Veteran’s Perspective: Don’t Overlook the Value of Education in Your Military-to-Civilian Transition

By Ricardo Chamorro
PenFed Credit Union

After I graduated from West Point as a U.S. Army intelligence officer, I served most of my military service abroad, everywhere from Germany and Italy to Bosnia and Iraq. Living abroad, with so many diverse colleagues and assignments, was some of the best education I ever received.

Still, when I transitioned into the civilian world in 2005, I knew I had more to learn. Knowing I wanted to enter the finance industry, I decided to attend business school.

It wasn’t an easy decision. After going from a rigorous undergraduate educational program to a rigorous military career, the idea of beginning a demanding graduate program was daunting.

Today, I work for PenFed, a credit union that serves the national defense community and those who support them, and I hear many similar sentiments from transitioning servicemembers: “I’ve been to combat. I’ve already learned more than most people my age.” Or, “I’m a veteran with a college degree – why do I need more education?” Or, “I can get a great job, and a great paycheck, right out of the service. Why should I take on debt?”

Veterans coming out of the military have the ability to think boldly and strategically, to execute and manage, and to solve problems creatively. These are many of the skills business school teaches with experiential learning methodology. What I didn’t have, however, was the technical financial education that I would need to enter the fast-paced world of mergers and acquisitions strategy with a high-profile financial institution. If I hadn’t chosen to continue my education, I would have been at a disadvantage, regardless of my unique military background.

Education is an important way to complement the skills, confidence and leadership experience service members gain during their time in service. By “education,” I don’t just mean an elite graduate school or a pricey degree. I encourage my fellow veterans to look at alternative educational resources, whether that means using the GI Bill for a licensing or certification program, reading textbooks on your own, taking an online course, or apprenticing under a mentor.