Three Questions with … Cheryl Malone, of Life Transition for Me

Military life isn’t easy. Those wearing the uniform live and work where and how they’re told. The hours aren’t 9 to 5, and for some, danger is a distinct possibility.

But shedding the uniform and stepping into civilian life can be tough, too. For all its challenges, military life has a structure and rhythm that the civilian world can’t match. A military base has everything a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine needs inside one fence, while the civilian life is more spread out.

Cheryl Malone knows. Malone is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who found herself retiring in 2006 at the age of 41. Soon enough, she started a civilian career at Indiana Wesleyan University as director of admissions.

Malone’s immediate professional goal was to teach, and in many ways she does just that, as the head of her own Kettering-based business. As chief executive of Life Transition for Me, she helps military vets navigate the unexpected difficulties of life, as many are suddenly without a support structure.

For Malone, it’s about more than helping vets find a job. It’s about connecting them with Veterans Affairs benefits or helping them find a place to live or even their next meal.

Malone’s focus started by helping the son-in-law of a friend settle into civilian life. As Malone put it: “We don’t do resumes in the military.”

Soon, other veterans reached out to her, and she started getting referrals.

After two years, she decided this was her calling. She resigned from Indiana Wesleyan in 2012 and has led her own business since.

We recently sat down with Malone to learn more about her and her company. What follows is an edited, condensed transcript.

Q: Tell me about your career in the military and your decision to retire.

“I am a retired lieutenant colonel, Air Force. … I did almost 21 years as a personnel officer. I served at many bases here in the states — Massachusetts at Hanscomb (Air Force Base), San Antonio, Randolph Air Force Base, also served at the Pentagon as a personnel officer, working in officer promotions and evaluations. Then I went over to Japan as a squadron commander. So I was there as a commander for the mission support squadron during 9/11 — which was an exciting time, when you’re at a fighter wing and commanding troops.

“Then I transferred here to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I did my four years here, and my family wanted to stay. So I did retire.”

Q: What was that transition like? What was it like going to work on that first day without an Air Force uniform?

“It was interesting. I did a lot of prep. I’m not the ‘business image’ person. I had some ladies who are really savvy in their dress, and I wasn’t. So I started shopping once I started interviewing. … I’m an organizer.

“I found myself using all the skills I learned in the Air Force. Universities in general, they had rules, but they didn’t follow them. They had policies, but didn’t enforce them. I’m into accountability, enforcing the rules and let’s work at it as a team. And I didn’t see that. So I brought all of those skills with me and decided that if I’m going to lead this team, then they’re going to work with me in my style.

“I did what smart leaders do. I studied my environment. Then you bring in those tools that are helpful. It’s been successful for me in the past.

“I saw myself becoming a nicer commander, in a sense. With troops, you tell them what to do. They have a vision. They know how. You put them in place, and they do it. You reward them. Here, I had to do a little more. I had to convince my team members, to bring them together as a team.

“And as it ended up, we did become a team, very much so.”

Q: Why is it difficult for some veterans to adjust to civilian life?

“The military is a family. It’s a community. We’re pretty much self-contained. We know what our mission is, and we have everything available for us. We have our housing, we have our jobs — we call them ‘careers.’ We have our families there, we have our exchanges. We have everything we need, just about. It’s self-contained. Wright-Pat has everything it needs.

“You have that camaraderie because you know what the mission is. So when you come from an environment like that, and you’re back in the civilian sector, you may be a little bit lost. If you’ve spent any time in the military, that has been your community. You’ve gone out. But your day-to-day (routine) is really doing your job. …

“When you get out, that’s not the case.”

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