When husband and wife duo Ruth and Jeff Vargo started working at ExxonMobil, they did not expect to meet other brothers and sisters in arms. The West Point alums arrived to find a number of their new colleagues were in fact former classmates and veterans. For Ruth and Jeff, who met at West Point and each went on to serve close to six years overseas, the sizable community of veterans already present at the company was a pleasant surprise.
After finishing their second tour together in Tikrit, Iraq, Ruth and Jeff decided to transition to civilian life and accepted positions at ExxonMobil that fit their respective backgrounds in chemistry and civil engineering. Though the company offered ample resources for newly hired employees, both recognized a need to start a support organization for vets transitioning into the business world. The result was VAST, which has by all counts been a best-case scenario: The organization gives ExxonMobil insight as to the specialized skills veterans bring to the workplace; with that knowledge, veterans are enabled to contribute their unique talents to the fullest potential, benefitting both parties.
VAST, the Veteran Advocacy and Support Team, is an employee resource group that provides mentoring, coaching and networking opportunities to returning veterans and active service members at ExxonMobil. With 750 employees participating VAST, membership is open to nonveterans as well. By joining the program, civilian employees can help veterans pinpoint the best ways to leverage their military skills in the company.
“I think it’s my duty to transfer my knowledge and experience to others, and VAST is a great place for me to do that,” said Evan Smith, a nonveteran member of VAST. “Military veterans are a tremendous resource within the company, and it’s important we tap into that talent and experience for both the individual and the company.”
Veterans are a large part of the workforce and American population—as of last year, 21.2 million men and women were veterans—and they bring unique skills to employers, especially at a global company like ExxonMobil. In addition to technical skills and international and intercultural experience, veterans are trained to lead and work as a team in the most extreme of circumstances, knowledge that few nonmilitary employees can claim.
“Leadership, how to work with others and influencing without authority—I learned all that in the military,” said Ruth. “Part of the reason Jeff and I are so passionate about helping our veterans come onboard and share those skills is because these abilities are really valuable.”
While veterans come with sought-after skills, transitioning to a corporate environment after years in the military comes with its own share of challenges. Service members may have 10 years of work experience, like their coworkers, but much of that time may have been spent in the military rather than the energy industry. That’s where the Vargos and VAST step in to smooth their transition to corporate life.
In addition to providing career mentorship, VAST serves another important purpose: building community. Veterans coming home from the military are often leaving an extremely close-knit living and working environment. Transitioning from this closeness to the isolation of the American workplace can make anyone (veteran or civilian starting a new job) feel anxious or even depressed. The value of VAST and employee resource groups, outside of professional guidance, is that they provide an outlet to make a new network of friends and mentors that can provide emotional and mental support.
“It’s one thing to honor veterans, but VAST goes beyond that,” said Jeff. “That’s what enables some veterans to be very successful once they transition to civilian life and the corporate world.”
For veterans like Ruth and Jeff, VAST has been a welcome space to build a lifelong support network. So whether it’s Veteran’s Day or just another Friday, the Vargos deserve a vast salute!