Vets in Tech: Fireside Chat
Trent Wooton, lead of Vetflare, Cloudflare's employee resource group that supports veterans at Cloudflare and throughout the tech industry, hosts a fireside chat with Bob Kurkjian, Regional President, USO West.
All right, and we're live. Welcome back to another Fireside Chat with Vetflare. Again, my name is Trent Wooton.
I'm the Vetflare lead and also BDR out of the San Francisco office.
Today, I've got Bob Kurkjain with the USO here to chat and kind of have a have a fun little discussion about what the USO is, what they do, some opportunities for service members while they're in, and while they're trying to transition out.
Also, some of the fun events and kind of engageables that the USO has.
So Bob, I would love to open the floor for a little introduction to yourself.
Hey, thanks very much for having me, Trent. And to all of our veteran brothers and sisters out there, a very happy Veterans Day from yesterday.
Trent, as you know, I'm the president of USO West, which are the nine western states.
I think a lot of people who are tuning in today are probably familiar with the USO or at least some segments of the USO, whether it be entertainment or airport centers or on -base programs or family programs.
Or single soldier programs or family and spouse programs, any of the multitude of things that we do.
But I'm particularly honored to be here with Vetflare and Cloudflare because I myself am a veteran.
I'm a currently serving reservist. I'm a commander in the Navy Reserve and in fact spent most of last year mobilized in Afghanistan.
So I had the chance to be not only an employee, but a customer of the USO.
Nice. Well, thank you for your service. And since it, I guess, how long have you been in, including your active reserve?
So did you do 20 years or? So I joined as a reservist in something called the direct commission officer program.
And I'm now closing in on 18 years of service.
Cool. Well, thank you. Thank you for that service.
Any cool roles or particular duties that are of note that you like to brag about?
Well, something that is always a crowd pleaser is when I talk about pirate hunting, I was part of the combined task force 151 pirate hunters back in the days when the Somali pirates were all over the news.
And you couldn't turn more than two channels without seeing another special report on someone being hijacked or pirated in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali basin.
So in the summer and fall of 2009, I was underway aboard the flagship of the task force, which was the USS Anzio, a guided missile cruiser of the United States Navy.
And that was the lead ship of a task force of about 10 other ships from, at that point, I think eight countries were involved in that particular task force.
And we chased down pirates. Well, I surprisingly know quite a bit about that stretch in that part of the world.
I'm guessing from Aden all the way around the horn down all the way down to Somalia, kind of in that stretch of water between Seychelles and the coast.
Yes. I did much of the pirate hunting as yourself.
I was part of a VBSS team. And so I commend you.
Thank you. Thank you for that service. It's definitely, definitely risky.
Hey, the VBSS guys were the ones on the definitely pointy end of the spear on those missions.
I mean, we never knew what we're going to end up with. I had the opportunity to go out with them a couple times.
And I have to tell you, just floating around on a flat bottom boat that was filled with fish and who knows what else in the Gulf of Aden or in the Somali basin with a whole bunch of sailors who hadn't showered in probably about 30 days.
When I say sailor, not our sailors, I'm talking about the fishermen or whoever were aboard that boat was perhaps one of the most challenging things I've ever done in the military.
Yeah, you can definitely say it's aromatic.
Well, cool. Well, I guess transitioning from your time being deployed to your time now at the USO.
Were there any kind of significant transitions or what prepped you for your role or your job at USO?
Well, I had already come from a nonprofit management background.
And I was a reservist, I was in nonprofit management.
And when the original role that I joined the organization under, which was president of then what we call was a separate corporation called the Bob Hope USO.
It was a natural fit because I was keeping one foot in the military world as a Navy reservist and another foot in my civilian career professional world as a nonprofit management leader.
And so it was the perfect storm for me. And it has been by far the most challenging job I've ever had, but also by far the most rewarding.
Cool. And kind of that brings us to kind of understanding a little bit of what the USO is.
We actually just had a game show where the USO came up. And so we learned that that was founded in 1941 by FDR.
Other than that, not many people, many, many people might not fully understand kind of what the benefit or what what the mission statement is of the USO and kind of where you guys operate.
So we would love to hear more.
Yeah, well, thanks for the opportunity, Trent. And I'm happy to talk about the USO all day, pretty much every day.
And I think you'll find that with any member of the USO team or even volunteers, because we love what we do.
And it's an awesome mission. So you talk about FDR, you know, FDR saw the clouds of war on the horizon.
And obviously, back in February of 1941, looked for ways to support our troops and their families.
And with the help from six other organizations, founded the United Services Organizations.
And here we are almost 80 years later, we'll be celebrating 80 years in February.
We've grown significantly.
I think most people associate the USO with entertainment, because that's where we get a lot of our, I'll say publicity off of, whether it was Bob Hope in World War Two in Korea and Vietnam, whether it was Gary Sinise more recently, or entertainers like Robin Williams.
That's where most people think about the USO.
And although we continue to do a lot of entertainment around the world, it is only a part of what the USO does.
We've got the airport centers that I'm sure many of the folks who are tuning in have used.
We've got our on-base centers.
And from those airport centers and on-base centers, they spoke out an incredible degree of programs for our troops and their families.
It might be a coffee connection for military spouses that's now a virtual event with COVID.
It might be that there's a pizza and movie night for the single soldier program or the single airman or single marine program at the base.
It might be that there's an opportunity for spouses with young children to get together at a USO -sponsored event, whether it's something where we're reading books or watching a movie, or our partners in the NFL have come out to do what they call a Play 360 event, where we have an NFL team member come out and run a mini camp with the kids.
It's a huge hit. So any number of things that are going on. And right now, where we really made an impact in military life is something that you guys are actually in part helping us with because Cloudflare is a vendor of USO.
You help us secure our data and secure our networks.
And one of the things we've introduced with COVID that has become immensely popular has been something we call the MVP, the Military Virtual Programming Series.
And so whereas in the past, we could take a celebrity, let's say, and we could take them to all kinds of bases, but they'd only really be exposed to the troops on that base and only the ones who were available to come see them.
Well, now it's all online, and it has been a huge hit.
23,000 members of the military and family members tuned in to join Martha Stewart and bake USO rainbow cookies during COVID.
We had thousands tune in to see Scarlett Johansson talk about the Avengers.
And all of a sudden, it is bridging that gap because so much of what we do is about creating a connection between family, home, and country.
And when you can put the troops, even if it's virtually like this, in contact with celebrities, it makes such an impact.
Yeah, I think trying to find innovative ways to engage with, I mean, anyone at this moment is definitely a struggle, but trying to find ways to engage with kind of military life.
For people that are in, sometimes it can already feel a little bit isolating.
I know for my time, MWR and USO were kind of crucial in entertainment and giving us an ability to blow off steam.
So much appreciation for all that you guys do, but I definitely know you guys do a whole lot more other than entertainment.
And so there are some pretty, one of the larger reasons why Yvette Flair is kind of putting on this series of segments on Cloudflare FTV was really to kind of promote the value of veterans and military servicemen and women, not only while they're in, but also when they're out, which typically turns into a conversation around transition.
So I guess from your time as being a commander, I'm sure you've seen a lot of people come and go, and I'm sure there's a lot of stories of success and failure.
From, you don't have to get too deep into the weeds, but just kind of curious if you recognize any trends that have helped people stand out and become successful on their way out the door, or things that have helped kind of held people back.
It's a really good question because I think that is the underlying key to a successful transition is, much to your point, having level set expectations as to what it is and what it is not.
Particularly for veterans who have spent eight, 10 years, a career in the military, making that transition from a very regimented, largely controlled lifestyle into the civilian world, it can be a real shock.
So I think so much of it is making sure when someone makes that transition that they have good, solid guidance.
And that, I'll plug another one of USO's programs here, that's really where our Pathfinder Transitions programs come in, because one, they're available to members of the military who are transitioning out, as well as spouses, no matter what point they are in their military service, because they often are having to find a new job.
Every two or three years, someone PCSs with them.
But the second part about that is, so many of our Pathfinder staff are veterans themselves.
They've lived it. They know what it's like. They have made it through that transition, and they have that perspective that you can't get from a book.
You can't learn from a YouTube video. They have the perspective of what it was like to move on from the military.
And I think some of the biggest pitfalls, and this is just Bob Kirchard personally talking, some of the biggest pitfalls are, one, are not adequately translating your military experience onto your civilian resume.
And vice versa, it's a thin line, vice versa, translating it too much. So you lose some of the fidelity of what it was you do, because there's really very few civilian jobs and civilian capacities where you have such immediate leadership responsibilities.
You know, you can be an E-5, and you're working in a shop and leading 10, 15, 20 folks, and they're looking to you for guidance.
That generally doesn't happen in the civilian world, and so making sure you translate that experience really takes a clear head and some skilled assistance.
And one, this is just Bob Kirchard, don't make your resume into a, like, seven-page PowerPoint presentation.
I've seen resumes that have, like, graphs and graphics and pictures. Just tell an employer what it is you did, because for better or worse, a lot of these employers are using automation to go through your resume.
And the automation just gets thrown off by, you know, the graph of your promotions or the graphic that your friend, the graphic designer, designed for you that takes up the top quarter of the page with your name in, you know, old Gothic lettering or something.
So for what it's worth, that would be my advice.
Yeah, I think that's part of one conversation we had earlier this morning was navigating around the job classification codes, the MOSs, the NECs, the AFCSs, I think the Air Force calls them.
But yeah, it's properly articulating the job without getting either too into detail or being a little too vague.
And find, you know, again, this is where Pathfinder helps out, US Post Pathfinder Transitions helps out, you know, find a mentor, find someone who's done it, find someone who's in a hiring role to take a look at your resume as well.
One, because maybe they have a job for you, but even more importantly, they're going to provide some good feedback.
And Trent, I'll mention one more thing is just like if you go to 10 JAG officers and ask for their opinion on something, you're going to get 11 opinions.
You know, when you ask 10 people for advice on your resume, you're going to get a lot of different advice.
So go with what works for you the best, but remember, you know, keep it simple.
And then I guess a simpler way to, or an easier way to ask a more complicated question, what does a successful transition look like?
I don't know that there is a cookie cutter answer to that.
I think a transitioning veteran, he's asked himself, what am I looking to get out of this transition?
Do I want a job that, you know, if I'm retiring from the military, I've got my 20, I've got my 30 years in, if I'm retiring, do I want a job that just keeps the little income coming to me on top of my retirement?
Do I want a job that allows me to, you know, further my skill set in advance?
If you've spent four years in the military and you're getting out, I think the things that I most often counsel my sailors on, particularly the ones on the activity side, is, you know, make sure you understand the difference between benefits in the civilian world and in the military world.
There really are not many companies, or at least none that I can think of, that pay for 100% of your medical in the civilian world.
You know, there's no such thing as a housing allowance in the civilian world, or on -base housing, or the ITT ticket office to get discount tickets to Disneyland or what have you.
So think through some of those aspects and then ask yourself, where do you want to be in five years?
Okay, now let's backwards plan. Where do you need to be now to be where you want to be in five years?
What do you need education-wise? Where do you want to live?
Do you have family considerations to think of? I think sometimes thinking that far out in the military doesn't come naturally because someone tells you in the military what you're doing, you know, in two years, in three years.
You have orders that say, all right, you're going to be in this location at this time and you're going to be there for this many years and we'll get back to you in this many years minus maybe six or eight months and let you know where you're going next.
So really try to think forward and then plan backwards to make sure you get to where you need to be.
Yeah, I definitely agree. Taking a little bit more ownership for the planning of life's directions is one of those significant differences for a civilian or anyone that's trying to transition out.
So I totally agree.
You have to have to consider all of the cost, time, location, and kind of what that next step really requires.
Sometimes it requires a significant investment in education, either that's utilizing the GI Bill or some roles kind of expect certain certifications.
And there are a number of state-run or federally-run organizations that help vets or transitioning active service members to help get a lot of those certifications for free.
So many people leave a lot of value on the table.
You're talking about all these organizations and you're absolutely right.
Whether they are civilian organizations or whether even inside the military, there's a lot of value there in education and experiences.
Take it for all it's worth.
Yeah, take advantage of it because you wrote that blank check once.
Cool. Now, kind of getting back to some of the mission and the roles of the USO in general, just aside from some of the fun kind of concerts and the airport resting areas, love them by the way, what are some additional ways you guys reach out and try and engage some of your users, service members, and just kind of get the word out about the USO?
So much of what we do has an underlying theme of, I'll say, making the divide between civilians and our military smaller.
Because so much of our military is now pocketed away in either remote locations or in locations that there's not a whole lot of interaction with the civilian population.
And we really strive to be that bridging function between civilian world and military world and be an avenue for that civilian world to express gratitude to our troops and their families.
So a lot of what we do, and a lot of where anyone tuned in today can help with, is a lot of what we do is with volunteers.
98% of our worldwide workforce are volunteers. That's 30,000 people.
Every year we engage 30,000 volunteers to do what the USO does in 14 countries and 250 locations every single day of the year.
So our volunteers are instrumental to what it is the organization does and the value we bring to our troops and their families.
But to talk about programming that we have beyond the traditional airport center, beyond the traditional center on base, we talked a little about the MVP program, the military virtual programming that we're putting out online.
There's also everything from family activity kits that go on at different bases, particularly during COVID.
Those have been popular. Mom and dad are running out of ways to keep the kids busy if they're home from school and they're doing distance learning.
And as, again, many folks who are tuning in today can certainly appreciate, when the military member goes on deployment, the spouse is home with the kids, and now we're going to pile onto that that it's COVID, and the kids are home all day, and that spouse may have lost their civilian job because they got furloughed or laid off.
So much of what we've done the past nine months has been really focused on that military family and making sure that, particularly while the serving spouse is away, that that family remains strong and vibrant and resilient through that, even in the midst of COVID, even in the midst of perhaps a job loss.
So in many places we've created family activity kits that go out once a month.
It might be, one of my favorites was Nature is Neat. It was two little potting plants and some soil and some seeds and an instruction manual and a care manual and teaching the kids, hey, we're going to plant these plants and here's what you do after two weeks and here's what you do after six weeks, and let's keep it going.
We had a superhero adventure family entertainment kit that really focused on every kid's favorite superheroes.
So it is that, just that break in the day that military families get when they engage with the USO.
And a lot of it also, regretfully, again, because we have a lot of spouses that have lost second incomes due to COVID, has been some food security issues for our military families and making sure they still have a healthy selection of food.
And that might be through what we call no-dough dinners at different centers.
It may be through family distribution kits of food.
Down in San Diego, traditionally we had a monthly event with the San Diego Food Bank, but it mimicked a farmer's market, except it was all free for military families.
Where they'd walk into the farmer's market and part of the mission there was making sure we taught, particularly military kids, the value of nutrition, the value of fruits and vegetables and how to do fun stuff with them.
So it is so much based on what our military needs when, and one of the strengths of the organization is how localized leadership is.
And we talk about that E5 who is in charge, might have only been in the military for six, seven years, but is in charge of 15 or 20 people.
It's kind of that same mindset at the USO where our local staff can look around, and oftentimes they are military spouses or veterans themselves, can look around and go, here's what my community needs.
Because I've talked to the base commander, I've talked to the family readiness group, I've talked to the MWR folks, here's how the USO can make a difference.
Wow, that's a lot of powerful ways that you both help and engage.
I can only imagine the appreciation of those families that are receiving those goods.
I mean, that's a godsend for them.
I mean, it is the difference between having enough and not sometimes.
And we've heard that. That's exactly the feedback that we've received from some of the families, and it's the feedback we received from some of the spouses who are down range as well when they find out the USO was there for their stressed out husband or wife, trying to manage three kids and a dog while they're gone.
And oftentimes, it is a moniker that I'm not comfortable with myself, but oftentimes we hear people call members of the military heroes.
I will steadfastly tell you that the real heroes in the military are not the members of the military.
The real heroes are the spouses and the kids and the parents who are back here in the United States, trying to manage, particularly during COVID, while their military member is in a conflict zone or in harm's way.
They are the real heroes and are the backbone of our military.
And they are under-acknowledged. I think that there is a, from the conversations I've seen, there is a shift in the perspective where people are starting to recognize the service and contributions of families.
When before it was, hey, just think of veteran. Now people are starting to become aware that, okay, there is a veteran, but the veteran also has a family.
And it is military family month, so an apropos time to talk about it.
Cool, cool. Well, there are a few additional kind of more fun ways that you guys tend to be able to engage with others.
You shared with me one the other day with me that utilizes a service that I know a lot of Cloudflare employees and just everyone across modern digital industry uses now, which is Twitch.
Yes. Do you guys have a Twitch channel?
We do, we do. Yeah, it's relatively new and it's become immensely popular in a very short period of time.
And there's a lot of enthusiasm going on there.
And what we quickly found out is that there are gamers out there that are just as popular, if not more popular than some of the biggest movie stars we take on tour.
And we try to engage with them as well to engage with our troops and play against our troops.
And it's one of those things where we can do it in a very targeted manner or in a very wide manner.
We can say, hey, the USS Starrett, we're going to do a video gaming competition with just you guys and these two gamers who are world renowned.
And for a ship, for instance, that's been on a long deployment without a whole lot of port stops, there goes my energy saving lights in the office.
Hold on. All right, I'm back. So it makes all the difference. And at the end of the day, the USO is there around the world to bring that sense at home to our troops.
And we do it as a nonprofit. We're not an arm of the government.
We're not, there's not some office in the Pentagon that says USO, you know, director on it at all.
It is all done through the support and generosity of our donors.
And then you also mentioned a 5k or a turkey trot coming up. Yeah, we have a trot for the troops.
Oh, that's what I'm talking about. That's fun. I mean, right.
And listen, whether you run it or not, you get the medal in the mail. You can talk to your friends.
You can wear it to work the next day. You know, put it up on social media.
But if you go to Gone For A Run, a G-O-N-E-F-O-R-A-R-U-N, goneforarun.com slash USO, you can find it or you can find a link to it on the USO homepage at uso.org.
Sign up, you know, get involved. It's fun. Bring your friends.
There's so little chance to exercise with COVID. Here's a good excuse. Get out there and join us for a run.
Yeah, to keep everyone six feet apart, just have a string tied to everyone.
Everyone just maintains the distance and just runs around in circles.
There you go. All right, cool. Well, we are coming up towards the end of our time together.
I did want to make sure to kind of provide any additional support or kind of ask for kind of takeaways or advice that you'd like to provide for the Cloudflare audience.
I'd say, listen, for the veterans out there, you know what it's like to have a USO, or at least I hope you know what it's like to have a USO involved with your service.
One of my favorite parts of the job is hearing from veterans.
Everyone has their USO story. You know, the story where the USO saved the day and really made a difference.
For the folks who aren't veterans, you don't have to be a veteran or have anything to do with the military to come volunteer with us or to help support our cause with a donation or to find out more or to help us bridge that civilian-military divide.
So visit us at uso.org.
Find a USO near you. We'd love to have you as volunteers. We'd love to have you as donors.
We'd love to have you as supporters. We're proud to have you as a vendor.
Thanks for keeping us safe in the Internet. And I really appreciate your time, Trent.
And thanks for your service as a fire controlman. I think one of the coolest rates in the Navy.
So thank you. Hey, thank you as well. And everyone watching, that's uso.org.
If you'd like to support, go there. They have a donation page.
Please feel free, but not obligated. Thanks very much, Trent. Thanks, everyone. Have a great day.
Bye. Bye. Bye.
Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye.
Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye.