No question setting aside a day or even a long weekend to honor veterans is a nice and decent thing to do.
But how about setting aside a career or a way for a veteran to build a career after years of serving his or her country? It's something that Tom Wolzien has thought about -- a lot. He's a Vietnam vet who also happens to be on TiVo's board of directors.
But Wolzien couldn't quite figure out how to help veterans returning from war until he turned to a group of experts.
"As a lowly director and as board members, we meet with employee groups once in awhile," he says. "I had learned that there is an informal vets group at TiVo and I said, 'Shoot, sometime when I'm around, why don't I get together with them?'"
And when he did, the question that came up was: What was TiVo doing for the post-9/11 vets, those who have served in wartime, sometimes on multiple tours, who leave the service with little or no nonmilitary experience? The unanimous answer: Not enough.
Most everyone at the table knew the problem if not the exact statistics. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets is 10 percent, well above the nation's 7.9 percent figure. For women veterans the number stands at 15.5 percent. The 15 or so veterans, reservists and national guardsmen who met with Wolzien kicked around ideas to deal with the job seeker's old conundrum: If a vet can't get hired without experience, how does a vet ever get experience? And someone said: Hey, we have college internships. Why not have military internships? What better way to show hiring managers that the discipline, training, persistence and calm under pressure required of service members translate into valuable skills for the corporate world?
That was April. In June TiVo hired 10 veterans as summer interns. Managers connected them with two mentors, including one veteran, and also introduced them to the company's college interns. It was a way to integrate the veterans into the corporate culture while integrating employees and interns into the world of a military veteran.
OK, so it's not a huge program. Ten paid internships. But it is something and Wolzien says it is something other companies can do to help veterans find a way into the civilian job market.
"What it does is, it provides a start," he says, "and it provides a start that any company can do."
I asked Wolzien if his experience returning from Vietnam was driving his interest in all this. And what he said surprised me. Sure, Vietnam vets received a horrible reception when they returned from that unpopular war. There were no parades. They were called baby-killers. He never heard the words "thank you" until about 10 years ago.
But his job was waiting for him. And, Wolzien says, that was generally true for vets returning from Vietnam. Besides, in the days of conscription everybody had either served in the military or they knew somebody who had.
Hiring managers understood the value of skills learned and character developed in the military. They knew that combat left veterans with searing, terrifying and disturbing images. But they also knew that most veterans manage that trauma; that they don't one day just snap or turn violent.
It's different today, Wolzien tells me. With the all-volunteer military, the nation lives in two different worlds.
"To a great extent, the people who are the line managers or in HR, even most executives today, haven't had any military contact," he says. It can be hard for nonmilitary people to grasp the value of learning to make split-second, life-and-death decisions. It can be hard for them to see that someone who oversees massive convoys might just be a logistical genius. Or that someone who protects high-value computer networks, just might know something about keeping corporate systems safe from cyberattack.
Jordan Cummings, 28, a former Navy cryptology technician, says after leaving the service and taking some college courses, he struggled to find a job that met his potential. Job interviews were almost painful at times.
"If they don't have a connection to the military," says Cummings, a petty officer 3d class who served from 2002 to 2006, "their first thoughts are what they've seen in the movies. 'Oh, you've been in the military. You know how to shoot people.'"
Cummings says he didn't get that sense at TiVo, where he monitors and troubleshoots the company's digital delivery of video and music to familiar TiVo boxes deployed around the world.
"If I wanted to take a project and run with it, it's 'Go ahead,'" he says. "I've been able to have a tangible impact."
It's an impact that has been good for TiVo and one that will help Cummings distinguish himself no matter where he goes from here.