The Navy SEAL master chief was among the best of the best.
Not only had he served with the Navy Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team 6, but he spoke three languages, had traveled to 100 countries, could fly airplanes and was a seven-time Ironman.
Yet he was having trouble finding a job.
"It was comical to think that he was in tears at the thought he might not have anything to bring to the private sector," said Joe Musselman, who created an organization called The Honor Foundation to help commandoes transition out of the military into civilian life.
Musselman's effort dovetailed with a program called SOF for Life, run by the Tampa-based Global SOF Foundation. Since its creation in 2014, the local foundation has spearheaded an effort to find jobs, education and financial services for former SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force, Marine Raiders and Air Force commandoes.
Now three years into the effort, the Global SOF Foundation is seeking input on how it's working from the commando community at sofforlife.org.
"We have over 400 responses that are giving us great data to ensure we are tailoring the SOF for Life program to meet the needs of the force," said Stu Bradin, the Global SOF Foundation's founder and president. Heavy on officer input, it seeks more from former enlisted personnel.
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When Bradin set up the Global SOF Foundation in 2014, the retired Army colonel began to see a need among commandoes for help transitioning to the civilian world.
So Bradin, who served at U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base as an aide to William McRaven, created the SOF For Life program.
So far, hundreds of families have been helped. The foundation, created as a nonprofit advocacy group for special operations, joined forces with other organizations to expand the effort. And now the foundation is trying to assess the commando community's needs.
It started when one of the foundation's small business partners went looking to hire former commandoes, Bradin said. It was at a tough time for the defense industry with the start of the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
The foundation began gathering resumes and established a database. SOF for Life was born. Resumes were vetted to ensure people served in a special operations capacity.
But that was only part of the equation, Bradin said.
"I was being approached by a lot of people leaving the military asking me about transition."
The military's Transition Assistance Program "was five days long and it covered everything possible about retirement, and in the end we left with more questions than we had when we entered," Brandin said.
As resumes started to pour in, the new database was opened to the foundation's corporate partners. But it was unclear how well the system was working.
So Bradin reached out to Musselman of the Honor Foundation, a SEAL in training until 2012 when he was injured. Musselman's work focused largely on Navy special forces.
The Honor Foundation transition course runs 110 hours over 12 weeks and started at the business school of the University of California, San Diego. Bradin calls the course world-class. A second campus opened in 2016 at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, Va.
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Musselman began his work with that frustrated SEAL Team 6 master chief. He declined to identify the man. Musselman said he helped the SEAL with resume design, understanding his personal value, where he fit in the marketplace and managing a LinkedIn account.
"He was part of SEAL Team 6 for many years and didn't have an online presence," Musselman said.
There was another challenge: Most commandoes see themselves as quiet professionals so they are accustomed to staying mum about what they did, even with potential employers.
After helping one former SEAL, Musselman began looking for others. He traveled the country, talking about transition to 215 SEALs in seven states, including Florida. The situation, he said, was "dreadful."
Constant job switching. Low pay. Underemployment and unemployment.
"Only 13 percent of those I interviewed had jobs leaving the service," he said.
After starting his program, which helps enrollees understand who they are and where they fit in, things changed. Musselman said 97 percent found careers, formal education or entrepreneurships.
In February, Musselman gave a workshop on his program at the Global SOF Foundation symposium in Palm Harbor. He said he would like to expand his efforts so help will be available to the entire force of some 70,000 commandoes and supporters working through SoCom.
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Helping former operators find jobs was only part of the effort, Bradin said.
"Our people were not saving the money, and upon separation they blew through their savings."
That created additional stresses on families. So Bradin brought in the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association to focus on financial issues. The oldest nonprofit serving the military, it began in 1879. AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust focuses on three core services: investment management, financial planning and trust services.
"We partnered with SOF for Life to provide and support financial awareness within the SOF community," said Ross Cutler, the company's senior relationship manager. "We want to help members of the SOF family live happy and comfortable."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.