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Helping Veterans Find Purpose in the Private Sector

By Jeffrey Rindskopf

Anthony Garcia, Jr. returned from his second tour in Iraq as a medical evacuation officer in 2005. Back home in San Antonio, he taught a basic-training course for other aspiring medical officers and spent his rare off-hours self-medicating with alcohol. After less than six months, he asked to be sent to Afghanistan.

My boss said we can arrange that, just give it one more month,” Garcia recalls. “But within that month, my sister talked to me and said she was afraid I was going to hurt somebody, or myself—so I made the decision to get out.”

So began Garcia’s transition into the private sector—a difficult journey that helped to inspire his latest entrepreneurial venture, called GuideOn. The startup is designed to help veterans find jobs by translating their military experience into resumes that reflect their skills in civilian terminology, while simultaneously connecting employers to an as-yet-untapped pool of new talent.

Very soon we’ll be able to show veterans the opportunities they can pursue with their professional makeup,” Garcia says. “Even more visionary, in one to two years, we’ll be able to say, here are the gaps you have in experience to get this job, and here’s how you can fill those gaps.”

Though he says it took until 2014 for him to feel completely functional, Garcia says he’s had a comparatively easy time returning to civilian life, thanks to the support of his family and the employment opportunities opened to him by an Ivy League education.

I didn’t have the problems or the struggles that 99% of us have getting out of the military. I got really lucky.”

With the encouragement of his sister and other loved ones, Garcia enrolled in business school at Cornell University and moved to Ithaca, where the symptoms of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still compounded.

My roommate got worried and called my mom because I was just in my bedroom from morning till evening, and from evening till morning,” he says. “I stopped drinking alcohol, I didn’t care about anything, I just wanted to disappear.”

His mother drove up to help, and soon Garcia began taking medication and speaking with a university psychologist. Having hit rock bottom, he says he was able to start healing more actively, and stopped taking medication and attending counseling upon graduating with his MBA.   

Between his two years at Cornell, Garcia held an internship that led to a full-time job offer in mergers and acquisitions. But he wasn’t interested in finance—he wanted to work with people.

Coming out of business school, it would have been simple to slide into a job making a lot of money, doing something that didn’t provide me any fulfillment,” says Garcia.

Instead, he was inspired to pursue being an entrepreneur by a professor who had been a social worker before starting several of his own businesses. With his help, Garcia saw how the sense of purpose he had become accustomed to in the military might translate well to the often-mission-based startup world.

“When you get out of the military,” he explains, “you have so much focus and purpose even if you’re not in combat situations anymore. We want that purpose, but we don’t know what we’re capable of doing, or what’s out there in the sense of jobs.”

If civilian life leaves veterans searching for new purpose, many seem to find it in starting their own businesses like Garcia. Bunker Labs—a national non-profit organization supporting veterans trying to start and grow their own businesses—estimates a whopping 25% of transitioning service members want to start their own business. They’re also at least 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than those without active duty experience.

We’ve been built that way through our military experience—we just don’t know there’s that correlation to the entrepreneurial world outside the army,” Garcia says. “It’s the mission-focus, and also being used to getting stuff done without someone looking over my own shoulder.”

Though nearly half of all veterans after World War II went on to start their own business, only 4.5% of post-9/11 veterans have done the same so far, meaning there’s plenty of room for organizations like Bunker Labs and Guide On to help this generation of service members find their fulfillment in booming private industries like tech.

Garcia worked briefly for a startup in Ithaca before returning to San Antonio in 2009. He quickly sold his house and used the proceeds from an estate sale to relocate to Silicon Valley, where all the talent and capital of his adopted industry was becoming increasingly concentrated.

While working at SRI International, the nonprofit research institute behind Siri and the very first internet transmission, Garcia met the man who would become his cofounder. They attempted twice to start their own business without success before pivoting to GuideOn in 2014, together tackling a problem Garcia had long hoped to solve.

Sometimes the best way to go after something you’re passionate about is to be forced into it,” Garcia says, “And we knew we only had one more shot to make a business.”