Jan 08

Retired Command Sergeant Major Picks Civilian Career to Support Military Families

mcwilliamsAfter a long career in military service, some senior leaders choose a second career that allows them to continue to support the men and women on active duty.  Terrance McWilliams retired after a 30-year career as Command Sergeant Major and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commanding General at Fort Carson, Colorado. He and his spouse decided to retire in the same area and he became active in several capacities within the nonprofit community, including positions as Director of Military and Veteran Affairs at El Pomar Foundation, as President of The Citizen-Soldier Connection and as a board member of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross. I asked McWilliams to share his transition experience and to describe the path he took into the nonprofit sector.

VSB: Can you describe how you felt when you first retired from military service? What were some of the ups and downs you experienced?

TM: As with any senior leader, I had mixed emotions. In my case, I started preparing myself two years in advance — mentally, personally, and financially.

 …I started preparing myself two years in advance — mentally, personally, and financially…I knew that when the uniform came off, so did the rank.

The ups included being mentally prepared; by that, I mean that I knew that when the uniform came off, so did the rank. I also knew where I was going to settle down and thus, started networking well in advance with several community leaders and businesses. As I thought about what came next, my goal was to find a job that provided fulfillment and teamwork.

The down side was the realization that the civilian job sector does not function as does the military and in most cases, is lacking in teamwork in addition to setting expectations too high.

VSB: Soon after military retirement, you were asked to join the nonprofit El Pomar Foundation. What appealed to you about joining the nonprofit sector?

TM: What appealed to me was the ability of become part of a team that focuses on the health and welfare of others. Remaining in a community that has a strong military and veteran presence, I was drawn to the mission statement of El Pomar Foundation: “enriching the lives of the citizens through grant making.” The foundation’s Trustees were in search of a better way to improve their outreach to the military and asked if I would assist in this regard. It has been an excellent opportunity to continue outreach efforts in taking care of soldiers and families.

VSB: Since that time, you have also served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. What do you feel former senior military leaders bring to the role as board member of a nonprofit organization?

What you bring (to a nonprofit board position) is purpose, work ethic, leadership, the ability to ‘think outside the box’, and flexibility.

TM: What you bring is purpose, work ethic, leadership, the ability to ‘think outside the box’, and flexibility. We do not allow ourselves to be tied up by the rigidities of regulations and internal bureaucracy.

VSB: Given your role in The Citizen-Soldier Connection, would you share your views about why you feel it is important for current and former military leaders to develop broader connections with citizens in the civilian community?

TM: History tells us that there has been a tradition of mistrust between the citizens and the military. I cannot say that this is true today but it is important for retired military to engage and inform the public of the importance of military service in order to maintain a strong “all-volunteer force.”

As President of Citizen-Soldier Connection, I see our mission as straightforward: The Citizen Soldier Connection (CSC) connects Ft. Carson soldiers and their families with volunteer citizens in the community for the purpose of providing a local support network for soldiers and their families, and by doing so, enhance and enrich the quality of life for military personnel, their families, and involved citizens.

VSB: Any other advice you’d like to share with senior NCO’s in transition?

TM: My experience and observation has been that we, as senior NCO’s, discount the value of our contributions. The skill sets acquired throughout our careers, along with the capacity to build teams, are of value to any organization.

  • Don’t limit yourself as to what job sector you are best suited for and remember, it’s not always about the money. All too often, I see E8’s and E9’s chasing a six- figure job. Well, I say that “If wanted to go back into harm’s way – then I would have stayed in uniform.” You have to set expectations that your compensation will be lower but over time, it will increase.
  • It is so easy to stay within your comfort zone. Get out of the confines of the gate and network. There is an old saying that I believe to be true. “It’s not a matter of what you know – but more of who you know”. A word of caution – networking incorrectly can also have a negative effect.
  • Finally, you gave so much to your subordinates. The nonprofit sector is another rewarding field of giving.



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