In this episode, Lt. Col. Kathy Gallowitz visits us to discuss the other end of a veteran’s service. She shares bits of her background, her upbringing as the daughter of an active-duty officer, and how she developed a strong sense of belonging in military environments. She explains what it means to be a veteran champion, how employers can be veteran champions, and the proper ways to recognize and thank veterans for their service.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We have a special guest with us today. She is a retired career Air Force Veteran who served as a Public Affairs Officer and Nurse. Her Master’s degrees in Nursing and Political Science frame her practice and perspectives. She’s a speaker, a trainer, and a coach. And It was her life’s calling to design and lead a never-been-done-before military outreach program in Ohio, in response to 9/11, to educate and engage civilians in support of troops and their families. So, welcome Kathy Gallowitz.
Kathy Gallowitz: Hey, thanks for having me, Steve. It’s great to get to know you. And I appreciate being a guest on your show.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I’m really looking forward to our visit today. It’s so timely. In the United States, we have Veteran’s Day coming up. This is going to be a perfect discussion for that and it’s so relevant. Some of the greatest resources we have in our country would be our military and retired military — so much experience, so much to offer, and so much passion. So, we’re going to talk about that today. And before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Kathy. While not serving in uniform, Lt Kathy Lowrey Gallowitz established and managed Buckeye Sports and Orthopedic Specialists and was the President of the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce. Way to go, Kathy! She has first-hand experience hiring Veterans. And ss the owner of Vanguard Veteran, she equips civilians to become Veteran Champions as the “Veteran-hiring Concierge,” “Military Ministry Builder” and “Fallen Comrades Ceremony Producer.” Kathy serves as the Chair of the Arizona Governor’s Veterans’ Service Advisory Commission, the Southwest Veteran Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and is the Veteran-hiring Advisor for the Arizona Society of Human Resource Management. Her husband, Ed, is a retired career active-duty soldier with four combat tours. Together they have six sons, one daughter, and three grandchildren. So, let’s get into it, Kathy, shall we?
Kathy Gallowitz: You bet.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, tell us, first of all, about your background, including any turning points in your life that had a significant impact on you and what has led you to do what you’re doing today.
Kathy Gallowitz: Wow! That’s a big question. I think we should probably start with the turning point of when my active duty father asked me to move from Fairfax, Virginia to a small island on the North Atlantic where he was assigned as the commanding officer of a communication station. At that point in my life, I was 16 years old, I had just gotten my driver’s license, had my first boyfriend, was completing my Gold Award for Girl Scouts. I’d lived somewhere for seven years having been involved in an active-duty military family, and that was where I had the strongest sense of belonging, Steve, I had ever known. And frankly, yet to this day, have I had that sense of belonging, which is really important in life. I was also a varsity cheerleader, so I had tons of friends. I actually just came back to my 45th high school reunion in Fairfax and, oh, I just felt so connected and it was just such a wonderful experience. Even though I didn’t graduate from Fairfax High School, I graduated from a Department of Defense High School in Keflavik, Iceland with a class of 30 people. That was a turning point for me. My dad, when we left Fairfax, said, “You know, Kathy, most people don’t live like we live in the Northern Virginia area. That’s not what most of the world is like.” So my eyes were broadened. That was really, for me, the beginning of really appreciating and valuing my country and everything that America has to offer.
Kathy Gallowitz: Another turning point was my divorce. I left my marriage of 18 years — a difficult marriage. I was married to an orthopedic surgeon. I stayed for all those years because of my Christian values and my military values, thinking it was the right thing to do, but it was not a good place for me. So, that spurred a huge introspective, reflective time and really propelled me in other areas of interest because I’d been in nursing for 20-plus years, and I wanted to try different things. I’ve always been very curious, had lots of interest, and so I moved into public affairs. Through the public affairs piece, after working in a chamber of commerce, and having been an award-winning business owner because my first husband and I had set up Buckeye Sports and Orthopedic Specialists, I had the opportunity to develop this outreach office. So, everything aligned for me then, Steve. My personal life experience being an active duty person, my own experience as an Air Force officer, my academic experience in nursing and caring for people, as well as my understanding of politics and administration. Anyway, it just all aligned as this Public Affairs Officer project, building the outreach office in response to 911, and I saw firsthand how much citizens really love to serve their military. There was so much pride and satisfaction, if not even really joy, that’s a strong word but I really think that it just really enrich the lives of the veteran champions that I’ve met. So, with a little bit of encouragement, knowledge, and frankly, appreciation, civilians can do so much more if given just a little bit of support and some specific guidance.
Steve Shallenberger: Always amazed how our life experiences sometimes just really inform as we listen to where we want to go and where we might end up that we would have never expected we’d be there and put you into a pathway where, uniquely, you can make a difference. So, congratulations on that. I love that background.
Kathy Gallowitz: I think another turning point was moving from Ohio after 25 years to Arizona — I’ve been here now for three. And being immersed, if you will, in an even more veteran-friendly ecosystem because when I was in Ohio, it’s a great state, they have 800,000 veterans, and we’ve got a lot of great things going on in Ohio. But in Arizona with 500,000 veterans, there is a huge community collaborative, and ideas that I would have had in Ohio that I would have liked to implement were already in place, many of them, in Arizona. It’s really exciting to have a voice and be a part of even making a more veteran-friendly if not veteran-ready state.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, great. And of course, as you know from our visit before we started this podcast today, veterans have a real soft spot in my life. Not only do I have uncles and aunts and grandparents that were veterans, but we have two sons who were F-16 pilots and served the country in the Air Force and defending liberty and everything that we hold so precious. It’s a big deal.
Kathy Gallowitz: You are truly a veteran champion, Steve. You get it firsthand, you understand how military service shapes us. And frankly, the investment that our country makes in developing these fine men and women to really be at their best all the time because we need them to be. What do we do with all that investment once they take off the uniform? That’s where my life’s calling is; to help our servicemembers transition all the way home through the support of our citizenry.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m just thinking about my cousin, Charles, who served in the army as a career and all of the really sophisticated things that he did — people that he led, systems that he managed, and having come home and hear about some of the challenges in the transition that aren’t easy, some of the memories that they have to work through. You’ve mentioned the word “veteran champion,” how do you define a veteran champion? Because there are a lot of listeners here today, I expect, really would like to be a veteran champion. What does that mean?
Kathy Gallowitz: It is someone who has never worn the uniform but creates mutual activities and services that promote quality of life, workforce, and community. So, no action is too small. You are a veteran champion just by getting this information out — that’s a big deal. You are a veteran champion by, if you will, mowing somebody’s lawn who has a deployed service member. The range of possibilities are endless. There’s no one way to do this. Let’s take into consideration your sons to have gone off and moved a lot. So, when they decide it’s time to develop some roots and be stationary for a while and take off their uniform, regardless of where they go, especially if they go back home, most of their support systems have shifted. And yet where do the best things in life come from, Steve? They come from strong local relationships and reputations. Word-of-mouth recommendation for a job is everything because it’s a trusted lead, and you’re vouching for somebody. Well, those things are tough to come by when you’ve been moving around the world every two to three years. And I’ve heard military transition described probably by maybe a more junior enlisted person but it doesn’t matter, we all kind of feel this way. Research shows that 55% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans feel disconnected from mainstream America. Or said another way, the Bush Institute reports that about 84% of the current-era veterans feel like America doesn’t understand them. So, the statement that this gentleman made was, “When I took off my uniform, I came home, I felt like I was in a foreign country with the foreign language and customs that I didn’t understand.” And it’s very real.
Steve Shallenberger: What can everyday citizens do to be a veterans champion?
Kathy Gallowitz: First off, consider what you say to people who wear the uniform or those who ever have worn the uniform. If it’s a Vietnam veteran, it’s appropriate to say, “Welcome home, and thank you.” They so treasure that. It’s so important for our Vietnam veterans. Please take every opportunity to do that. And they’re easy to spot most of the time because they wear baseball caps. The other thing you can say is, “Thank you for your service.” But really, we all need to go beyond “thank you for your service.” So that’s the title of my book, but maybe we can talk about that in a minute. But the other thing that’s warmly received is, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice.” There’s some discussion about how “thank you for your service” might be a little bit superficial. It depends on how you deliver it — your body language, your intonation, and that sort of thing. I gave a presentation for a large corporation recently just on that topic, Steve, because some of their veterans were a little uncomfortable hearing “thank you for the service.” And then another podcast host, her name is Kat, a veteran, said, “What about this: What about staying, ‘Thank you for wearing the uniform?’” Wow! That says it all if you ask me because wearing the uniform encompasses so much more, that’s very meaty and means a lot to the recipient. So, what you say matters and how you say it, first of all.
Kathy Gallowitz: The other key component of being a solid veteran champion is to get to know that veteran as an individual. Offering them pay for a meal is so nice, but if you have an opportunity to knock on someone’s door, get to know them, invite them for coffee, and connect them to the community socially, professionally, and in any way possible — that’s great. But employers are just so well suited to be veteran champions, to really understand how to hire and to retain that talent makes such a big difference in that veteran’s quality of life. In return, the employer gets a loyal, disciplined team player leader who’s tech-savvy and shows up to work on time in most cases. So, the veteran champion idea is a mutually beneficial idea. The citizen gets to know the veteran, and the veteran helps the citizen, basically. So, that can be done as a neighbor. I’m sure when your sons come home, the pride on your face when you’re introducing your sons to your friends and your sons are telling your friends about what they do, your friends benefit a lot from your son’s life experiences and their stories. I contend that it’s a win-win if you build a relationship with your neighbor veteran; it’s a win-win, certainly, if you hire them; but I also think it’s a win-win when faith communities develop military ministries to build friendship, support, sense of belonging because the church is serving the veteran community in a meaningful way. And I believe that by fostering this connectivity and this encouragement, friendship, and hope that military ministries curb veteran suicide. So, there are all kinds of ways to be a veteran champion and I could talk about this for hours.
Steve Shallenberger: Now, you talk about your book, Beyond Thank You. I’d love to hear more about that and you’ve just talked about it a little bit. How do you find veterans that may be available, interested, or looking for work? And how do you interview them?
Kathy Gallowitz: So, let’s start with the book if I may. The title is Beyond “Thank You for Your Service: ” The Veteran Champion handbook for civilians. It’s on Amazon. This book is chock full of practical suggestions for any citizen to help them understand how they can be more supportive. Certainly, I talk about military culture, how the military influenced everything about me, and how I came to this belief that veteran champions are so important. But there are five or six different chapters, and in it, employers, lawyers, healthcare providers, educators, clergy, leaders of communities, elected officials, every one of those different groups is given practical suggestions, easy-to-do suggestions, in most cases — now, a supreme court justice has a bigger platform than a neighboring community. But just different ways you can really make substitute and even go beyond “thank you for your service.” So, let’s go on now to how an employer can be a veteran champion. And you specifically said, Steve, how do you interview them, right?
Steve Shallenberger: How do you find them and interview them?
Kathy Gallowitz: So, let’s start with finding. Well, the good news is the Department of Labor just reported that for the seventh month in a row, veteran unemployment has been below 3% for the first time in 20 years. And I follow those unemployment figures. And based on my review, veteran unemployment is consistently lower than unemployment for civilians. So, it’s true that America is recruiting veterans in record numbers. Why? Because they understand the business case for doing it. It’s not a goodwill gesture. There’s a greater understanding. Probably the most understanding in at least 20 years, maybe in the lifetime of our country, I don’t know. After World War Two, the World War Two veterans really rebuilt America. But since World War Two, I’d say that corporations really understand the business case for hiring. So, the good news is this talent pool is in hot demand. The bad news is you’ve got to be smart about it, you’ve got to cultivate a proactive veteran talent pipeline, and you need relationships with the organizations and with the service providers that can give you access to that talent. And the idea is to find maybe even one veteran in your local community have a culture and a process that supports that veteran hire. And then guess what? I’ve had a construction company tell me that it worked great for them in Ohio. That veteran started bringing in their fellow military members because it was an in-person, by-name, trusted referral. And the construction company ended up having more and more veterans to hire. So, there are national and local, government, and nonprofit, all kinds of ways to access veteran talent. I actually sell directories on my website for primarily the local ones in Arizona or in central Arizona and Central Ohio. But generally, getting involvement in the veteran community, attending your veteran community events, I call that distinguishing the company as veteran-friendly so that they know about you. Wearing your company t-shirt. Many companies will enter Veterans Day parades with their veteran employees. There are just all kinds of ways to get yourself known in the veteran community and build trusting relationships. So, it takes a little bit of time and a little bit of planning, but the payoff is big. And then real quick about interviewing, it’s behavioral questions, situational questions; in this case, “How did you do this? Tell me about you know how you responded to that.” But what I help employers understand is what response you might expect from a veteran interviewee, and how to help that veteran feel comfortable, how to use military skills translators to know how to prepare for that interview, just build a rapport with the veteran. Because in many cases, like your sons, again, I don’t know how long they’ve served, but in some cases, some veterans have never had a civilian job interview, so they’re very uncomfortable.
Steve Shallenberger: These are really helpful ideas and thoughts. So, once we hire a veteran, what are some key retention ideas and ways that were for the military population? How do you make that initial connect, you make the hire, and how do you make it work? Are there some things we should be aware of?
Kathy Gallowitz: Yes, sir. One of the primary things if it’s a larger company and you have a corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility program, it’s really key for large corporations to align their external activities with their brand, first of all. But if you want to hire more veterans and you want to keep your veterans, being involved outside the organization in the veteran community has been found to be a retention tactic. Why? Because you’re walking the talk, you’re just not talking the talk. Man, if those current veteran hires see that you’re serving the veteran community, that gives the current veteran employee a lot of satisfaction and appreciation for their employer.
Steve Shallenberger: So, how do you do that, Kathy?
Kathy Gallowitz: There’s philanthropy, volunteer hours, and sustainability. So, it doesn’t really apply to sustainability so much, but those are usually the three components of a corporate citizenship program. So, philanthropic, if you’re donating money to local veteran causes or events, that would be wonderful. Or if you’re encouraging any of your teammates to volunteer in veteran community projects, wear your t-shirt and get the company brand out there. Not only is it great fun for the employee that’s volunteering, but it sends a very powerful message to your veteran teammates that you already have working for you.
Steve Shallenberger: What a great subject—oh, my goodness—this is amazing. They’re such an important part of our population and such a valuable asset. I’m always a little bit in shock of how fast these interviews go and we’re at the end of our interview. So, any final tips that you would like to leave with our listeners today?
Kathy Gallowitz: I encourage you to read the book to jumpstart your knowledge about how to be a veteran champion, especially for an employer. If you’re an employer listening, I have a veteran-ready assessment quiz on my website at vanguardveteran.com, under veteran hiring concierge. Just take a peek at it, see what you might be doing well and what opportunities you might have for growth. I would love to come alongside you and offer you a 30-minute free consultation to see where you are on that, answer your questions, and see how we can help you strengthen your workforce by leveraging the talents that veterans have learned in the military and really want to bring to the civilian workplace and do a great job for you. I can be reached at email@example.com or my website is vanguardveteran.com. Thank you for your interest in this topic, Steve. Congratulations on raising two fine men who’ve gone out to serve and defend freedom. And thank you for being a veteran champion. And I really look forward to chatting with any of your listeners who would like to do more in meaningful ways to serve those who have done so much for us.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you, Kathy. Thank you for being a veteran. Thanks for wearing the uniform.
Kathy Gallowitz: Thank you. It was indeed my pleasure. And seriously, it was.
Steve Shallenberger: Whenever I’m traveling or see our armed forces in uniform, I love going up to them and talking with them and expressing gratitude.
Kathy Gallowitz: And then continuing to have a conversation, and just really being sincere in your interest and asking open-ended, easy, soft questions, and letting them take the conversation where it will. Most veterans are pretty receptive to that, but they can sense your sincerity. So, just be genuine and authentic and see what happens.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, listen, it’s been fun visiting today and so educational, so informational and inspirational. So, thank you, Kathy.
Kathy Gallowitz: Thank you, I appreciate your time.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, we wish you the best in all that you’re doing. And thanks to each one of our listeners for participating. Your interest, your humility about learning, and your desire to make a difference is so encouraging in today’s world. So, way to go. And this is Steve Shallenberger, your host, wishing you the best today and always.
Lt. Col. (Ret) Kathy Gallowitz
Veteran Champion, Speaker, Veteran-Hiring Concierge, Speaker, Author