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    From Boots to Suits

    By Jon Frieman.

    I grew up in an upper-class suburb of New York City, graduated from a public high school, and received a bachelor’s degree from a private university in Florida, but unlike 99.5% of my contemporaries, I received an active duty commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.

    Did I mention I am also Jewish?

    Yup, it’s an unusual path for sure, but as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a Soldier.

    You know those photo shoots at Disney World where you dress up in costume and they superimpose you on the cover of a magazine?  There I was: a six-year-old, unsmiling, camouflaged, badass on the cover of Soldier of Fortune Magazine.  And six years later, on September 11th, 2001, I knew that serving my country was my destiny.

    The military is the greatest leadership factory in the world, and I know that it—through tough love and mistakes—transformed me into the man I am today.  I met lifelong friends from around the nation and around the world, accomplished things I never thought possible, and still had time to let loose.  I mean, the Army paid me to jump out of airplanes—is there a better job?

    That being said, it’s not all fun and games.  I spent three months in Iraq and Kuwait in 2011, and then an additional nine months in Egypt in 2014.  The Army life is also a grind and one that takes its toll on the psyche of you and your family.  For example, I have a friend with no legs and many more with invisible wounds.

    While the Army taught us everything we needed to know about weapons, vehicles, leadership, and tactics, it never taught us how to leave it all behind.  It’s been almost three years since I left active duty, and part of me still looks, feels, and speaks like a Soldier.

    At age 25, I made the decision to leave the life of an Army Captain behind to pursue a career in finance like my father and brother.  Sporting the kind of deep tan one could only get from a desert “vacation,” I arrived at my first interview in Manhattan dressed in a navy Brooks Brothers suit, ready to learn about banking and find my new home.  Instead, I was regaled by stories of East Hampton homes, commission checks, and generating fees by one of the leading fund managers at the firm.  Apparently, client service and ethics weren’t important enough to mention in the interview.  

    Ask any veteran: the biggest schism between the veteran and civilian world is values.  To paraphrase “A Few Good Men:” The military uses words like honor, code, and loyalty, and we use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. Many civilians use these words as a punchline.  I went from a world where my co-workers were my family to a place where clients were just a dollar sign.

    On my first day of my first post-Army job (at a different bank than mentioned above), a 50-something secretary asked if I had killed anyone.  I winked at her and jokingly said, “Yes, but not in the Army.”  

    Was this real life? Were people that oblivious to the needs and values of veterans?  Did I make the right decision to leave?

    For a while, I felt rudderless and didn’t know who I was without the American flag on my shoulder.  I had a luxurious apartment, expensive clothing, and a beautiful girlfriend, but I would spend my nights alone and depressed, unsure of why I was unhappy.  For someone who never “drank the Army Kool-Aid,” I couldn’t believe that I, too, was struggling with the transition.

    Though it’s been a difficult road of soul searching, I’m finally in a place in my post-Army career where I can be truly happy.  I still have the desire to serve my community and country, and it’s difficult to see my uniform folded in my closet—unused—but I joined an incredible tech startup that mirrors the camaraderie of my old unit. I also play in a wood-bat, fast-pitch, baseball league to channel my competitive spirit, and I mentor an 11-year old boy with the Big Brother Big Sister program to give back to my community.

    Though much has changed over the last 50 years in the way of appreciating our veterans, there’s still a long way to go for bridging the mutual understanding between veterans and civilians.  Because we no longer have mandatory service, the majority of Americans have never served and are unsure how to treat veterans; and the modern corporate lifestyle is an unfamiliar, cold, soulless beast compared to life in the military.  This schism causes veteran-related behavioral issues to skyrocket (compared to countries like Israel with compulsory service).

    That being said, you don’t have to pick up a rifle to serve your country, and you don’t have to be a veteran to have empathy for our servicemen and servicewomen.  Go to your local VFW and spend time with the Vietnam Vets, donate to post-9/11 veterans charities, and simply let our generation of veterans know you’d love to have #aconvo.

    If you’d like to learn more about helping veterans, feel free to reach out to me as j21frieman@gmail.com.

    Jon Frieman is a Sales Manager at Taboola, the world’s largest online discovery platform. He is concurrently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Johns Hopkins University.  Jon graduated from the University of Miami (FL) with a BA in Political Science and spent four years on active duty as an Infantry Officer with the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.

    stevie benanty

    stevie benanty

    Founder of a conversation.

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