Our Forgotten Veterans

As I got going early in the morning on Memorial Day weekend, I took time to collect my thoughts on what this holiday means and stands for. I think of my father-in-law, who sacrificed time in his life away from his family, toured Vietnam twice, and witnessed the underbelly of a war I cannot even imagine. I think about all the young men and women who gave life, limb, and mental anguish for our freedom.

I’ve heard it said the Korean War was “The Forgotten War;” I suppose that’s true. I have only known one Korean veteran, and he passed away long ago – miss you, Pops! As I reminisce, I wonder if we are forgetting more than wars…we are forgetting our veterans and all they have to offer us…and all that we owe them. And in this forgetting, we all lose something.

As managers, we’re losing the opportunity to hire talented veterans: individuals who possess terrific skill sets and behaviors that can be a huge benefit to our companies. I think there are many negative misnomers or stigmas about military personnel. Perhaps some are legitimate, perhaps not, but here’s what I see. I see veterans understanding clear company goals and trying to execute them. I see veterans not getting caught up in petty office politics and personality differences and working for the common good of the company. I see them taking risks and being responsible.  I see veterans taking on tasks that others may believe is below them; much like Nike’s tagline, they ‘just do it’. We hear a lot about building trust in the work environment: our military workers have our backs. Veterans of all ages are educated, experienced, trained, and disciplined. We should all be advocates and promote military veterans in the civilian workforce.

Wise business leaders can take action and develop a hiring strategy which focuses on finding and recruiting veterans. Not only is it a smart hiring decision, the state and federal governments actually pay to get behind this noble cause. The State of Alaska, through the Federal Department of Labor, allows employers to take a tax credit for hiring certain veterans who meet the eligibility requirements. Some of these credits exceed over $9,000! In addition, the State of Alaska has its own credit program that can be given to employers who hire seasonal or permanent employees who are veterans. This tax credit is far simpler to execute and really is a no brainer. And yet few businesses are taking advantage of these opportunities.

While our veterans have so much to offer us as employers, what can we do or say to assist our military and to show a bare minimum of appreciation and thanks for their commitment, their courage, and their willingness to work in such dangerous, inhospitable and thankless conditions? We can write our legislators and campaign for better living wages for current military force members and retiring veterans. With all the talk about disparity of pay in America, I can’t think of a profession that is paid more unfairly than our military personnel. There is a wide chasm between what is paid in the private sector versus the military sector;they aren’t even comparable. The metrics used in determining wages by HR pros are called compensable factors, such as: how hazardous is the job; how geographically undesirable; how many individuals are managed; on-call time, advanced degree of skills or knowledge required, etc. The only reason I can see why our military are paid so poorly is that historically, combatants were drafted by governments, who could set whatever wage they choose. Therefore the glass ceiling (yes, I went there) has traditionally been set low. With our volunteer forces this should no longer be the case. We need to pay military personnel equitably.

In Alaska, we have the opportunity to sit next our congressmen and women at a soccer match, be served by them at a Saturday market, or speak with them at small accessible business venues and forums. Our small voice but important messages can be heard, especially here in Alaska. At the very least, we should write or contact our congressperson today to share our thoughts about pay disparity and how we need to pay our military a higher living wage. As an added bonus, Alaska’s own Dan Sullivan sits on the Armed Services Committee and is in the position that can make change happen.

In a couple days Americans will commemorate D-Day. The World War II veterans from the the Greatest Generation stormed the beaches of Omaha, Juneau, Gold, and Sword. They gave it all for us. The service men and women of Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan did too. Let’s not give them a hero’s welcome and then forget about their sacrifices a month later. Let’s remember and honor our forgotten veterans. Let’s act by engaging with our veterans. It’s the very least we can do.



About the Author

Kirk A. Henke is lifelong Alaskan and avid outdoor enthusiast. He began his career working in a locally run family business and understands the challenges of entrepreneurship. He is passionate about balancing the needs of business with people operations. With more 20 years of human resource, benefits, risk management and payroll experience, Henke consults with small to medium-sized organization leaders to guide them through laws, regulations, and the complexities of business management.

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