'Project RELO' Takes Corporate Execs on Military Exercises to Promote Veteran Hiring

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Project RELO training includes firearms training for corporate executives. (Project RELO)

It can be hard for civilians to relate to the military experience.

For most daily interactions, it's no big deal. For combat veterans seeking employment, however, it can be difficult for businesses to understand their experience.

It can be even more difficult for those veterans to relate their own experiences to the job they're applying for, and the results can be devastating. But if employers could understand those veterans, it could go a long way toward bridging the divide between them.

Casey McEuin is building that bridge -- by taking corporate executives into real military operations with real U.S. Army soldiers.

After all, he was one of those combat veterans. He was an infantry platoon sergeant from 1997 until 2014. He left the Army as a 34-year-old sergeant 1st class, after being wounded in Afghanistan. He had to undergo multiple surgeries for those wounds.

veteran nonprofit
Project RELO President during his time in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Casey McEuin)

When he finally got out and was ready to tackle the job market, he found that a lot of "veteran friendly" companies were proclaiming that more for social media's sake than really wanting to help. He had a tough time translating his military skills to the civilian world, found the job market incredibly competitive, and was generally unprepared. He found himself living in his car for a time.

"Once I learned that I was going to be medically chaptered, I was out of the Army in 91 days," McEuin says. "I didn't really have enough time to really do any type of transition."

He got it all under control, going to every networking event he could until he found a new career. He eventually found himself in the nonprofit world, and that's where he realized that there are many nonprofits geared toward veterans (approximately 44,0000), but their missions are mostly transactional.

McEuin wanted to be part of something that helped veterans in a meaningful, long-term way.

By the time he took the reins of Project RELO, his mission became making sure no other veteran goes through the struggles he went through during his transition. So he set out to teach companies what he couldn't in his first days as a civilian, to show corporate executives firsthand what veterans young and old are capable of.

"We want companies to hire veterans, not only because it's a social good, but because it's actually good for business," McEuin says. "So the idea behind Project RELO was to change the mindset of corporate America"

Executives from companies that have the capacity to hire thousands of veterans are partnered with a vet and taken to Camp Grayling, a Michigan National Guard base. There, from the veterans and National Guardsmen, they will learn combat communications, convoy operations counter-IED training and weapons training. They then go and perform the operations they learned just as the military would, with all the safety and radio checks.

Then, they learn how to clear a building. Armed with airsoft rifles, they take on an opposing force with the guys who just taught them communications. That's where the stuff hits the fan -- and the moment hits the executives.

"You start seeing the anxiety on their faces, you start seeing the sweat and you start seeing everything sink in because they don't know what's behind the doors," says McEuin. "They realize this veteran has to wear multiple hats. Not only are they IT specialists, but they're also able to clear a room."

At the end of the first day, there's an after-action review. The executives discuss what they learned about the military and its veterans. The next day, there's more training and another force-on-force exercise. This time, the CEO is leading the operation. There's another after-action report.

Project RELO's corporate training includes convoy operations. (Project RELO)

The exercises give execs a real-world perception of what military life is about. After teaming them up with veterans who are in need of a job in their industries, they end up hiring many of them. More importantly, the experience changes the perceptions of veterans throughout the given company.

And the effort is working.

"We've helped over 250 companies," says McEuin. "And with these 250 companies, they have in turn hired now over 4,500 veterans. That's what we're about. We want to be that force multiplier. We just want to change the narratives at the top of these companies."

Any executive interested in going on missions with veterans and members of the U.S. Army to understand more about the skills and history of American troops should visit Project RELO.org.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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