On the first of his two combat tours with the U.S. Army in Bosnia in 1998 and 1999, Jason Meszaros said, “There wasn’t a whole lot of combat. We put together huge information campaigns to drive home the message of living peacefully together and overcoming the differences.” When he was called up again in 2004, he was paired with an NCIS agent with special ops background. “When Navy Seals would go out after a high-value target, he and I would tag along,” Meszaros said. He was usually the first person to talk to them, through an interpreter, “to see what could be used to drive future missions.” He also assured that any evidence was properly tagged.
About six months after returning home from that deployment, Meszaros said, “I decided I needed to be done with my military career,” in part because of back and hip pain from a deployment-related injury.
He went back to his predeployment job in a software company, then “bounced around” before becoming the first Chief Information Officer for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. His primary focus was to merge the Department of Veterans Affairs with the Department of Veterans Homes. “It was completely different technology. Not investing in technology impacted care. Those were the issues I set out to fix.”
In that job, Mezsaros discovered a passion for integration of technology that is now his focus as a consultant. “I’m going to try to build a business around managing integration. I want to move out of the doer role and into a leadership role,” he said.
What are the challenges of coming back to civilian life?
One of the stories I tell is going into the mailroom to get some envelopes. One of the accounting guys was ranting about the fact that there were no more blue pens. Literally I’d been at work less than a month. I said, “There are no bullets flying around here. It’s really pretty nice.” The little things don’t faze veterans because they’ve seen how hard it really is.
How does your military experience tie into your project manager role?
“Fix-it guy” is a typical role for a veteran. We dive in and fix problems rather than let them fester. We have a tendency to run toward the problem rather than run away from it. Veterans are very goal-oriented. Consulting and project work are a natural fit. But if you don’t give veterans a goal, if you just say “go do your job,” they get really frustrated. We like a project plan that you execute very quickly, and we typically succeed. We have situational awareness. We ask, “What will our decisions do to other projects?” We know there are a dozen crises and missions that impact the same units.
Are there challenges for veterans in civilian jobs?
Veterans tend to be very blunt and tell the truth rather than sugarcoat it. They can come off as very intense. Most have witnessed poor leadership and great leadership and recognize it quickly. They align themselves with the people who are going to make their job easier because they’ll make decisions and let them do their job. Veterans can get bored quickly. The military transitions people every two to three years. There’s a difference between handling the same challenge repetitively and facing new challenges. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now — I want that new challenge. □