About eight years ago, Michele McManamon left the successful sales management development firm she ran with her husband to put herself in a position to give back to the Jacksonville community. After many years of owning and operating the Jacksonville affiliate of Sandler Training, McManamon was ready to sell something different – a new start, a chance for something better.
She began helping veterans.
It began with the idea of giving someone a year-long scholarship to complete the company’s training, but they needed help fleshing out the program, so they began calling clients for advice. One of the clients they were providing training for at the time was the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity that provides a wide array of veteran support programs. Those programs are needed; Florida has the third largest veteran population in the nation, only behind California and Texas. That’s why Atlantic Logistics is supporting Operation New Uniform’s mission with a donation of $3,239.
“The people who serve in our Armed Forces make incredible sacrifices to protect and serve our country, as do their families,” said James Crichlow, Atlantic Logistics’ Marketing & Communications Director. “When that service is over, we – as a nation – should be lifting them up and helping them heal, if necessary. It’s our turn to help, which is why we stand behind Operation New Uniform and the new start (and hope) it offers to many local veterans.”
Many veterans need assistance after leaving the military, especially those that faced combat and traumatic situations. Transitioning into a civilian workforce can be particularly difficult for some. A Pew Research Center article titled The American Western Experience and the Post-9/11 Generation states, “While most veterans say the military prepared them for active duty, only about half say they were well prepared for the transition to civilian life.”
McManamon wanted to make that transition easier.
After suggesting she work with the latest cohort from Jacksonville’s Wounded Warrior Project, McManamon conducted a workshop with the participating veterans, assisting them in aligning their military skills with the local job market. She helped them develop a 30 second “commercial” to sell their skills to potential employers. She even offered, pro bono, to walk them through some actual business networking opportunities.
A single volunteer accepted her offer.
“One person raised their hand,” McManamon said. “There was a complete disconnect. I was trying to get them to understand our world without first understanding theirs… There was this one man who told me, ‘Once we take off these uniforms, people don’t treat us the same.’”
After that, McManamon realized confidence and identity were big stumbling blocks. The veterans’ sense of self, their identity, was so strongly tied to their previous roles in the military, they now felt somewhat lost and uncomfortable. Preparing veterans for a new career required a shift in how they saw themselves – a new uniform, so to speak, which was how the name evolved.
Eight years later, McManamon is now co-founder and CEO of Jacksonville’s Operation New Uniform. The other co-founder? Justin Justice, the veteran who raised his hand. (He has taken medical retirement since then.) For McManamon and the people she helps, Operation New Uniform is about more than just a new career path.
“When people look at our organization, it isn’t just a training program, it’s a life-changing program,” she said. “We have to teach people they can still be strong without having their military role tied to their identity. Rebuilding has a lot to do with the curriculum. We’ve massaged the Sandler Training to work for our military members that are transitioning to civilian careers, and we talk about a lifeline… where they are, where they were and where they want to be…”
Assistance is available to military spouses as well. This year marks the first time the nonprofit has been able to offer the ONU Spouse Program, a six-week course designed to provide military and veteran spouses with the techniques, behaviors and attitudes needed to obtain fulfilling careers. People can attend virtually or in-person.
“This has been one of the initiatives we have wanted to do from day one,” McManamon said. “We’ve kicked off our first one this year with 12 students in the class. They just graduated at the UNF University Center July 14.”
The ONU Class 47 Graduation and Career Fair also occurred on July 14.
“It’s so rewarding when you see these students transition from the first day to graduation,” McManamon said. “Getting to be a part of the email chain after someone finds a career, exclaiming about what they’re doing now, is so cool. I love seeing them thrive! They’ve done so much for us and now we get to do this for them in return – it’s very rewarding.”
Interested in Supporting Operation New Uniform?
You may want to attend ONU’s premiere fundraising event, the Ninth Annual Heroes Gala, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The Heroes Gala is where supporters, donors and ONU Alumni come together to celebrate the organizations achievements. The event will feature Lt. Col. Allen West and Brian Kilmeade, as well as a raffle, live and silent auctions, hors d’ oeuvres, cocktails, music and much more.
For additional information, please call 904-328-1600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.