WTOP: 5 ways nonprofits can…
Nonprofit HR Staff Story
2021 Veteran Spotlight
At Nonprofit HR, we value, support and thank those on our team who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans Day is a time for us to pay our respects to those brave souls who have defended and protected our nation and this year we are recognizing three employees for their military service. In this interview, Atokatha Ashmond Brew (AAB), Managing Director of Marketing & Strategic Communication, sits down with Nonprofit HR colleagues to learn their stories of service and how their early career beginnings in the military providing human resources and talent acquisition support paved the way for their transition to serving the human resource needs of nonprofits.
AAB: How does HR for nonprofits align with your background?
Tameka: With my background coming from the military, and working with defense contractors post-military, one thing I will say is agility. Agility is a necessity for the nonprofit community and an internal Nonprofit HR shared value, and flexibility is my aim. In the military, there’s always something to be done, a characteristic to take on. I was able to bring that into my work with Nonprofit HR and specifically with different clients, learning their priorities, practices and procedures, in addition to Nonprofit HR’s. It has been a nice transition and directly aligns with what I was used to doing in the military.
Amanda: My experience is similar to what Tameka shared. In the military, working with different organizations on different priorities is part of the process. I’ve always appreciated working with different personalities and people that come from all different career levels, backgrounds and lifestyles. I learned early in my career how to navigate those personalities and those relationships, especially employee/supervisor relationships, or those I provided support to. At Nonprofit HR, we provide support to many different organizations and people at all different career levels. The process is quite similar, though the missions are entirely unique. In the military, we’re officially providing defense and protection services for the nation and our allies. At Nonprofit HR, we’re partnering with mission-driven organizations to support some of the most vulnerable populations around the country and world. Both are critically important. I was charged with providing exceptional customer service in the military, and I’ve maintained that same mindset as a Nonprofit HR employee.
Amanda: I really got a lot more experience with cultural development, especially through working with leaders. As with any organization, there is always a desire to enhance the culture, and in the military I was able to assist with cultural shifts and change management initiatives which involved various levels of influence. The military exposed me to a lot of HR principles, some of them I am still realizing today.
Tameka: I would also like to add the camaraderie and collaboration. Something that’s core to any military experience is one team, one fight—meaning we are all brothers and sisters in arms. My early days of transitioning into Nonprofit HR showed me how everyone is so helpful, from the knowledge sharing to the buddy program we have that brings new employees forward. When I do not know something or need support, I am able to reach out to one of my consulting colleagues who are always willing to help me at the drop of a dime. Being at service together for a common and shared goal goes hand in hand with the military.
AAB: What about HR was most appealing to you?
Amanda: Even though the majority of my career has been information technology (IT) in the military, I have completed the military HR educational program for Captains. I am transitioning to the HR (S1) section (department) because I wanted to help soldiers navigate their way in an organization with which they were set to spend the majority of their life. I have enjoyed working on initiatives that focused on employee engagement, performance management and the employee experience, which is unique for the military. While working in these areas, at least for the units that I worked with, I wanted to introduce some civilian workplace attributes into the military sector to increase efficiency.
AAB: Please share what roles you’ve held in your career—military and civilian.
Tameka: My branch was Navy and the military was my first job. I went into the military right after high school. I entered aviation and was supposed to work on an aircraft carrier and top deck with the aircrafts. I accidentally got put in an HR position, because I found an area of opportunity for my department in which I created an onboarding process.
Since then, the positions that I’ve held in the military are aviation, engineering, welding, and I even worked on restrooms, or what in the military we call “the head”, restoration. We put together the restrooms, showers, sinks, toilets and anything else in the lavatories. Of course, this means I am great at home projects! After that stint, I was able to go back into aviation because they needed someone who could handle the HR side. And so, that’s when I really got to get the bulk of experience in human resources.
AAB: Was the military a track you knew you wanted to pursue?
Amanda: Similar to Tameka, I started right out of high school. Today I am a Captain in the Army National Guard transitioning to the Army Reserves. I enlisted while in my senior year, and after I graduated I left for basic training in June. I did not necessarily want to go; that wasn’t my plan initially. I started out enlisted, doing wire and cable and then I moved on to what was called 35 Lima (wire and cable) at the time. I was in for five years by the time I went to Officer Candidate School (OCS), and I’ve been an officer now since 2010, and I’ve loved it. I’ve worked as a Platoon Leader which consists of 30 soldiers on average. I’ve worked as an Executive Officer. The Executive Officer works under the commander for a unit of 60-120 soldiers on average. I have worked as a Commander of 60 soldiers. I have also worked at a Brigade and Signal Command level. I’ve been on two deployments, one in Afghanistan and one that I just recently came back from in Kuwait. In my second most recent position I was the second person to assist with standing up a Theater wide entity utilized for over multiple different countries. Altogether, I’ve served for over 18 years.
AAB: What can nonprofits do to better understand and make space for veterans?
Amanda: Go to meetings. There are plenty of organizations that focus on employment law and host conferences as an opportunity to not only learn about military law and advocate but to allow other employers to ask questions, network, speak up and talk about things that they’re doing to help soldiers transition into civilian roles. I have found that there are some civilian employers that are not very supportive of soldiers in the workplace, at least in my experience and honestly, in a lot of my soldier’s experiences as well. I have seen some people come back from overseas that have been gone for nine months, and they come back home and lose their job. Immediately, their goal is to figure out how to take care of their family.
I encourage organizations to revisit their leave policies. Some soldiers would tell me that they were uncomfortable challenging civilian employers about leave policies because they feared they could lose their job. They’d share that the organization would simply come up with some other reasons to fire them. It is very beneficial for employers to take the time to understand the needs of soldiers transitioning to and from deployment. HR professionals who have or are serving in the military understand the level of skills and experience soldiers bring to an organization. If more organizations took the time to understand how these skills translate to the civilian work sector then they would find most of us to be overqualified for positions they have hired soldiers in and many could offer so much more.
Tameka: I would encourage organizations to connect with the local workforce department, many of them work with veterans. Also, understand the areas that are heavily veteran populated and that the individuals in the military have a unique set of skills that transition easily to many roles. I mean, military employees are taught leadership, collaboration and discipline. So, if individuals can recognize it, they would be able to maximize that expertise for the success of their organization. Personally, a lot of civilian organizations did not even count my military HR experience, because they felt that it wasn’t “real HR experience.” Military HR is HR and sometimes, a lot more.
Amanda: In the military, HR can be especially sensitive. In some roles, HR can function like a caregiver and in others, the resilient leader. The traumas service members go through make the level of HR support more demanding. Factoring this in and taking value in the military HR experience when hiring for a civilian HR role can be a game changer for talent management.
AAB: You all talked about different phases of your career, what was the actual transition out of the service like?Tameka Lockhart-Spann & Family
Tameka: You know, I was very fortunate as well transitioning out. While I was in, I went to nursing school and I was going to transition into an officer program as a nurse. I worked in the Veteran Affairs (VA) facility while I was in the military, in Hampton Roads, and then I realized I did not want to be a nurse. While I love the nursing profession and still support it when I can, I pursued other interests. Education has always been a priority for me and is one of the main reasons I went into the military, because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my education. I went in for the education and pursued my studies, and then Cupid shot me while I was at service. That’s where I met my husband who also is in the military. This smoothened the transition process for me because he was still in. We still live in the Hampton Roads area where all branches are present and a lot of employers have prioritized prior military service with their talent attraction programs. In fact, many companies in our area are run by retired military. Yet, though I was very fortunate, some of my friends were struggling with that transition.
Amanda: I’ll speak to transitioning from a deployment and going into the workspace because that’s very similar, especially when you’re serving the National Guard or as a reservist. For example, if you’re not full-time in the National Guard or Reserve, you transition back and forth between military professions and civilian professions frequently over the years. I know a lot of soldiers who were not as successful in these transitions for a number of reasons which usually include lack of support from the civilian organization. Deployment transitions are hard and even when you transition well in the professional space, there’s the mental space that is not always an easy shift.
When I came home for the first time, it was very hard for me for a very long time. I think it took me over a year mentally to transition back into what was normal society. I tried to be more deliberate in my transition after my most recent deployment by not getting a job right away and giving myself time. Being in the military full-time most of your essential needs are taken care of by the military. Going from a deployment where I did not have to worry about cooking, cleaning, driving, grocery shopping, running errands, to going back into mommy and wife mode was emotionally and mentally overwhelming. Employers who prioritize wellness can help with that transition process. While the military offers great transition programs, in my opinion, it is important for the soldier to be in a good mental space to transition well, and to take advantage of the transition programs the military and civilian employers offer.Tameka Lockhart-Spann going from Wog to Shellback, a Navy tradition. Tameka’s ship was crossing the equator.
AAB: What is the bravest thing you’ve done?
Tameka: Well, I’ve jumped off the platform into the Persian Gulf. And because I’m from west Texas where there is no water, no hills, no trees and just flat land, that was a really brave move for me. I wouldn’t say I am a professional swimmer. Let’s just say I can stay afloat to save my life, but then here I am on this ship with 7,000 other people that I don’t know in the middle of the ocean. The ship is like a floating city. That’s what we’d call it, and it includes its own police department, fire department, stores and all on it. Today, I know that serving was the best thing I could have done in my life.
Amanda: The bravest thing I did was go on a deployment to Afghanistan. A lot of the bases were under attack often. Every time I was sitting in the bunker I would wonder if I was going to make it back to the States alive. Some of the soldiers became numb to this but I never could. It was an experience I never would have imagined living out before joining the military.
AAB: What are a few lessons that nonprofits can learn from the way that the U.S. Armed Forces function and operate?
Amanda: We lead with the mindset of serving, which is what nonprofits do. Soldiers serve every day and whether the soldier is Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve, taking the time to understand just how much soldiers know how to serve while tapping into their skill sets can help nonprofits find better ways to serve. Also understand that soldiers are very flexible because most of us transfer units almost every two years. So, we are easily adaptable to different environments, cultures and personalities, and add significant value to collaboration teams. We also have much experience with change management and implementation, and nonprofits can look at that as they continue to grow and enhance where they are.
Tameka: Serve not only your communities but your employees. You have to have great leadership to stay afloat in the military because it can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining. Not only as you serve your communities and push your mission forward, but to make sure you’re doing it for your employees as well.
Amanda: I would say what the military can learn from nonprofits is proper employee management when it comes to really tapping into skills the Reserve and National Guard has. Most of them have skills from the civilian work which is as valuable as their military occupational specialty (MOS). I worked for a One Star General who had been on a mission overseas, where they were standing up some bases. One of the soldiers used to be a Mayor and they were looking for somebody with that skill set. This soldier’s background was put to great use. This is an example of using a soldier’s civilian experience to help support the military.
AAB: My final question to you all is more focused on career tracking. As three women of color, did you know early on that the military was a viable career option? How far back did you know that this was an option for you?
Tameka: I would say, when I was in elementary school, I saw a Navy commercial and I remember telling my friend, I think I’m going to go to the Navy. I didn’t really think much into it because I’m the first person in my family to join the military. Like I said, I’m from west Texas where the military wasn’t even on the radar. I just saw this one commercial. Then, later on, in high school, I saw the movie “Antwone Fisher” and I said, “Of course I’m going to the Navy.” Based on the movie and seeing him travel, I said, “Yeah, I’m traveling.” But, I will say that what the military can do is bring more awareness and exposure into diverse communities. Partnering with elementary school career programmers just to showcase different options that you can have in the military and how that relates to the civilian world is also a missed opportunity.
Amanda: I came in because my dad was military. I am proud to say that we have a lot of military people in my family. However, I didn’t have it in my head that this was viable until I became an officer. At that point, I started to understand the potential of making military service a career. I do think that everybody should at least be exposed to military service as a career option, and it would be great if employers prioritized service as well.
Note: Interview responses provided in this story were shared by each team member and represent their memories of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The views expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Armed Forces or U.S. Government. For questions about this story, please email Atokatha Ashmond Brew at email@example.com.
More about our featured team members!
|With over nine years of experience working in human resources, Tameka Lockhart-Spann works as a strategic partner providing full spectrum talent management/HR support and assistance to employees and managers. She is experienced in supporting organizations with over 650+ employees and maintains expertise in employee relations, HRIS system implementation, onboarding/offboarding, benefits administration, employee engagement, policy development and compliance. Read Tameka’s full bio.|
|Amanda Waller is an Associate Consultant within the firm’s Outsourcing practice. This includes providing day-to-day application of specified HR processes, policies, procedures and documentation to fulfill a spectrum of HR general project tasks, including but not limited to benefits, payroll, time-tracking, employee events (hire, termination, leave of absence), job changes, compensation actions, HR policies, learning/training, performance management and employee relations. She finds her passion in developing, designing and facilitating HR efforts that promote a positive and diverse work culture, resulting in cognitive diversity in thoughts and ideas. Read Amanda’s full bio.|
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