By Communications Specialist Bailey Patton Brackin

Barry Engelhardt understands transitions. As a member of the National Guard (he will retire with 20 years in March), MBA graduate, human resource professional, husband, and father, he has dealt with his fair share of transitions. And with one foot in the civilian world and one in the military, he has a unique perspective on the transition more than 200,000 military members make to the civilian workforce each year. Now, he is joining forces with OSD to help fellow Veterans master that transition through something he has found immensely helpful in his own career: books.

Barry first joined the National Guard in 1999. He was looking for a way to pay for school and at the time the National Guard seemed like a pretty low-risk way to get that done. Fast forward a few years to 2001, deployments in the Guard were starting to ramp up post 9/11. Completing his 6 years and getting out would have probably saved him from multiple deployments, but Barry decided to stick with it. He was attracted to the brotherhood of military service. He explains, “I had made great friends and I couldn’t imagine them doing it without me.”

He would eventually deploy, first stateside as a part of Operation Noble Eagle from 2003-2005 and then to Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2008-2009, all while maintaining a career in operations. When he returned from Afghanistan, he began pursuing his MBA. He worked for 10 years in operations before getting suddenly and unexpectedly laid off. That layoff would be the start of a pretty difficult six months, but Barry credits the experience for teaching him much of what he knows about military transitions, the importance of networking, and personal branding.

He explains, “It took several months to find a job. I actually went into the job search pretty cocky. I figured it shouldn’t be too hard to find something new, I had a masters and a lot of civilian and military work experience. But I hadn’t focused on building a network or thought about my personal brand. Everyone talks about how important that is, but between the National Guard, work, and school, I hadn’t done it.”

The whole experience was an eye-opener for Barry. He thought about how much more intense the pressure to find work is for transitioning veterans with zero civilian work experience and little network outside of the military. He explained, “A lot of transitioning veterans haven’t applied for a job since they were 16. In the military they have handled millions of dollars of equipment, managed people in extreme circumstances, even have people’s lives in their hands, but equating all those skills to what a civilian employer looks for is hard. The soft skills and experience are there, but it isn’t relatable to most employers.”

Barry eventually found a job at 1st Choice Delivery, where he was recently promoted to Director of Human Resources. He used the job transition experience to begin mentoring other Veterans and he also started investing more time into reading about professional development. Always a fan of the written word, he set a goal of reading a book a week for a year and has kept with that goal each year since. Since setting his goal to read more, he has noticed positive changes in his interpersonal and networking skills and his willingness to push himself outside his comfort zone. Books have made a difference. He also stumbled upon a lot of information that he wished he had during his job search. He noted, “It is ironic I didn’t find books in transition. They would have been immensely helpful.”

About a year ago, Barry began to think more seriously about how he wanted to invest his time after retirement from the National Guard. He hated the idea of losing the brotherhood and sense of purpose military service provides. But he wanted to give back in a way that allowed him to invest more time in his family and also aligned with his passion for professional development. He happened to find OSD’s Boots to Books program, an initiative to provide Veterans and military spouses with free copies of professional development books, as the pilot was launching. He reached out to OSD CEO and Executive Director, Glenn Banton, to see how he could get involved.

“I started to have conversations with Glenn about how I can help. I was originally thinking, ‘could I sponsor a veteran so they could participate in the program?’ But the conversation went differently. I had some opinions about the powers of the program and I think Glenn saw a good fit.”

Barry is now working closely with OSD to roll out the Boots to Books program out on a larger scale in 2019. When asked what professional development books he would recommend, he quickly identified two.  

The Two Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton is great and OSD using it in their pilot was a huge reason why I reached out to Glenn. It is geared toward recent college graduates but is very relatable to veterans. I believe that some of the best books teach a system and this one does just that. It doesn’t just tell you to build a network, it provides a proven system for making it happen. Lida Citroen’s book titled Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition also made a huge impact on me. It is all about the importance of networking and personal branding, which was something I thought I was good at but I just wasn’t. I think many military members struggle with selling themselves because they are so used to the team mentality. That isn’t bad, but you have to know how to sell your individual abilities to an employer.”

Barry is excited to about what is to come for Boots to Books in 2019. He has already had great conversations with a number of authors (including Simon Synek, Sebastian Junger, Lida Citroen, James Clear, The Arbinger Institute, Jocko Willink, Leif Babin, Jason Selk, Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, and Jeff Rose) who are excited to make their books available for free to transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses through OSD’s program. He believes Boots to Books really can make an impact. He explained, “Of course nothing is free. You have to be willing to invest your time in reading and really thinking about the books. But if you are willing, this program will give you resources that increase your likelihood of success.”