Going Private

After more than 30 years as a warfighter, an Army colonel faces perhaps his most intimidating mission yet. Landing a private sector job.

Battalion Commander

Special Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief

Combat Training Center Site Leader

U.S. Army Director of Strategic Communications

And on. And on.

  • Legion of Merit & Bronze Star

    For exceptionally meritorious conduct and for meritorious achievement and service in a combat zone.

  • Screaming Eagle

    Representing John’s four years in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne division including a combat tour in Iraq.

  • The Big Red One

    John served in the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division three separate times, including a combat deployment to Bosnia.

  • Rank of Colonel

    Worn on his Army Service Uniform, the traditional light blue insignia signifies infantry branch.

  • Bars and Stripes

    This service ribbon bar represents John’s awards and commendations - the visual equivalent of a military resume.

Retired Army Colonel John Buckley’s military resume reads like the adventures and accomplishments of a hero from a Tom Clancy novel.

As an elite warfighter, John’s Government Issue boots have been solidly on the ground in hotspots from Bosnia to Iraq. His leadership has been pivotal from Strategic Command in Omaha to NATO Command posts throughout Europe. What’s more, he has directed and designed curriculum used by the Army’s most prestigious colleges.

Yet after more than 30 years of serving his country at home and abroad, and mastering the art of military policy and command leadership, John would face one of his most daunting challenges yet: translating his world-class military expertise into a civilian job.

It’s a challenge he readily accepted.

The culture that’s most foreign to any soldier is the civilian workplace

“The culture that’s most foreign to any soldier is the civilian workplace,” John relays in his thoughtful, soft-spoken manner. “You can have a chest full of medals and a list of military accomplishments as long as your arm, but until you find a way to translate those experiences into something a civilian employer finds valuable, you might as well be speaking another language.”

Making that transition just isn’t something the military prepares you for. So John reached out on social media to others who have successfully made it. What he got was a big dose of reality and tough love. Not to mention, practical advice to help whip his resume into shape.

“At first it was very hard to wrap my head around,” John acknowledges. To make sense to a civilian employer, a military resume accomplishment such as “Lead Planner of NATO Military Operations in Libya” needed to become “Hand-picked to lead a multi-national, diverse organization to solve a strategic problem through collaboration and consensus building among 26 international stakeholders.”

One spring afternoon, John’s tenacity to endure countless rewrites of his resume paid off.

Koch called. John answered.

Back to basics

In his early 20s, John discovered a passion for leadership in the National Guard during a competition in which he was given less than 24 hours to completely reorganize his platoon — a challenge at which he proved to excel.

“Being successful at that made me say to myself, ‘I really enjoyed the challenge, and I seem to be very good at it, so let’s make it a career,’” John remembers. “There is nothing better than being in command of combat soldiers. I would say that is what I truly enjoy the most.”

Today, as Military Relations Manager at Koch, he’s found his next mission — one that uses his skills to their maximum. The man once responsible for helping train 2,500 new warfighters a year is now at, as he calls it, the “tip-of-the-spear” in helping veterans make the transition back — one at a time.

Here are the facts: nine out of ten veterans surveyed identify the opportunity to use their skills and abilities as the most important aspect of civilian employment.1 Yet, two-thirds of military employees feel that hiring managers don’t understand their skills and experience.2

This fundamental disconnect can lead to unemployment or underemployment for our nation’s heroes — creating a huge national challenge.

Yet, in John’s eyes, the exodus from the military of men and women with military skills, experiences, principles and values can also represent an enormous opportunity. And so, his sights are set on helping achieve an even more audacious mission: ushering in the next great American generation.


The Greatest Generation, 2.0

Today, the longest wars in American history are coming to an end. More than 2.9 million service members have returned to civilian life — with another million troops returning to the private sector over the next five years.3

“The greatest generation, after World War II, were the ones who survived and came home,” John explains. “Based on the things they learned in combat — the energy, the focus, the discipline and the integrity they came away with — they were motivated to create real and meaningful progress in our society.”

“Today, history is repeating itself. We now have professionalized a force with exemplary work ethic and focus on values.”

Among the major things that attracted John to Koch were the clear values and guiding principles shared by both the military and his new employer — helping make that fit as seamless as possible. In fact, today Koch successfully employs thousands of veterans of all ages, who have found a home in a place that shares their values.

“The first two guiding principles at Koch are Integrity and Compliance,” John said. “The service member is raised in an environment where they have to be compliant. The folks who succeed and do the most good for the service and the nation are the ones who have integrity. So, people in uniform already have the advantage of understanding and embracing those principles.”

“As the privates I once commanded left basic training, I used to tell them this: ‘If you really embrace and live these values now, they will stay with you for the rest of your life,” John recalls. “And whether you leave the service in three years or in 33 years, you will be creating the foundation for a future ‘greatest generation.’”

And with that, you can add Motivational Speaker to John Buckley’s long and storied list of professional titles.

If you are a veteran who wishes to explore career opportunities at Koch, visit KochCareers.com/veterans.

1 Veteran Job Retention Survey – Syracuse University and Institute for Veterans and Military Families, October 2014.
2 Veterans TALENT INDEX by Monster/Military.com, 7th Edition, November 2014.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor; Dec 2014 (Released Jan 9, 2015).