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Open Letter To My Sailors

Open letter to my Sailors

I’ve been in a quite a few discussions lately with transitioning military members. These conversations are nothing new, and in fact need to happen. One thing I noted is the conversation hasn’t changed much in the last 5 years.

I wrote this letter not long after I retired from the Navy and sent it to the Command Master Chief of the last command I served with, VFA-32. It was as relevant then as it is now. Although this was written specifically speaking to Sailors at the time, this applies to all branches of our Nation’s Military Services.

Take a read, and reach out if you need help or have questions. That’s what we’re here for!



I would like to take a few minutes of your time to tell you of my experiences after leaving our Navy. I do this in hopes that you will read, learn and perhaps not follow in my footsteps. Some of this you’ve heard before in different briefings (TAP class, Standdowns, career fairs, etc…). The difference here; I plan on being very specific, something I feel was missing from the afore mentioned venues.

I retired very recently, September 30th, to be specific. With a month of terminal leave, that means I’ve been out just over 2 months. I have been flooding the civilian job market with a myriad of resumes, scouring job boards and utilizing every employment resource I can find. I feel it’s pertinate to let you in on what I’ve learned from that. Employers are looking for EDUCATED and CERTIFIED people.

EDUCATED! I don’t mean just “A” and “C” school training. I don’t mean specific NEC training. Bachelor’s degrees at a minimum. Choose the field you want to follow, but you had better see it through to a Bachelor’s level of completion. An Associate’s isn’t going to cut it.

CERTIFIED! If you wish to gain employment in your current line of work, get the civilian certification! USMAP (your Journeyman certification) pays huge dividends for something so easy to do. If you wish to stay in aviation, get your A&P license and your FCC license (with appropriate endorsements). If you wish to stay in a leadership position, the big one I’ve seen in the civilian sector (along with a Bacholer’s of Science in Management) is Lean Six Sigma. Everyone out here is using it, in all fields, and it pays huge salaries.

I have never met a stupid Sailor. Each one of us brings something specific and intelligent to the table to help our Navy meet its mission. We go through and graduate from some of the toughest trade schools in the world. The problem is, that doesn’t equate to civilian qualifications. Take the time to go through the civilian equivalent training to make yourself marketable.

Why am I telling you all this? I didn’t do ANY of it. I left our Navy without finishing my degree, no USMAP Journeyman, no certifications showing the civilian world that I knew what I was doing, and could be relied upon to do it. I was a good Sailor and a good leader. I know this, not because my evaluations say so, but because my Sailors said so. I had in my head that I knew I needed to do this, but I could still get a great job because I was a 20 year Senior Chief with a ton of real life, relivent experience. Although that did peak a few employers interest and opened the door for interviews with some outstanding companies, it always boiled down to qualifications that they could wrap their mind around. For the record, I have found good employment, not in my first field of choice, but employment none the less. I’m grateful, and I got lucky.

In closing, I don’t care if you do 4 years or 30 years in our Navy, if you’re an Airman or the MCPON, the end of service comes to us all. Set yourself up now for success. You depend on it, your family depends on it. If it’s your intention to retire, you should know by now that the retirement check isn’t going to pay all the bills, and even that “door greeter at Walmart” job has 20 people lined up before you to get it. Take care of your Sailors, but take the time to take care of yourself as well.

Very Respectfully,

ATCS(AW) Albert Lee Smith, USN(ret)