Search

How I Parlayed My 28 Years of Military Service Into a Career at Amazon


My transition to Amazon is more of a story of leading through change than it is of finding a new job. My goal with this blog is to attempt to share with you the things that made pursuing a second career palatable and the roadblocks that you may encounter along the way.


Who hasn’t heard the senior NCO or Officer in the unit state that all they want to do is be a “door greeter” or work somewhere without responsibility or personnel to charge. This sentiment is probably true at the time and in the end we may find fulfillment in having a job that lacks the time commitment that we currently have. But I would like to posit that the meaning and gratification that we find in military service, and the chance to directly make a difference in the lives of others is a more alluring aspiration as is the test of matching your skills against the toughest challenges you can find.


I found my challenge in Amazon. You may find yours in HEB, my other favorite company, or in an entrepreneurial venture, but to be honest and this is nothing against “door greeters” I would not have found happiness checking for receipts.


Here are roadblocks that you may encounter in your next career:


Does your perspective company have a mission or values that they are bold enough to put in writing? Culture is everything. I was always proud of being an Inspector General for a time in the Army, because I was directly responsible for holding the Army accountable to the values that it espoused. Now whether your new company falls short of the mission is one thing, but if they do not have any that is another story. Amazon has 14 leadership principles that aligned very well with my own core values and gave me reason to believe that they stood for something.


For military transitioners…does your company respect your service and what type of developmental opportunities does the company offer? Many of you are willing to start from the ground up, but it is a whole other thing to work for a company that could care less about the fact that you have dedicated years of your life to defending the country and leading its sons and daughters. Amazon takes on military interns, is tied in with Hire Our Heroes and has a legit Pathways program and military recruiters that are actively looking for transitioning talent.


Are you humble enough to start from the bottom? Some of you will have managers that are younger, less experienced and in some cases lack the commitment that you have. This does not mean that your manager cannot teach you how the business runs. Be a sponge. Take on the lessons that are available at any given time and the cream will rise to the top. If you cannot do this and you are not willing to prove the value that you bring to the company by working through its gates then there are tens and maybe thousands of potential employees that you will not get a chance to show that you are the leader that they deserve and that they should aspire to be.


Your experience should inform the decisions and trajectory of your team, not be the single point of reference for why you are right and everyone else is wrong. The company was there before you and in all likelihood will be there after you. Add value. You have worked as part of a team for years. Why does your new company have to put up with and hear about the time when you and your idea saved the world?


I share these stumbling blocks because they are issues that I saw my fellow veterans fall into while at Amazon. The fact is that I believe you were a hero for what you did in the military. You were probably the smartest person in your unit. Hell you may even be an actual hero…they need jobs too. But you have to give your new peers a chance to recognize and appreciate your excellence. There is no ribbon for badass at your new company. Do not sabotage your experience because your past is the only lens in which you see a future.


And no…you do not want to sit around or check for receipts, do nothing or really retire. 50 is not old anywhere else but the military…!



Lee Flemming, is a retired Army Colonel currently working in Dallas 3 (DAL3) Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas as a Military Pathways Senior Operations Manager. He is a 28-year Army Veteran with extensive operations and management experience. The Boots to Amazon series includes regular installments meant to inform and educate Service Members and the public about transitioning into employment at Amazon and other post / second career opportunities.