When Chris Meredith left the U.S. Navy in 1998, he had no idea what his next step would be. He’d served as an electronics technician maintaining radar and communications systems on the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier but couldn’t see how those skills would translate into a corporate job.
Meredith ended up finding work at a help desk for a small tech company where he was the only veteran on the job. “Converting from 12-hour days on a ship to eight hours with a lunch break sitting in a cubicle was just a complete shock,” he says. “No one shared my experience, so I had to fake my way through it until I figured out how to make it work.”
After working his way up as a network engineer for PNC Bank and Comcast, Meredith took a job as a senior solutions engineer at F5, where he was pleased to discover the company has an employee inclusion group (EIG) for military veterans. He eventually joined, and three years ago he became the chair.
“Given my initial lack of support when I transitioned to a civilian role, it’s really important to me now that other veterans feel they’re included and equipped from Day One to succeed in a corporate environment,” Meredith says. “I want to make sure veterans are recognized for the leadership and technical skills they bring, while creating a safe space for vets to share their experiences and the obstacles they face.”
For military veterans, the transition to a corporate environment can be challenging. For one, their talents “don’t easily translate on a resumé to the skillsets employees are looking for,” Meredith says. For example, leading hundreds of troops on military missions requires advanced leadership skills, yet it can be difficult translating that into management experience. As a result, Meredith says, highly trained and experienced military leaders often struggle to obtain jobs that recognize their expertise, and many end up in positions that underutilize their skills.
Another challenge is that veterans come from an environment in which direct communication and following orders are the norm and don’t always understand what’s expected of them in the corporate world, where communication can be less straight-forward. “For example, you might be told, ‘It would be great if you could do this,’ and it’s like, ‘Do you or don’t you want me do it?’” Meredith says.
Under Meredith’s leadership, the Military Veterans EIG has been helping veterans foster their career growth by organizing a series of leadership and training events featuring professional speakers. With workshops from “Battlefield to the Boardroom” to “Adapting to Corporate Culture,” the goal is to help vets polish their leadership skills, while learning the nuances, behaviors, and best practices required to succeed in the corporate world.
The Veterans EIG also partners with F5’s other EIGs to organize events of mutual interest. For example, it joined up with the F5 Connects Women EIG to invite Sheryl Tullis to speak about her experience being among the first decade of women to graduate from West Point. And it partnered with the F5 Ability EIG to host a roundtable raising awareness about mental health, much of it focused on post-traumatic stress syndrome. “We lose about 17 veterans a day to suicide in the U.S. alone, so it’s really important we focus on that,” Meredith says.
In addition to hosting workshops, the Veterans EIG arranges fireside chats where veterans share everything from their military experiences to their work assisting veterans in their communities. It also pairs newly hired veterans with EIG peers to help them obtain career guidance and support.
The group also helps veterans in the broader community. For example, EIG members at F5’s Seattle headquarters have volunteered their time at a local food bank. They’ve also traveled to military base job fairs to help F5’s talent acquisition team recruit veterans to F5. “We've recruited a number of people to F5, especially around positions that require government security clearances," says Meredith.
To date, more than 150 employees have joined the Military Veterans EIG—roughly 89% in the U.S., with the remaining 11% based in the UK, India, Poland, Mexico, Canada, Germany, and Australia. “Through our shared experiences, we’ve created a strong family here at F5,” says Meredith. “Our EIG members know they can call anyone at any time to talk about anything, no judgement—whether it’s a personal or professional matter, whether they need career guidance or have a leadership question. We’re very open and inclusive, and we’re willing to assist each other anytime it’s needed.”
After retiring as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army following a 20-year active duty career, Rick Jorolemon joined F5 four years ago as a senior solutions engineer. Learning of the Military Veterans EIG, he became a member to meet other F5 veterans and help recruit more service members into the company. “I feel it’s our mission as veterans to help spread the word about how many skillsets and experiences veterans can bring to an organization,” he says.
Chad Wise joined the Veterans EIG after serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as a satellite communications technician. As a retired veteran, he found the opportunity to continue supporting veterans to be the next logical step in his service to the military community. A senior solutions engineer at F5, Wise knows firsthand what it’s like to “start over.” Going from a rigid military life to the more ambiguous structure of civilian life is challenging. “It is a daunting and risky proposition to unload 20 years of work experience and begin a new career path,” he says.
As with F5’s other EIGs, having the same background isn’t a requirement for membership in the Veterans EIG. One of the group’s many allies, Jeff Bellamy, a senior director at F5, decided to join after hearing about the struggles an employee’s husband faced after fighting in combat.
Having studied leadership through a group started by former U.S. Navy SEAL officers, Bellamy says he’s intrigued by the applicability of military leadership principles to the business world. “I think most service members learn self-discipline,” he says. “They also learn sacrifice and service to others and subordinating their own needs for the sake of the team. All of these are valuable qualities in a corporate environment.”
A member of several EIGs at F5, Bellamy believes these groups benefit all employees. “EIGs are about bringing people together who share a common experience or background,” he says. “But they’re also about bringing in employees like me so we can learn from other people’s experiences and be more empathetic and supportive.”
For Meredith’s part, the Veterans EIG has enabled him to forge close relationships with other F5 veterans he otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to meet. It has also helped him sharpen his leadership skills beyond his day-to-day work. In addition to chairing the Veterans EIG, Meredith has joined two other EIGs, F5 Appreciates Blackness and F5 Connects Women, which, he says, has made him more aware and sensitive to the challenges other groups are navigating.
“EIGs create community,” he says. “Whether it’s for veterans or any other group, EIGs are a place where you feel supported and where you can learn from others who’ve gone through similar life experiences. I think these opportunities are super important to building an inclusive workplace.”
To learn more about F5’s EIGs, please see our Allyship at F5 webpage.