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On a Mission for Success: Gray’s Jami Killinger Discusses the Invaluable Skills of our Nation’s Veterans

In addition to being our nation’s heroes, veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces bring a wealth of skills and professional traits to any organization seeking world-class talent. Whether it’s leadership, collaborative thinking, teamwork or the ability to act quickly under pressure—veterans are armed with aptitude and equipped for success.

Jami Killinger currently serves as an assistant project manager at Gray Construction.

Jami Killinger is one of many veterans currently serving as full-time team members for Gray Construction. In her role as Assistant Project Manager, Jami helps manage project scheduling, estimating, budgeting, reporting and weekly jobsite meetings.  Additionally, she conducts research, negotiates pricing with subcontractors and coordinates the purchase and delivery of materials to jobsites across the country.


Jami discusses how the skills she acquired while serving our country have been crucial to her professional success in the Q&A below:


Q: Can you describe your background as a veteran of the United States Armed Forces?   


A: I served a total 17 years in the United States Navy as a Gunner’s Mate. I completed three deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Anaconda, and the Global War on Terror; to include other short tours to the Middle East to assist with smaller operations in the region. My primary role during my time in service was focused on development, and training command personnel on Small Arms and Minor Caliber Weapon Safety and Qualifications. I finished my career serving as a Security Reaction Force Team Member with Coastal Riverine where we conducted vessel searches and provided additional security and transportation for special operational units.


Q: What skills did you develop in the military that have been most valuable in your current position at Gray?


A: I learned many skills, but there are three that have been most beneficial to my career in project management:


  • Quick decision making: Due to the responsibilities that came with my job in the military, I was conditioned to make decisions quickly because my response time could determine whether someone lived or died. Additionally, I was taught to not fear making corrections along the way if I encountered unforeseen conditions. I utilized the tools that were available, combined them with my experience and mixed it with a little gut instinct to address the challenge(s) on hand. At Gray, certain activities (specifically related to safety) demand a quick response, and at times our response can also determine not only whether someone lives or dies, but the company’s reputation and future as well. The tempo between a military life and a civilian life may differ, but quick decisions still need to be made for the survival of our team on all levels.


  • Patience: On the opposite end of the spectrum from quick decision making is patience. When it comes to patience, there is a phrase almost every military person could repeat, which is “Hurry up and wait.” Standing in long lines for hours on end, or being 15 to 30 minutes early for every meeting was not out of the ordinary. The long wait times can exercise your patience to its fullest capacity.


  • Adaptability: Adapt and overcome is what we say! Military personnel are naturally well-traveled individuals. I personally have been exposed to countless different cultures from around the world, lived in five different states, and spent the better portion of three years overseas in foreign countries. Most civilians do not face nor understand the uncertainly that comes with constant change. Every project we do at Gray is unique in its own way. Adaptability has given me the sense of comfort to not fear traveling alone to an unknown location to visit with a customer. My history of traveling has provided me the opportunity to better understand our customers’ cultures, listen to their requests and understand their needs.


Q:  Did you encounter any challenges when re-entering the workforce, and if so, how did you overcome them?


A: When you make the decision to transition from a military career to become a civilian and enter the everyday workforce, you can never be too prepared for what you will encounter. Each person is unique in his or her own way, so everyone’s adjustment period will vary. In my case, the last 12 years of my career I had to balance both civilian and military life because I was serving in the Naval Reserves.


During the Long Range Rifle Match, Jami won 2nd place for individual shooting.

I will never forget the sudden adjustment period I faced going from full active duty to a civilian in 2003.  The transition period for veterans in 2003 was much different than it is now. The Global War on Terror was young and combat activities were in high gear. At that time, the Navy was not prepared for personnel to return home so quickly. My transition period was just long enough to fly back to the United States, turn in my gear, sign some documents and drive home. I was physically home, but mentally still in the fight.


Going from an environment that demands all of your physical and mental capabilities for long periods of time—and requires making quick life impacting decisions—and transitioning to an environment that is normal to the majority of the population can feel like you are on the world’s biggest roller coaster going 150 mph to 0 in seconds.


Like yin and yang, or hot and cold, how someone handles the transition from the military to civilian life can manifest in different ways. It was very important for me to quickly recognize when I became “unbalanced” so I could take corrective action.


The biggest challenge I faced when I joined the civilian workforce, was to understand what a normal “sense of urgency” was.  A sense of urgency to a veteran can be, at times, very different from a civilian. I had to work on slowing down to say the least.


Another challenge I faced, and still do slightly today, is associating to non-military personnel. Deployments can take a toll on some veterans, and cause trust issues in some situations. At times, I can feel uncomfortable or standoffish with civilians because the bond or trust is not quite there. It is nothing personal—it just takes me more time to learn you and open up.


Q: Can you offer any advice to veterans on how to translate military skills to civilian jobs?


Although you may not have gone to a traditional college, the skills you learned go far beyond what you might learn in a classroom. Teamwork, adaptability, integrity, loyalty and hard work are highly desirable traits successful employers want. Have the desire to learn—but most importantly, listen and take a breath.


Utilize your skill of being patient, ask many questions, and then ask more questions. Locate your fellow military members at the office, get to know them and use them as a lifeline. Sometimes when military members are transitioning from active duty, non-military co-workers and the company do not realize you just got back home. The military had the “Buddy System” which taught us to never go anywhere without our buddy. So, before you pull the rip cord and deploy your chute prematurely, locate your confidante in the office, and do not be afraid to talk, open up, ask questions—and obtain some guidance to ensure we all make it to drop zone together!


Gray is proud to support the hiring of our nation’s veterans. To view available positions within our organization, click here.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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