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A Veteran’s Perspective

Planning Ahead for a Successful Transition.

By Major Kevin S. Cortes, USMC (Ret.)

I served in the Marine Corps for 20 years and loved every minute of it. I was a CH-53E Super Stallion Naval Aviator and served at multiple Marine Corps bases. I loved flying too, but there is one thing that I know for sure – there is an expiration date attached to being in the military. I know that now because my EAS (End of Active Service) was on January 31st, 2015 and it felt like a looming deadline that couldn’t be avoided. I might have had it a little easier than most transitioning veterans because my PLAN was to retire at 20 years. That was my goal when I was a young officer so I already knew that my military career wasn’t going to last forever. This is my humble story of my transition.

Kevin Cortes is a 20 year retired Marine Corps officer where he served as a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter Naval Aviator. He resides in San Diego, CA following his retirement in January 2015 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, CA. He currently works at Miramar Federal Credit Union as the Chief Military Officer serving as the bridge between the 750,000 families, service members, retirees, reservists and veterans in the San Diego County community and the Credit Union products and services that support the military. Cortes is also involved in seven military Boards and Committees in the San Diego area.

My last (fifth) deployment ended in December 2011 and I knew that when I got home, I would have one more set of orders to fill until I retired. I started my “exit” PLAN for my retirement on January 2012. In my mind, I had three full years of figuring out what I wanted to do, where to go, and how to get there. Well, let me let you know this – I was scared to death. The Marine Corps had structure, it had good pay, it had a close circle of friends, it had my profession of flying… so how do I navigate the scary civilian world that I know NOTHING about? I asked myself – do I want to fly? Um, no. I already knew that flying was my profession and I CHOSE to want to do something else. I realized that my skill set as a leader had more to offer a civilian company than being an aviator. I knew that the ONLY way I was going to be successful was to first and foremost know that I wanted to stay in San Diego (where my last duty station was). That was step one in my PLAN (picking up the hint, here). Then my transition started to take form.

My next idea was how would I start to meet civilians that lived in San Diego to “break out” of my uniformed network? Well, I used a website called Meetup. Meetup (www.meetup.com) is a GREAT site that is nationwide and allows random people to “meet up” and conduct whatever activity you are interested in. Since I love golf, I found a golf meetup group. Since I’m a New Yorker, I found a New York Yankees meetup group. Since I love to ride my road bike, I found a cycling meetup group. This was my BEST and FIRST introduction to meeting various San Diegans who enjoyed doing the same things that I did. How did this work out for me? It allowed me to meet my current boss whom I met at golf meetup group and we played in the same foursome. He was a new CEO of a military credit union and he was looking for a business development manager. I contacted him three months before I retired and I was offered the job and accepted it six weeks prior to retirement.

This is my biggest lesson for all who are reading this – your transition is only as successful as you want it to be. I had a PLAN three years prior to my retirement, I started networking through several meetup groups over a few years, and I made the CHOICE of where I wanted to live, and I broke out of my comfort zone to meet strangers. Planning ahead WILL work for you too!

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