Home: Sanford, N.C.
Rank: Command Sergeant Major, Army
Years in military: 28
His challenge: Buckner was an observer/coach-trainer at the National Training Center and expected his management skills would help land him a job. But the contractors he worked with in the military wanted more business training. “You’re telling me that as a civilian applying for a job with the military in defense contracting, I’m not qualified for the same position?” he says.
The solution: Though he had already earned his BA in business management while in the military, Buckner realized he’d have to go back to school. With money from the GI Bill, he’s now enrolled in the MBA program at Syracuse University, which offers a Veterans Career Training Program that helps adapt military credentials to business-world applications.
Proudest moment: “Next year at this time, I should be ready to graduate!” Buckner says.
Home: New York City
Division: Mass communications specialist, Marine Corps
Years in the military: 8
Her challenge: “I grew up in the Marines, got married, and started a family in the Marines,” Juan says. “I always had that security.” But when her biweekly paycheck disappeared, so did the safety net. By the time of Juan’s separation, she’d racked up $15,000 in credit card debt and car loans. “My best friend’s mom had told me ‘Save. The. Reenlistment. Money!’ ” she says. “I painfully admit it was gone.”
What worked: Juan started making post-military plans about a year before separation. Though she admits she could have done more, she ultimately put away $10,000 “by planning ahead and maintaining a tight budget.” A divorced mother of two, she is studying marketing while working for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Proudest moment: “I set a goal to be debt-free by July 2016, but I should be there by March!”
Rank: Master Sergeant, Air Force
Years in military: 20
His challenge: Sweetin never expected to be his own boss. After all, he was used to following orders after 20 years in the Air Force. “When I was in the military, everything was a checklist. I knew where to go, how to do it,” he says. But then he got a job as the training director at a security company, and he decided he wanted to run his own show.
What worked: When Sweetin started 3D Security Training Solutions, he’d had very little business training. Then he learned that veterans were eligible for the Boots to Business courses sponsored nationwide by the Small Business Administration. “They taught me about bank loans and how to make a business plan,” says Sweetin, who tapped his savings and his credit card to get the business going. “Six months after we opened, we broke even.”
Proudest moment: “The second quarter of this year, I received a paycheck as a CEO,” Sweetin says. “Granted, it’s not huge, but I’m framing it! It’s the fruits of my labor.”
Home: San Francisco
Rank: Petty Officer, 3rd Class, Navy
Years in military: 4
Her challenge: “It took me about a year to find a job because I’m disabled, so I was living with my mom,” says Williams. “That was really hard. I was used to having my own space.”
The solution: But then she got lucky. Williams had been going to the VA clinic in downtown San Francisco for help with her disability that keeps her from being able to stand for long periods of time. On her way to physical therapy one day, stumbled upon the Veterans Assisted Shelter and Housing (VASH) voucher program, which is a government program to help homeless veterans. “But I did my homework,” Williams says. “I learned that doesn’t mean you have to be sleeping on the street, though most people assumed that’s what it means. Because my name wasn’t attached to anyone’s lease or on a mortgage, I was able to acquire a housing voucher after about 6 months. The program caps your rent at 30% of your income, whatever that is. The program pays the rest.”
Proudest moment: Landing a room of her own—actually, a whole apartment. “It was a one-bedroom apartment in Hunters Point, where I was born and raised, a new apartment up in the hills,” she says. “I could see the water, the freeway, the whole city. I had a balcony, a garage, and a washing machine. It was wonderful.”
Home: Vienna, Va
Rank: Captain, Navy
Years in military: 24
His challenge: Carmen was a Navy pilot who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and, later, at the Pentagon. A graduate of the Naval Academy, he began his executive MBA from Georgetown while he was still in the service and working on-staff with the Secretary of Defense. Then one day he got the call: he was being deployed—in 27 days. “That was stressful,” says Carmen, noting that under the G.I. Bill reimbursement rules changed while he was deployed, dramatically increasing his out-of-pocket costs.. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to pay for school when I came back.”
The solution: But Georgetown has built a strong relationship with its veterans. When Carmen returned from overseas 12 months later, the business school made sure he could pick up where he left off with the next year’s cohort. They had also arranged for a scholarship to make up for his lost funding. “I was able to pay the rest out of pocket, which was big,” he says. “Did I want to incur this debt for my own education or did I want to wait and incur that for my children’s education?” Today, Carmen works as an acquisitions analyst for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Proudest moment: “Balancing the demands of family, school, and work while earning a Georgetown MBA,” he says. “Regardless if you stay in for one tour or you stay and become a general or an admiral, you do get out at some point. When the rubber meets the road, how much did you do to plan for that event?”