Bridging the Civilian-Military Gap with Veterans4Diplomacy's Jayson Browder

Aug 24, 2015

"I think there's a new breed of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are very entrepreneurial. A lot of the missions that they had in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world really lent to this entrepreneurial spirit."

ALEX WOODSON: Welcome to the Carnegie New Leaders podcast. My name is Alex Woodson.

Carnegie New Leaders is a membership program for young professionals who are working in a range of fields and wish to engage in a dialogue on ethics and international affairs. Through a series of formal and informal gatherings, CNL members interact with business professionals, policymakers, social innovators, and scholars who are changing the way we approach global ethics in the 21st century.

Today, our guest is Jayson Browder. Jayson is a Carnegie New Leader, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a Fulbright scholar in Turkey in 2013, and, as of August 10, a Presidential Management Fellow. In this role, he will be working in the White House and the director's office of management and budget.

Thank you so much for coming today, Jayson.

JAYSON BROWDER: Thanks for having me, Alex. It's a pleasure.

ALEX WOODSON: In addition to all the roles I just mentioned, Jayson is also founder and executive director of an organization called Veterans4Diplomacy. Why don't you start off by telling us a little bit more about this organization.

JAYSON BROWDER: Again, thanks for having me, Alex. It's a pleasure to be at the Carnegie Council again.

Veterans4Diplomacy is a new organization that we just recently started whose goal is to empower student veterans who are interested in serving again and making an impact; but specifically, student veterans in the fields of foreign policy and diplomacy. We'll host the first inaugural class at New York University with 15 student veterans from nine universities. We're excited to launch this.

ALEX WOODSON: What do you envision these graduates doing once they finish the Veterans4Diplomacy course?

JAYSON BROWDER: Eventually, we want to see them in mid- to senior-level positions either in the Foreign Service, on Capitol Hill, or working in diplomatic and security fields. I think what we envision right after coming through this program is applying for prestigious scholarships and fellowships, which we think is the critical pipeline from a university student to a meaningful or impactful career. Some of these fellowships are some that I actually applied to when I was an undergraduate at Fordham University.

I came back from Iraq in 2010 and started school a month after leaving service. I was lucky enough to have mentors and supporters who were really able to guide me into amazing opportunities that allowed me to really capitalize on my passions.

Right after starting school, I applied for a Truman Scholarship, for which I was the national finalist. That led me into the Fulbright Scholarship that you mentioned that sent me to Turkey for a year working as an adjunct fellow at a Turkish university, teaching English and contemporary American history, but also doing research on national security issues with Syria and Iran and Turkish/U.S. relations. This, of course, led to me becoming a Presidential Management Fellow.

I really see this as an opportunity for student veterans who are interested in getting into foreign policy careers. They're very competitive for these opportunities, particularly, at the undergraduate level. That's the first order of business when they finish our program.

ALEX WOODSON: That's great. You had these fellowships, you are a Fulbright scholar, you have the Presidential Management fellowships; we were talking before about how not a lot of veterans apply for these positions. What got you to apply for these fellowships? What got you thinking in this direction?

JAYSON BROWDER: It was definitely the mentors that I had.

Unfortunately, transitioning out of the military is not an easy task. The Department of Defense is doing a better job. They run a program called TAPS, Transitional Assistance Programs. When I went there in 2010, it wasn't that great.

I was lucky enough to have people in my corner. A good student veteran group that was run at Fordham University definitely helped as well. Those factors, with the student veteran groups, and the mentors and advisors led me into finding out what these opportunities are.

Unfortunately, if you're coming out of a service and you don't have a network in place and you're not connected to a student veteran group, your transition is going to be difficult. It's very convoluted. You come from a very structured environment in the military. Unfortunately, the education system is not very structured. Some student veterans have a very difficult time of finding their place back in society and finding their purpose again. It's unfortunate.

ALEX WOODSON: Definitely.

According to Gallup Polls going back to about 1989, the military is the most highly regarded institution in the United States. It's way above other government-run organizations, but unemployment is still a huge problem in the veteran community. The rate is two or three times above what it is for the general population for veterans. There is obviously a big disconnect there. Why do you think that is? What can be done to bridge that gap?

JAYSON BROWDER: That's a great question. I think there are two real issues at play here. The first one has to do with how few military members are actually in the general population. What I mean by that is less than 1 percent of the general population in the United States actually services in uniform now. That's because it's an all-volunteer force. So, there's definitely a disconnect between the civilian population and the military population.

The second part to this is that the U.S. government entrusts particularly young veterans, junior enlisted and junior officers, with a tremendous amount of responsibility, unheard of on the civilian side if you were between 18 and 26 years old working in the private sector, or a non-profit or an NGO. Also, the military instills a significant amount of purpose. People join the military because they wanted to serve. They wanted to do something bigger than themselves.

You get this combination of purpose with huge responsibilities, which then, in turn, creates an enormous impact that these junior officers and junior enlisted men and women are doing overseas. Then, they come back and separate from the military, and they're sort of lost. They're trying to figure out where their place is.

Where do they fit? How do they get that meaning and purpose again? How do they create impact on a large scale? I think that's why you see the numbers of unemployment so high and particularly, with junior enlisted and definitely junior officers, as well.

ALEX WOODSON: An organization like Veterans4Diplomacy seems like a different type of organization than we've seen before in some ways and could help to push veterans in different directions.

JAYSON BROWDER: You're absolutely right, Alex. I think there's a new breed of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are very entrepreneurial. A lot of the missions that they had in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world really lent to this entrepreneurial spirit. These veterans are coming back and creating organizations, such as Team Rubicon, or Mission Continues, or Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. These are just a few that are created and run by veterans that are really changing the dialogue on what a veteran service organization is.

When you think of the old guard, where someone asks you, "What's a veteran service organization (VSO)?" Most people say it's a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], The American Legion, or the Disabled American Veterans. They're exactly right. Those VS organizations are doing a tremendous amount of good for the community but they're very benefits-based. They are advocacy organizations advocate for health benefits, disability benefits, and housing benefits, which our veterans need coming back from decades of war.

But what a lot of these newer VSOs are doing are flipping that on its head and saying, "We're not injured veterans. We're not veterans that always need something." There's a valuable resource of veterans coming back that can really make an impact.

You've got Mission Continues that says, "If you want to give back to your communities, we'll enable you to serve again in your communities." They provide a fellowship that veterans can then go work at different non-profits within their communities and give back.

Team Rubicon says, "Let's repurpose these skills and experiences that you've had and that you've gained with the military all over the world to help in natural disasters." If a tsunami hits somewhere, they have Army medics and Air Force air traffic-control men and women and they go to the affected area.

Veterans4Diplomacy sees this as the new gold standard to VSOs. That's where I envision Veterans4Diplomacy going. We have a huge untapped resource with veterans, particularly the ones getting out of the service and using the G.I. Bill to go back to school.

Now, they're coupling these professional experiences in the military with great education in private and public universities. We're saying, "The government still needs you. There's still a job to be done." We see this in the diplomatic field, in the Foreign Service, State Department, USAID (United States Agency for International Development), and Capitol Hill. We're saying, "Let's empower you. Let's bring in experts and professors to teach you courses so that you'd be ready to make that next move and next challenge in your career."

ALEX WOODSON: One of the things that you mentioned to me before the podcast was just the low numbers of veterans, specifically, on Capitol Hill. I think a number you cited was 180 employees on the Capital Hill staff out of over 6,000. You worked on Capitol Hill.

JAYSON BROWDER: Correct. I actually staffed a member of Congress on the Veteran Affairs Committee. I can count on one hand how many veterans were on the committee. You can see this in a multitude of governmental organizations. It's not just at Capitol Hill.

Secretary Kerry, when he was nominated and then confirmed as secretary of state, he actually had an address where he spoke about the skills—of course, Kerry himself is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran—and he spoke of the skills and experiences that veterans have had overseas and on numerous missions and how they could be used back here at home in these fields.

The State Department created a program called the Veterans Innovation Partnership to get, I think, around 10 or 12 veterans a year into certain organizations within the government.

ALEX WOODSON: Just speaking from your own experience, how did your career in the Air Force help you out in your job on the Hill?

JAYSON BROWDER: Definitely, on the Hill—I staffed a member, as I stated, on the Veteran Affairs Committee. I am a veteran and have been the process of using the G.I. Bill to get my education at Fordham University and New York University. I'm a disabled veteran myself. I have been through the disabilitites process and get all of my medical care there.

So, it was an easy transition for me to be on Capitol Hill working and advocating for veterans in the community of Texas, which is where my congressman is from, but also within the larger United States making sure that our wounded warriors are taken care of and educated when they get back home.

When it comes to the foreign policy and security aspect, there's no greater education, I think, when traveling, which the military does, and also just the experiences with partnering. When you think of foreign policy and diplomacy, the first thing that comes to my mind is relationships. The military does an amazing job of helping you at an early age to build relationships within the Department of Defense, if you're working with your sister organizations, but also within NATO and Afghanistan and other partners that we worked with in Iraq. I had been to Qatar, Iraq; I had been to Kuwait very early on in my career.

Those relationships that I built on the ground and the professional experiences that I had—I was doing developmental work. I was in an engineering unit tasked with building roads, and bridges, and buildings in Northern Iraq in the Sunni Triangle. I think those experiences were invaluable when you look at the mission as a whole, the mission in Iraq, and U.S. foreign policy in general, and the use of force.

For our organization, Veterans4Diplomacy, one of the first partners we secured was with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which is an organization largely made up of a significant amount of retired generals who speak on the three Ds when it comes to our budget, meaning the defense, diplomacy, and development. If you don't fund the development and the diplomacy, then you're going to keep having to use defense. Defense isn't made for everything. If you just keep using defense, it won't work and everything will look like a nail with a hammer.

I think veterans, early on, start to wrestle with these issue areas, being in the battle and seeing their friends injured and seeing construction projects that you did getting bulldozed over when ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] rolled through.

I think it really opens up your mind and gives you a certain perspective that I think a lot of people don't get unless they were in the service.

ALEX WOODSON: Going off that point, you mentioned that one of the reasons for the disconnect between what the Gallup Poll says and the reality for veterans is that less than 1 percent of the country has served in the military, at least in the last 10 to 15 years. You're talking about a lot of things that veterans can do to bridge that gap. What can the rest of us do? Some people have suggested mandatory civil service, maybe not the military, but working on infrastructure or working in public schools.

Do you think an idea like that is a good one? A lot of other countries do that. Are there other ideas that you think the general public can do to help bring veterans into a better standing in society once they're done with their service?

JAYSON BROWDER: I think that's a great question. I think that national public service—there are a lot of advocates out there for that. I think there's a lot of veterans within our community that believe in national public service. There's a really big disconnect. It doesn't have to be in the military, as you state.

I think that it is a great opportunity. I think it's a great experience. There's no brotherhood or sisterhood like it that I've been able to be a part of. Public service is important. If the society as a whole is looking for other people to take part of it, then we're not going to come together as a country, and we're definitely not going to be able to come together on an issue as important as the transition of veterans.

It's one thing to stand at an airport and welcome these men and women back after decades of war. It's another thing to get hand in hand with them.

One organization that is bridging this divide and is another organization that's flipping the head of what a VSO is in 2015 is Red, White and Blue. It's an organization where they actually run—it's veterans and civilians that get together and run with one another. They're all over the country. It's a great way to build the community. Of course, exercising is always good. It's a great way to try to build the cohesiveness between civilians and returning servicemen and women.

ALEX WOODSON: That sounds like a great idea.

Thank you very much for coming, Jayson. I really appreciate it.

JAYSON BROWDER: Thanks for having me, Alex. It's great to be here.

ALEX WOODSON: This was the Carnegie New Leaders podcast. Again, my name is Alex Woodson. You can find this podcast on or iTunes. Thank you very much.

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