How military service translates into the outdoor world, and why veterans should not be overlooked.

By Christopher Pollak
@chrispollak

From planning combat operations, humanitarian missions, or personnel recovery, how do military skills translate to the outdoor industry?

Transitioning from the military into a civilian job was not easy.

Particularly, translating my experiences into a resume and convincing industry professionals that they should hire a military veteran over someone who has been guiding in the outdoors for the past several years. Struggling to find a job in the outdoor industry due to a lack of specific industry experience, a friend and I managed to build a business that capitalizes on the same resume skills that failed us in landing an outdoor job in 2012.

Here are three reasons why I prefer veterans and why some clients wish to join a veteran led team:

Safety

Let me start off by saying that a military background does not automatically infer that an individual will conduct themselves safely.

With that said, planning and operating safely in an inherently unsafe environment is engrained in our training from Day One at basic training. We are taught effective ways to analyze risk in all of our daily activities and apply it while planning our daily physical training (PT) or combat operations.

After analysis, we consider different ways to mitigate those risks and implement them into our plan. Additionally, a good leader/guide will have conducted a thorough risk analysis developed into their contingency plans in order to maximize success.

Success in the outdoors is solely measured in getting home safely, not in tagging a summit or diving an unmapped wreck.

I’ve unfortunately come across several outdoor professionals who have the technical expertise in their field but fail to plan properly for that “Oh Sh*t” moment, thinking that they are immune to catastrophic scenarios while leading others.

Adaptability

“No plan survives first contact” is a variation of the quote attributed to German Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Graf von Moltke, which is embedded into the military planning process. The same should be applied to the outdoors, since weather changes unexpectedly, gear breaks, and routes become blocked.

Being able to flex not just on the trail, but during the pre- and post-trip phases, is vital to enjoyment and success.

A friend and peer of mine was putting together a non-commercial Everest expedition from Nepal. Due to some issues out of his control, the expedition was unable to secure a Nepal climbing permit days before the team was due to land in Kathmandu. Calmly and fluidly, he was able to pivot and lead the team to success from the Tibet side (after conducting a thorough risk assessment with his team).

While anyone can plan for the ideal scenario, forward thinking and experience is often what can be the difference between getting the team to Everest or the trip leader being forced to pull the plug prematurely.

Guide team walking up a trail

Team

Everyone has a weakness; everyone has strength.

By being surrounded by individuals specializing in a variety of jobs, a service member learns fairly quickly their strengths and weaknesses. One of the greatest assets that a veteran can bring to the table is their ability and experience working with diverse teams. With that diversity, you learn that a team is the sum of all individuals and how to capitalize on all of the strengths to maximize the team’s success.

While on a mountain with a group of friends last year, we found ourselves in “white out” conditions and having to treat a climber from another team for hypothermia after 36 hours of exposure.

One of my team members, an Air Force veteran on his first mountain, ended up playing a vital role in the rescue.

By discussing our roles beforehand, he was able to utilize his knowledge of radio protocol to keep the park service abreast of what was going on while also utilizing his ability to remain calm in stressful situations in order to manage other climbing teams in the area while our third team member was able to assist me in stabilizing the patient.

Having a functional team is what will set you up for maximum success. Just because someone doesn’t have the technical experience does not lessen what they can contribute to the team.

Christopher PollackChristopher is a former Marine Corps Officer and co-founded Myrmidon Expeditions. He has climbed mountains and led multi-discipline expeditions throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the US. As International Operations Officer for Myrmidon Expeditions, his mission is to forge personal growth and teamwork through the outdoors. He can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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