. Many have multiple degrees.
- They are well-rounded. Having lived in many countries, these individuals can relate to many kinds of people and understand different perspectives and cultures.
- They are reliable. They are trained to be on time and productive. When they say they are going to do something; they do it.
- They are taught to be leaders and they also know how to be followers. They are trained to work as a team and be responsible for their individual actions.
- They bring the soft skills many employers say are often lacking in employees. They are courteous and respectful. From a human resources perspective, these individuals have been trained in equal opportunity employment, workplace safety, etc. They have had formal training in how to operate in a professional environment, fairness, supervisory skills and the process of formal feedback. They have been tested to demonstrate they know the technical side of the job. They have been observed at work by superiors to confirm they have the skills needed to safely and effectively do their jobs.
These qualities offer our community a competitive advantage when we hope to attract employers to our area.
The area of security clearances offers a huge competitive advantage.
99.7% of the retiring or separating USAF members in the Panhandle have clearances of Secret or higher
“A low unemployment rate is good for a guy like me who is looking for a job, but not good for employers looking for qualified candidates. They may feel like they’re fishing in a pond that is fished out. By actively engaging with transitioning military members and educating them on local opportunities, we can really help to improve the local talent pipeline for our employers.” Col. Dorman
According to Col. Dorman, there are over 650 jobs within 50 miles of Eglin AFB and Hurlburt that require secret clearances. Employers can save the approximately $40K cost of a security clearance and the months or years needed to complete them, by tapping into this ready-made retiree labor pool.
In addition, when a defense contractor hires a retired military individual, that individual has credibility with the military with whom he or she must work. He or she knows the “language.” He or she is known in the military community and knows the people immediately. Not only does the employer save money on clearances but they save time by hiring someone who already knows the military culture.
The colleges in our community also benefit from the active and retired military and their families. The military member who has served four years and has been honorably discharged has GI Bill benefits that pays for a four year degree (tuition, books and housing). That member can use these benefits for themselves or transfer these benefits to his or her children. The Air Force also pays for professional development. It’s a win-win-win. The individual or their children can obtain an education at no cost, the college receives the money and future employers get a highly trained, professional employee educated on the Air Force dime.
We have an advantage regarding talent attraction as well.
The military is obligated to pay for a retiring or separating member to move to his or her “home of record.” These families could relocate in our community for what it would cost to move them to their home of record and we can benefit in all the ways outlined here. Local employers can avoid paying relocation costs. This means growing our tax base, families buying more homes, etc.
I asked Col. Dorman what he saw as challenges regarding the military member getting a civilian job.
He says we need to find better ways of connecting these individuals to opportunities. They are used to a military structure and are now faced with a bewildering set of options. They need help in understanding a different “language.” Learning how to match their skills and find the right job is paramount. Employers may not understand how those skills translate to their particular needs. The retiree may not know how to communicate those skills so the employer understands. Col. Dorman has started a networking group called Chiefs and Eagles to try and bridge some of these communication gaps. There is a program where a retiring or separating military member with six months left can be given a “permissive TDY” to work for a company for six months. The Air Force continues to pay for that “employee.” The company and the employee are given the opportunity to learn about each other and decide if it is a good fit. There is another program called Hiring Our Heroes launched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2011. For more information go to https://www.hiringourheroes.org/
I concluded by asking Col. Dorman what he thought about the families of the retirees in the community.
He said it is a huge impact on the community. These families are involved in their churches, volunteer in community organizations and become valued members of the community. Col. Dorman says his wife has blossomed here more than at any previous location, mainly due to the welcoming nature of the community and their church. They like the community so much they plan to retire here and finally “put down roots.” “Coming from D.C. where there are millions of people, the pace is quicker and your friends from work typically live too far away to socialize. That distance and separation makes it hard to have more than superficial relationships. Here, people look forward to seeing you and care about what’s happening in your life. This is a strong community - caring and neighborly.”
We thank Col. Dorman for his insight and support to the EDC. We thank him and every military member for their extraordinary service to our country.