Military veterans in the Denver area met with mentors from American Corporate Partners (ACP) in a unique social setting at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in downtown Denver. Sullivan’s provided drinks and finger foods for the group while they mingled just beyond the restaurant’s front dining room in their own networking space.
Over the sounds of mid-week diners’ conversations and a two-piece blues band, veterans from the different services shared their experiences with one another and several ACP mentors who were present. The event’s aim was for veterans to learn more about the mentorship program offered by ACP.
Military veterans of both the active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines who are seeking new careers are eligible for a one-year mentorship through ACP. Mentors from companies like PepsiCo, American Airlines, IBM, and many others provide interview, resume, and networking advice in person or via email, Skype, or phone.
Veterans are free to reach out and ask questions as often as they want during the year-long mentorship.
Rachel Colorosa, the private dining coordinator for Sullivan’s, hosted the April event I attended in the Denver-area. She greeted each veteran and mentor as they arrived, offering drinks, and coordinating with the rest of the staff and then took some time out to answer a few questions about the gathering and her involvement with ACP.
“I learned about ACP from a server who worked at a sister restaurant in New York City,” said Rachel.
“She called a bunch of us across the nation to host these [meet and greet] events, and absolutely every one of us has been on board. It’s quite an honor that we actually got word of this organization, and now I’m also going to be a mentor.”
Rachel was inspired by the service of her friends and family to volunteer to be a mentor for ACP.
“A lot of them [veterans] have not had any trade school, a lot of them have not done a lot of on the job training,” she said. “So what do you do? At that point there aren’t very many options. As hard as it is for people who have a bachelor’s degree – and a lot of people in Denver who have master’s degrees, and they are not getting jobs right now.”
When she learned about the program, she volunteered to become a mentor and organized the meet and greet for veterans and mentors at Sullivan’s.
She expected the event to draw 30 to 40 people; the dining area set aside for the event was packed full of veterans in business attire, trading contact info and stories of service and transition.
Rachel was looking forward to meeting Preston Schlachter in particular. Preston is an Air Force officer with an interest in exploring event planning after he retires from active service.
“I’m not sure what to expect, because I have a lot to learn from you guys and you have a lot to learn from the mentors,” Rachel said. “So on that end, I just am going to pretend to not know anything – because I need to find out what he knows… I don’t want him to be afraid to bring what he knows to the table.”
As for Preston himself, he is an Air Force major working at the service academy in Colorado Springs. He is tall, soft-spoken, and professional. He wouldn’t seem out-of-place in a corporate setting.
“My background is what most services would consider MWR [morale, welfare, recreation],” he said. “The military version of hospitality management. Food service, lodging, fitness, recreation.”
Preston heard about the ACP program – and the event at Sullivan’s – from a friend with whom he took a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class. The military provides TAP training to service members who are planning on entering the civilian workforce.
Although Rachel Colorosa will be working with him in person, Preston still has an ongoing remote mentorship with a mentor based in California.
“We started out on Skype – a sort of face to face meeting,” Preston said of his first remote mentor. “And that was nice. We shared backgrounds. She’s got a long background in event planning, so she has a lot of advice and wisdom for me. I’m able to pick her brain.”
Although Preston is still serving on active duty, he has already begun to interview for positions outside of the military.
“There was a Dish Network interview I had here in Denver,” he said. “She gave me some key pointers on things. Very proactive, very two-way conversation for us, which is great.”
He emphasized that the program is an individually tailored experience.
“It’s been a natural conversation for us,” he said. “If she doesn’t hear from me, she’ll check in.”
After I spoke with Preston, Navy Senior Chief Andre Smith agreed to speak with me about his plans for when he retires. With 26 years of service under his belt, Andre was looking forward to changing his career.
“I have a couple of options stewing right now,” he said. “I just started a company, Celestial Lighting Services, but I’m also looking to utilize my education and experience and see what my value might be in the corporate world, or maybe working for the federal government.”
Andre Smith’s mentor works for Bristol-Myers Squibb. I asked Andre what he was looking for in his mentorship.
“Some direction,” he said. “Some insight into thinking ‘corporately’, the ability to lay out all of my experiences, education, talent, skills.”
His biggest challenge moving forward?
“Uncertainty. Being able to find the right job, the first time that is going to sustain my current living style.”
Paige Robertson hovered near the middle of the room, eager to engage the veterans who stopped by for the event. Currently she is a recruiting director for URS Corporation, which provides engineering and technical services for the federal government. She offered a warm smile, a firm handshake, and easy conversation. She clearly felt at home among military veterans.
“We are always ranked in the top 5 as far as military-friendly companies,” she said. “We are a federal contractor, so a lot of the projects that we work on obviously are for the federal government, and it just makes perfect sense to hire veterans for that work.”
She was attending the ACP event because of her experience with the program and with her company’s belief in the value of hiring veterans. She is currently in her third year of working with ACP.
“Obviously we believe in the whole program – it’s an honor to work with people who serve, and they tend to make much better employees,” Paige said. “They’re trained, they’re disciplined, they’re dedicated, their heart is in it, and they stick with it. For us they also tend to be long-term employees.”
Before the evening and event wound down, I thanked her for her time, and joined nearby conversations.
Most of the veterans I met had similar hopes about the program: they wanted to explore their options, and to find a workplace where they would be accepted for who they are, valued for the skills they can bring to the table, and given a chance to develop and flourish in a civilian career.
As I left the event where I had been more of a reporter than a participant, I found myself reflecting on my own goals and desires. I’m also searching for a post-military career and understood from conversations at the gathering that having a mentor – or at least someone to point you in the right direction – can make a huge difference in terms of opportunity, and of peace of mind.
Thanks to Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Denver for their part in bringing Veterans together with resources such as ACP to support their transition success.
Jonathan Raab is a veteran of the Afghanistan War. He is currently working on a novel, FLIGHT OF THE BLUE FALCON, about the post-modern war and veteran experiences. You can follow him on Twitter at @jpraab. He lives in Denver, Colorado, a recent transition.