Former Navy Lieutenant Commander on his military transition to the US

Mark Gill is a former Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. Mark left in 2015 after 25 years’ service. He is currently living in the US and said there was little positives he could take away from his military transition after struggling to find his way in the job market.

Mark, on retirement held the rank of Lieutenant Commander and his last appointment was as Commanding Officer, 857 Naval Air Squadron. In the role, he led and managed 100 staff, approximately half of them at any time were deployed to Afghanistan maintaining a commitment there in support of NATO operations. Mark 'owned' three Sea King helicopters capable of conducting surveillance and the equipment to support them. The 45-year-old added: “As the CO I was responsible for everything the Squadron did, engineering standards, discipline, operations, morale, etc. Clearly I delegated to my more senior staff, with specialists in engineering, intelligence, pilot and observer skills all playing significant roles in our collective output.”

Being a CO was the highlight of his career said Mark. “I also particularly enjoyed my period as the UK liaison officer to a US Navy admiral embarked in a US carrier, working alongside our ally and seeing how they worked 'up close and personal' whilst still watching over our strategic partnership,” he added.

Mark left because he said he no longer wished to accept the domestic disruption which can be part of service life. “I did not believe I would be promoted and in my current rank I did not see it likely that I would achieve a satisfactory balance between work and family life.” Mark was eligible for Career Transition Partnership support services but as he moved to the US, after his wife took a civil service job in the embassy, he said he saw no realistic option to take advantage of the CTP and waived his resettlement rights in return for a shorter notice period.

I found myself unable to break into the job market because I didn’t have the ‘right’ experience when I remain convinced I could do the jobs advertised.
— Mark

The main challenge of military transition was to accept that life as a civilian is different, said Mark. He explained: “Whilst I knew it would be different, I did not appreciate how inflated job adverts can be (many seem to want everything imaginable and more in return for meager compensation) and how little regard there can be for military skills which do not have some form of civilian accreditation. I found myself unable to break into the job market because I didn't have the 'right' experience when I remain convinced I could do the jobs advertised. I admit, my location hindered this further, the US defence industry is understandably wary of non-US citizens.”

In preparing for his transition, Mark said he relied on his wife who has significant experience as a hiring manager within the civil service, in shaping his CV and application letters. He added: “She pointed out how to make it more attractive to a civilian employer. I did receive multiple leaflets from charities and other sources of help. However, previous attempts to utilise these for financial advice and career advice have proved frustrating. The advice was simplistic and of limited value, so my wariness and location combined resulted in my electing not to seek help there.”

He said there was little positives he could take away from his military transition. “The military processes treated me as a service number, not a human being which was disappointing. The pension was delayed without explanation. Overall I felt like I was an inconvenience to all concerned rather than a veteran separating after 25 years.” He believes in order to improve military transition, the system should “treat the individual like it cares about them”.  He added: “By the time I left I was even more certain I had made the right decision and felt more strongly that the Navy and MoD had lost its way on personnel matters.”

On leaving the Royal Navy, Mark looked for management jobs and wider defence related roles, particularly looking for something that would allow him to use his aviation, warfare and management in combination. “The US security clearance problems hindered this and I then looked at wider management. Sadly, here it is expected that you already have industry experience to be a manager, further frustrating my plans. I did work at the British Embassy as a logistics manager before leaving to work full time on a Master's degree. I've now completed this and I again work for the British Government supporting civil servants in the US,” he said.

Mark's current role is supporting the UK's law enforcement representatives in the US, a role he said which has been easier to fill with his military background and experience working with classified material.

Mark added: “I hope, on our return to the UK, to combine the management, aviation and recent degree in ergonomics in a defense aviation role, considering the human in the flying environment. Examples would be cockpit design, considering the information management challenge aircrew face with modern warfare. Alternatively, I may look for a challenge in personnel management, using the industrial psychology part of the degree in explaining potential workforce implications of policy changes to senior management. But it all rather depends upon my wife's options when her current posting comes to its end.”

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