By Juan Perez
U.S. Army Special Forces detachments are highly effective force multipliers because they are masters of networking. When I first deployed as commander of my first detachment I saw this fact first hand. The engineer sergeant began to establish a good working relationship with the most influential local logisticians, suppliers, and vendors. The intelligence sergeant talked to many people and got the inside scoop on local gossip and news. We would train hundreds of foreign military personnel who would later go on to train their peers, and before long, we influenced thousands and promoted U.S. policy and interests in the region.
When it comes to making the dreaded military-to-civilian transition, many Green Berets may find initially that they are unprepared for the mission. The first thing I realized when I was a year out from transition was that I was lacking a mentor. Mentoring is something that is engineered into the organization of a Special Forces unit. For nearly every specialty in a detachment, there is a senior mentor. The detachment commander will rely heavily on the counsel of his team sergeant and his team’s warrant officer – the two most experienced members of the team.
Likewise, a transitioning Green Beret needs a mentor. In my search, I sought out someone who could understand my experiences and, most importantly, someone who had achieved tremendous success in transition. For me, that person was Army Special Forces Colonel (ret.) Stu Bradin. Stu spent hours coaching me and connecting me to other influencers and thought leaders. Having created his own network, embodied in The Global SOF Foundation, Stu brought me a framework through which I could grow a transition network.
About a month after being coached by Stu, I either met, had dinner or coffee, or corresponded with three CEOs, two VPs, and several directors of well-known companies. My LinkedIn network grew from about 200 to nearly 3,400 connections. I even got a phone call from the president of a multinational company in Europe, and he spent an hour with me, discussing corporate culture. On Stu’s recommendation, I purchased personal (not military-related) business cards. I joined civilian professional organizations and, more importantly, I attended their events. Over time, I collected hundreds of business cards.
As soon as I got home from meeting any number of people, I applied techniques acquired when I was trained in human intelligence operations, and I wrote meeting reports. I catalogued and categorized my contacts based on industry, seniority, region, etc. Most importantly, I remained connected to these new contacts. I sent out the occasional personal note to a select group and so on. It was not long before I was introduced to Joe Musselman, founder and CEO of The Honor Foundation (THF). THF is an organization that focuses on transition education and assistance for Naval Special Warfare personnel. Through further networking and coaching from Joe as well as Phil Dana (VP, THF), I eventually met the CEO and owner of one of the most respected construction companies in the United States and the world. Today, this company has been awarded a $2 billion contract for a project overseas.
The meeting was somewhat serendipitous because it occurred as I attended a small event in Babson College – an elite entrepreneurship school in Massachusetts – in order to promote and inform on the merits of a small start-up called Tactivate. Founded by Jesse Levin, Tactivate was originally created to merge special operations methodology with entrepreneurial approaches. My short talk to the group on behalf of Tactivate centered on how Special Forces planning methodology can transfer over to business development. I made such a good impression on the CEO of the construction company that he handed me his card and told me to call him soon. His son, Austin Conti, a graduate of Babson College, had founded his own company named BuildSourced. BuildSourced encompasses technology solutions for business within the infrastructure segment, such as heavy civil construction, construction management, oil and gas, and even maritime. BuildSourced was created to make companies more efficient in managing their capital assets, as well as their smaller equipment and materials—an area in which the waste of resources is common. It is a revolutionary approach that is more affordable than anything else in the market. Some months after being introduced, I sent a resume to Austin Conti signaling my interest. I received a response within 24 hours, and I was hired as a project manager. During the week of my entry-level training, I introduced a strategic campaign planning method that I had used while in my last assignment at Special Operations Command South, and I adapted it to define and describe BuildSourced’s long term campaign strategy. I wrote it on a blank piece of copy paper and handed the concept over to Austin Conti, BuildSourced’s CEO. Two days later I was informed that I would become the Vice President of Operations for BuildSourced.
Having achieved a highly lucrative and rewarding second career, my family and I have moved to a wonderful part of Northern Virginia where we have finally decided to plant roots, raise our children and make lifelong friends. We love the close-knit community as well as the highly developed infrastructure and schools. I spend my days either traveling around the country in order to interface with key strategic clients, or at home writing company policy and procedures, or interacting via video with our staff, acquiring and imparting knowledge in order to better our product. My CEO and I speak several times a day and enjoy a great working relationship based on trust and performance – two things I honed as a Green Beret. The Global SOF Foundation provides a tremendous mechanism for capitalizing on those skills we have already learned and applied in very dynamic conflict environments. Adapting what we already know to be effective is the key to a successful transition.