I’ve spent most of my life around people in uniform. Although I never served in the military, I grew up at West Point, where my Dad was a civilian professor for 25 years (after an earlier 4 years as an instructor and later department chair at the Army Language School — now the Defense Language Institute — in Monterrey, California). And for the last 24 years I’ve taught and advised US Marines and several joint commands, including US Defense Information School (DINFOS). So I’m around uniforms a lot.
And every now and then I get invited to work with organizations in their work with the military or veterans.
I was especially honored this winter to serve as moderator at JP Morgan Chase headquarters for the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) initiative to help returning female veterans mainstream into positions at financial firms, Serving Women Who Served.
In my opening comments I noted that the US does a very good job in preparing, training, and equipping our warfighters to project power around the globe. But historically it has done a particularly bad job helping those who serve return to civilian life. Indeed, the very phrase “red tape” refers to the way veterans’ files were bundled after the Civil War. Vets then had to withstand bureaucratic nightmares just to receive the basic support that was promised them — an eerily familiar refrain even today. Today we have a network of voluntary organizations working to help veterans, including FWA’s Serving Women Who Served.
The starpower that night came from two who served: LtCol Elizabeth Ortiz, the current head of public affairs in New York City for the US Air Force, and JP Morgan executive Theresa Piasta, a former US Army captain who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Iraq.
LtCol Ortiz, who grew up in an Air Force family, deployed five times in ten years, including twice to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and to Djibouti on the African coast at the mouth of the Red Sea. But she noted that “For me, being deployed is the norm. Transitioning to a normal life is going to be the challenge.” After 20 years in uniform, where someone else determined what she would do and wear, where she would live, and many other basic decisions, she feared having to learn a whole new way of being, from developing a resume to looking for a job.
Theresa Piasta told how her success landing and thriving at JP Morgan was due to former servicepeople — 37 in all — who took time out of their busy lives to help and to mentor her while she was transitioning. She now pays that forward, mentoring others returning to civilian life.
Panelist Maureen Casey, Head of Military and Veterans Affairs, at JPMorgan Chase, said, “We’re here not only to recognize the tremendous sacrifice women veterans make on our behalf, but also to raise awareness about the unique challenges they face when transitioning out of the military,”
More than 125 guests attended the event, including representatives from financial services firms and from veterans services organizations. Women account for 8 percent or Iraq/Afghanistan era veterans, and are an underserved community among veterans.
The evening was organized by FWA board members Raleigh Mayer (who is a fellow in the Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership) and Andrea Esposito. It was introduced by FWA President Kimberly Weinrick.