Amber Stark

Veterans in the Workplace: The End of the Military Engagement in Afghanistan

By Kimberly Derryberry, Ph.D.
Military and Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee

The chaotic, international withdrawal from Afghanistan was felt deeply by many veterans. The Afghanistan War had lasted nearly 20 years, during which several thousands of coalition service members sacrificed time away from their families, homes, and work to assist Afghanistan in their fight against their adversaries, with some service members even making the ultimate sacrifice.

It was difficult for many veterans to put into words the thoughts and feelings they felt as they watched the events unfold during the late weeks of August 2021. The Taliban took back Afghanistan, province by province. The Afghan forces fled or surrendered, despite 20 years of training support from NATO allies. Countries from around the world organized hasty evacuation plans for their citizens, for Afghan visa holders, and for Afghans wishing to flee their country. Service members were sent back in to guard the only flight lines out as thousands upon thousands of Afghans crushed the gates in their efforts to leave. There was an explosion at the airfield that many veterans, through their training, figured was inevitable. The explosion killed nearly 200 people including service members. Flags of a “we’re different” Taliban waved from vehicles and buildings throughout the country. Finally, there was a night vision photo of a lone general walking to his aircraft as the last boots on ground in Afghanistan, signaling the end of a 20-year war. This was a war and place that defined the service of many veterans.

Many working veterans turned to each other to discuss and for support at the water coolers, in the breakrooms, and in the hallways. Military veterans all share a background developed and grown within the strong culture of the military, which often means they find comfort in that commonality during times of laughter, exploration, and trial.

During the withdrawal, veterans shared their experiences of their time in Afghanistan, vented about their concerns of the withdrawal, and comforted each other about the feelings they were having. From the first step off the bus at basic training, service members gain family members in their military colleagues. These are their brothers- and sisters-in-arms, their battle buddies, their wingmen, their shipmates. Many of these bonds become strong and do not weaken even after service. Even if having not served together, the concept of this inherent bond is still there between veterans. The Afghan withdrawal reignited that bond for many.

“It is extremely important to understand the depth of veteran relationships with other veterans given they share a similar culture and experience and background,” says Dr. Leslie Hammer, American Psychology Association and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Fellow. “The value of civilian leaders in recognizing this need for coworker support among veterans is especially important during times of high stress, such as the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan. We know the value of social support from an extensive history of scholarly works. We are recognizing more and more the value of supervisor support and coworker support, especially among veterans.”  

Industrial-organizational psychology professionals can support our veterans by helping leaders in organizations to recognize this often-underrepresented group in its demographic population. I-O practitioners can assist leaders in providing policies and resources that support veteran mental health. Leaders can also rely on their I-O practitioners to assist in finding the proper resources for the workforce and for veterans to deal with signs of high stress.

The SIOP Military Veterans Inclusion Ad Hoc Committee will share articles in the Source throughout November as part of its efforts to increase workplace resources and their dissemination to support those in the military community (e.g., veterans, guard and reservists, military spouses) employed in civilian settings and employers of veterans.

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