I moved to Jacksonville a little over a year ago. Part of the reason I chose this city is because it has such an active veterans community. And one of the people at the center of that community is today’s Front & Center guest Bruce Thompson.
Shortly after arriving in JAX, as those here call it, I attended a Vets4Vets Quarterly Gathering. Held in the local arena, the gathering included a giant stage for speakers, rows upon rows of organizations and companies interested in helping veterans and their families, a buffet lunch, and tables filled with vets of every era. At the center of it all was Bruce Thompson.
A couple of weeks later, I attended a networking event hosted by another veterans group, Vets on T.A.P. Vets and transitioning military members were huddled around tables and parked on stools in a local vet-owned coffee shop, Social Grounds, actively swapping job opportunities, making connections, and telling stories. Once again, the man in the middle was Bruce Thompson.
It quickly became clear that, if there were things going on in the veteran community, Bruce was either deeply involved in them—or he knew who was.
Over the last year, I have gotten to know Bruce and I can say that his involvement and influence in the vet community come from a genuine desire to actively and tangibly serve his fellow veterans and to create a community that is connected, encouraging, and welcoming. He pairs that desire to serve with a savviness that makes him highly effective at getting the right people in the right places to make that desire a success.
At a recent veteran networking event, Bruce first introduced himself as part of the group of people who were there to help veterans connect with jobs and opportunities….and then he reintroduced himself as part of the group of veterans who were there looking for jobs and opportunities.
“I’m always open to opportunities!” he said.
Although the rest of us chuckled at him, his mentality is exactly the thing that makes Bruce a good-hearted guy who is always positioned to help those around him and transitioning veterans can learn a lot from him….which is exactly why I asked him to be on After the DD-214.
Read on to learn more about Bruce, his service, and his advice for transitioning veterans.
1. You’re a Marine veteran. Tell me a little about your service – what made you decide to join, how long did you serve, highlights, etc.
I served in the Marine Corps from 1992 – 2016. I grew up in a small farming community and there were few options post-high school, so I joined the Marines.
Joining the Marines gave me a sense of purpose, provided training, and a fulfilling career.
During service, I served in California, Arizona, Kansas City, Cuba, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan. As for highlights, I was able to teach, mentor, coach, and shape lives. Watching these awesome young men and women succeed is the true highlight of my career.
2. You’ve been out since 2016. What made you decide to leave the service and how was your transition process?
My decision to retire was based on health issues. Twenty-three years takes a toll on the body.
When I submitted my retirement papers, I spent eighteen months planning my transition. It was still a challenge. Once you have spent two decades in the military culture, it takes a while to adjust.
I used a military headhunting firm to get a position and started on day two post-retirement. It was not the right fit for me, and I left after four weeks for another opportunity.
The transition process was harder than I expected.
3. What was the one thing you found most difficult about your transition?
For me, the biggest issue with my transition was figuring out what I wanted to do. To be honest, it is something I am still working on.
4. What was one thing you found helpful during your transition?
I would say the best part of my transition was working with non-profits to train me in detail about the things that the military transition seminar grazed over.
5. You’ve been one busy man since you left the service! You’ve launched several ventures, including most recently the Information Blast of Florida. You are also Director of Public Relations for the Veterans Village of Northeast Florida, a tiny house community for homeless veterans, and Account Manager for HireMilitary. Can you talk a little about your ventures, what drives you to take on these projects, and what advice you have for veterans who want to launch similar projects?
One of the things that I always said was that whenever I found my permanent home, I would be involved in my community. This is what has led me to be so active.
When I first arrived in Jacksonville, I ran into The Mission Continues Platoon Leader and joined the platoon. Shortly after arriving, I attended the Vets4Vets Quarterly gathering. After attending the second gathering, I knew this was something I needed to be a part of. That led to me becoming the Executive Director of Vets4Vets for 22 months. While I was running the V4V movement, it allowed me to meet many key individuals in the veteran & military communities, resources, non-profits, and more. That led to being asked to join a few committees and boards.
The drive to do all of this is based on my desire to assist transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses, and my community. My advice to anyone looking to start a venture, join a non-profit, etc. is to trust your heart. If it tells you to do something, make a plan and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Find people who are doing what you want to do, or something similar, so you can get their tips on how they did it and what they would do differently if they could go back.
And most importantly, none of the things I have done would have been possible without the support of my wife, Nila.
6. What’s one thing you miss about the military?
I miss the people.
When you join the Marine Corps, it creates a bond and that bonds us for life. Being in this group, you connect and rely on each other. We had a language all our own.
This does not exist outside the Marine Corps.
7. What’s one thing you like better about being a civilian?
Freedom to do more for veterans.
Freedom of schedule.
And no more deployments.
8. What’s your top tip for service members who are transitioning or considering leaving the service?
Transition is hard. It’s even harder if you do it all by yourself.
And finally: NETWORK.
Do you have a military transition story to tell? Would you like to be featured in a “Front & Center” interview? Send an e-mail to afterthedd214@gmail with Front & Center in the subject line and tell us your story.
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