By Danielle DeSimone

When Roger Miranda first began working for a tech startup company in Austin, Texas, he immediately noticed that in an office full of mid to late twenty year-olds, he was the oldest person there.

But that wasn’t the only difference between him and his new coworkers.

Prior to working in the Texas capital’s hip downtown area, Miranda was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army.

Luckily for Miranda, adjusting to these differences with his new colleagues and braving the civilian work environment wasn’t too difficult, as he been preparing for this transition out of the military for over a year through the USO Pathfinder® program.

Building a Successful Military Career

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Miranda started his military career in college Army ROTC. After graduation, he went on to serve 22 years, deploying three times – twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.

Photo credit Roger Miranda

Former Lt. Col. Roger Miranda served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, during which he was deployed three times - twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.

Miranda was familiar with the USO throughout his service. When traveling to and from home for deployments, he would always stop into a USO airport center for a moment alone and to rest. When he was stationed in Hawaii, he and his family would use the USO airport centers on their long trips back to the continental U.S. to visit family.

“As a member of the military, any time we traveled, just knowing that the USO was a little safe haven for us, and we could go there as a family, amidst the traveling craziness – it was a place to relax and just a little piece of home at the USO,” Miranda said.

But it wasn’t until he was preparing to retire from the military that Miranda truly made use of the USO’s supportive programs for service members and their families. A fellow soldier recommended that Miranda look into the USO Pathfinder program for his transition process, calling it “one of the best-kept secrets in the military.”

The USO Pathfinder program helps service members and military spouses through the process of transitioning out of military life through customized action plans and one-on-one advising on job-searching, finances, education and more.

For Many, Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life is a Challenge

For a population that regularly struggles with finding employment after transitioning out of military service, finding the right kind of support is crucial.

Studies show that veterans not only struggle with finding employment after retirement, they also struggle with underemployment; that is, working jobs beneath their skill level. Nearly one third of veteran job seekers are underemployed – that’s double the underemployment rate for civilians.

Service members are faced with several challenges that make it difficult to find jobs or jobs that align with the work they did while in service. Oftentimes, service members and veterans simply do not know how to translate their military roles into civilian terms, making it difficult to determine if they are qualified for a job.

Aside from the additional challenges of acclimating to a new work culture and tackling their financial planning, service members also struggle to overcome negative stereotypes of veterans that could impact their employment eligibility.

“People know what they generally see in the movies,” Miranda said. “Unless they know somebody personally who has actually served in the military, the only perception that civilians have of people in the military are the stereotypes they see on the big screen.”

In the wake of all of this, preparing for a civilian career can seem daunting for a majority of the military community. That’s why the USO Pathfinder program exists: to provide the resources necessary for transitioning service members to take control of their own future.

Making the Leap from Fatigues to Button-Down Shirts

18 months before retiring, Miranda set up his first appointment with his USO Pathfinder Scout, a special transition advisor, to discuss career options once he left the military. Together, they constructed a customized Transition Plan with plenty of resources to help Miranda utilize the skills and knowledge from his career of creating simulation-based training for the Army to the civilian world.

Former Army Lt. Col. Roger Miranda, pictured here with his wife, served for 22 years before utilizing the USO Pathfinder program to help navigate his transition to a civilian career after retirement. | Photo credit USO Photo

Miranda and his Scout met monthly to ensure he was still on the transition path they had laid out, but the former soldier also went to several USO Pathfinder events that included resume reviews, mock job interviews, financial planning advice and more.

“From the training, to the networking to the resources that the Pathfinder program helped identify for me … it’s what transition should be,” Miranda said. “It’s a stressful process and I was very anxious at times, but at the end of the day, when I got out [of the military], I had a job. And a job that I want.”

Miranda also tackled additional training that helped prepare him for the civilian workplace and was later able to translate his knowledge management skills into a job at a startup company in Austin. When he officially retired from the military, he did so without the fear of the unknown of what came next.

Still, adjusting to civilian life has had its growing pains. When asked what was one of his biggest challenges in transitioning to an office job, Miranda noted the difference in work culture.

“Transitioning away from the military environment where everything was very structured and very process-driven, and then having to adjust to a different type of corporate office environment, where there’s not always a clear process for everything,” Miranda said. He now gets to go to work in jeans and a t-shirt every day which is “almost a 180-degree departure from what the military was.”

And of course, one of the biggest challenges that many transitioning service members face is the loss of their military community. His bond with his fellow service members was Miranda’s favorite part of service.

“Camaraderie is created through shared hardships and there’s no greater hardship than being deployed and going out in a combat zone. So, the time spent there with people, because you’re working with them literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week … it’s the best of times and the worst of times” Miranda said. “But through that, you’re always with the same people, just doing really hard things together. And that really helps build a bond.”

Today, Miranda is learning to form a different sort of camaraderie with his coworkers in Austin. They are excited to take his advice on how to optimize work processes, where he gets to bring a bit of Army efficiency to the table, as well as befriend a veteran and bridge that military-civilian divide.

Through his involvement with the USO Pathfinder program and thanks to the USO’s corporate partner USAA, Miranda was also given the incredible opportunity to travel to Miami and go to Super Bowl LIV.

Miranda is grateful for his USO Fort Hood, Texas, team for providing him with the support that has made such a transition possible, summarizing the experience with three simple words: “Best program ever.”