Veterans Transition to Emergency Management

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This week we talk to Dr. Rynele Mardis about how veterans can transition out of the military and into roles in the field of emergency management.  In a piece in the Journal of Emergency Management, it stated that veterans make great emergency managers because of their commitment to teamwork, leadership, and understanding of command structure.

You’ve been taught and trained to manage chaos at a very early stage, and you’re military or service career now to understand how to manage chaos and manage it effectively. Look at how emergency managers do that same thing in the communities.

Rynele Mardis

Todd DeVoe:      Hi, welcome to the EM Weekly Show your emergency management podcast, and this is your host Todd DeVoe speaking. Today we are talking to Dr. Rynele Mardis about veterans transitioning to emergency management after their time on active duty. As you know, I am a former Navy Corpsman, and so this topic is close to my heart. Today I was reading a peer review article about emergency management and what jobs transition into that role the best, and you know what it stated that former military members are the most desirable, even over fire and law enforcement in the military. We learn command structure, teamwork, and leadership. All of those traits are what makes a good emergency manager. In fact, one of the classes that I teach is made up of active duty military members and they perform better than the average student.

Todd DeVoe:      We’re about a month away from the emergency management leaders conference, and it’s filling up fast. If you don’t have your tickets, go to For your ticket for the event. And we’re there, stop by the Titan HST EM Weekly mobile studio and say hi and watch a live interview. And who knows, maybe your question will be live on the air

Todd DeVoe:      Now onto the interview

Todd DeVoe:      Rynele welcome to EM Weekly. Thank you for being here.

Rynele Mardis:   Thank you. Thank you for having me on.

Todd DeVoe:      So Rynele tell me a little bit about your journey into emergency management and, and where you are now.

Rynele Mardis:   So my journey started long ago. The military to civilian transition, it is pretty tough Todd. And those that are trekking through the transition space can attest to the challenges face daily. Fortunately, I witnessed the transition on various occasions at granule levels from afar. What’s getting me a lot of insight into what I needed to make a priority throughout my military career. You know, and I’ll, I’ll tell you what that means specifically. I knew early on in my career that I must invest in myself through the pursuit of higher education. Because frankly, my military education was not going to be enough, you know. So, in that, I began to explore, you know, what I needed to do to transition into the civilian sector early on in my career. You know, it wasn’t easy, and I began to do is invest my time into education. But what I needed to is identify what I needed to have a focus outside of the military. I didn’t have anyone to say to me, you know, emergency management perfectly complements your military background.

Rynele Mardis:   So it was all on me to figure out, you know, what I wanted to do. And after some review and many different curricula out there, I found emergency management to be that overarching career field. that encompass many of the same areas of my military education, and training to include leadership, management and resources, budget forecasting and allocation, all of which are nonetheless critical and both military operations to the functionality, the incident command system. So nonetheless, my exploration led me to explore FEMA and its training opportunities. In doing so, I again found out that the career field of emergency management, best suited my military experience in multiple areas. So, following my graduate work in our organizational security management and review of various FEMA specific independent courses, of course, pursued my doctorate degree in public safety, specializing in emergency management. So all that to say, you know, you must first realize that you have to invest in yourself and one of the best investments is the pursuit of higher education and determine what best complements your military experience and pursue a curriculum and gain certificates needed, a degree if possible. And that desire career field.

Todd DeVoe:      That’s a great journey. Well first of all, I want to thank you for your service, I think that it is great to have more of our veterans in the field of emergency management and it’s exciting to have you here on the show to specifically talk about getting more veterans involved in emergency management and helping mentor those people through the process. So, you started an organization specifically for veterans in Emergency Management, and first I’m excited about that and thank you for taking the time to start that organization. Can you tell us a little bit about that organization and what your goals are?

Rynele Mardis:   So the Veterans in Emergency Management Group specifically was initiated to identify some of those veterans that were already in the field of emergency management and what we want it to do is specifically is to develop a group of mentors to support our service members transitioned into the emergency management field. Oftentimes we aren’t aware of the direct correlation between emergency management and the military. So if the opportunity is cultivated to develop a group of mentors to show our service members that the opportunities do exist, this group was developed to do just that, to be mentors for a lot of the veterans that were on that transition out.

Todd DeVoe:      How do you outreach to veterans?

Rynele Mardis:   So currently, outreach, but it comes on a case by case basis, you know, looking at, some of those veterans who want to pursue an opportunity in emergency management, whether it be through education or just, you know, seeking a career opportunity they reach out to, to me and, or, in conversations again to explain to them about those opportunities that exist.

Rynele Mardis:   And that outreach, again, is furthered, through a continuous dialog and mentorship. To explain to them exactly, what they can do to further their career and further their service to the nation through emergency management. So it’s on a case by case basis. Currently. It’s not any direct program that says, Hey, I’m going to go out and speak specifically to allow the veterans, and regarding emergency management, but it’s just being here and letting them know that we’re here for them and the opportunities exist.

Todd DeVoe:      So, you talked a little bit about your education background and how you got involved. I teach through a program at the community college where I am employed.

Rynele Mardis:   Right, right. So my background, um, you know, and the military for more than 20 years as I was speaking earlier, you know, I looked early on to be able to manage my transition, you know, when it came time for me to take the uniform off. So, you know, getting through the, you know, the security management program one of the classes that were in that program was specifically an emergency management planning and that program or that class would rather it really, resonated with me. So, I want to continue to pursue, the emergency management field. So, follow my master’s degree in strategic intelligence, I continued and further my education background in emergency management through the Ph.D. program, specifically at public safety, specializing in an emergency.

Todd DeVoe:      What I was going to say is that I teach in our military programs. We have an emergency management program in our military program, and the enrollment is, um, I would not say great. How do, we reach out to active duty military and veterans for that matter. But how do we reach out to active duty military guys and say, use your benefits when you were in school because the benefits in the military are awesome. When I was in, and it was 75% of the class, and now, it’s 100%, it’d be paid for when, when you’re in the military itself, and this is outside of the Gi bill by the way everybody. So, there’s an opportunity for our military guys to get educated. How do we encourage those young men and women who are in the military right now too, no matter what degree they want to go for? But how do we encourage them to do what you do what you did? Recognize that at some point, even if they will do 20 years, they’re going to have to take the uniform off, and they must have an education. How do we encourage them today too start taking college classes?

Rynele Mardis:   Okay. It needs to be that transition management is a key factor in service and out of service, and I’ll tell you what I mean by that. Transition… Every time someone gets to a new duty station, every time someone gets promoted. Every time someone takes upon a new role, in the military, they’re going through a transition. And so understanding that you have to manage each transition effectively to continue to progress while in service, you know, to explain that to a young service member and to ensure that they understand that hey, everything got to do now is in transition. So if I can properly manage my transition in service, I would be able to more effectively manage my transition out of service. And essentially in doing so, you’re explaining it to them that hey, there are key milestones and key benchmarks that you need to hit while you’re in service to effectively transition out of service into that civilian occupation that you want to go into. So a lot of times that is not well understood. And some service members, you know, they join the military and think that’s the end all be all, join the military. So now this is it. Well, you know, at some point in time, as you alluded to earlier, the uniform is taken off and what are you going to do after that? So to reach those young service members, we need to emphasize to them that they need to understand transition management, what it is and what it means in service.

Todd DeVoe:      So does that start with our senior enlisted guys encouraging them or is there something that we can do better? Yeah, I hate to say this, I’m trying to, I’m trying to formulate the question better here.

Rynele Mardis:   I understand where you are going. It begins with leadership. It begins with leaders explaining to the young service member that, hey, we brought into the service. You know, so you transform from a civilian, you know, to a soldier and or Marine. Now we want to make you a leader. Now from that leadership perspective, we want to make sure that you understand how to transition throughout your military service, which will make you more effective as a community pillar once you’ve made that transition out of service. So it’d begins with leaders explaining to the young service members what key milestones again and what key points in their career and they need to gain additional educational certificates if not degrees to properly move forward in their careers with the aim of and making a successful transition out of the military and truly becoming those community leaders, with the character that we look to provide our communities.

Todd DeVoe:      Okay, that makes a lot of sense. For sure. So now we have guys, and gals like I always tell everybody I’m from back east, so guys include every single kind of being, so we have these guys and gals aren’t getting out of the military. They’re trying to figure out what to do. Or maybe you were like we said before this, you start thinking about that before they transition out, but they didn’t. How do we encourage them to go into the field of emergency management? Because I think right now everybody understands the law enforcement and everybody understands fire. They get that out there are self-evident, but they don’t really understand what emergency management is and the diversity that there is in that career field. How do we encourage them to take that role

Rynele Mardis:   Providing them a little bit more insight as you were saying, as to what the emergency managers actually do and how that actually correlates directly to their initial phases in the military and throughout their career. Explaining to those service members that, hey, you’ve been taught and trained to manage chaos. At a very early stage in your military or service career. Now that you understand how to manage chaos in manage effectively through a calm approach look at how emergency managers do that same thing in the communities. So showing a direct correlation to emergency management and our military or service career would encourage a lot more to go into the profession of emergency management, because oftentimes, you know that common a statement is, I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. You know, and it’s like, well you’re already grown up. So we want to explain to them how emergency management directly correlates to their, you know, initial stages of the career throughout, you know, those, those final stages, whether it be, you know, end of contract and or enlistment. So showing direct correlation is what we are shot of.

Todd DeVoe:      One of the things I do at the schools that I work at is I hang out at the veterans center. Sometimes I have breakfast with the guys just Chit Chat. I’m always asking them what their goals are in life and having that conversation with them, and those that have shown an interest in, in the field, I encourage them to pursue that path. Number two, I always offer them the internship if you will, or work study programs and the cool part about it is a couple of people that have gone through the program never thought about doing emergency management. And then when they actually sat down and were able to take the training that they had in the military and kind of click that, to oh, this is what this is. Specifically, we’re talking about writing plans. And one of the guys who was going through a program was a retired first sergeant, and he was like, wow. He goes; this is exactly what I did all day long. You know, when I was in the combat zone. And I said yea, it is! He graduated from our, the community colleges over UCLA now going, you know, finishing his degree, and he really wants to get into EM I am just so happy to bring them to the process.

Todd DeVoe:      Now he’s not a young guy, obviously he’s about the same age as I am. But the thing is being able to transition that idea of what we do daily, as you said in the military, especially those that are, you know, even like even like the grunts, right? They understand orders; they understand SMEAC, the five-paragraph order, right? And going through the process, it is the same thing as what we do is the planning intelligence section of an EOC or the operations section. It’s really right there. And matter of fact, when I teach the classes that I do, I will refer to some of those old World War II movies, where people are in the planning area. And I go, this is what it’s like to be at… not exactly obviously, but this is similar to what it’s like to be in an EOC where you’re moving, you know, we did on the board and trying to figure out where resources need to go and then that type of stuff. And it’s a really, and it’s a direct, direct mirror of, of what we do in the civilian sector compared to what we do in the military sector outside of the mission

Rynele Mardis:   Todd you will be amazed that there are not a lot of people grasp the concept. You know, I applaud you for explaining that to them from an academic standpoint, you know, but a lot of military members don’t understand that and don’t explore emergency management because they don’t have that insight. So you know, and that, you know, one on one conversation on those case by case basis and sitting down and talking about service members to say, hey, you really should consider emergency management because again, it is a direct correlation to what you’ve been doing throughout your military career and just as you just explained, you know, showing them, you know, the Hay and operation center as an operation center, even though it may be, you know, different as it’s dependent on the environment. But you know, those fundamental pieces of, you know, getting after it and you know, resolving a situation in our crisis, remains the same. Whether it be globally from a military or service perspective or specifically a jurisdictional to a county, you know, but taking those fundamental approaches to manage chaos and planning accordingly are those fundamental pieces of that we can share with them. Service members. So they understand that they are, you know, inherently emergency managers in some sense.

Rynele Mardis:   Well the goal for the organization overall is very simplistic in nature. Is nothing more than to provide a group of mentors or those veterans that are looking to get into emergency management. You know, not looking for the group grow exponentially throughout time or time phase or looking over the horizon. What I would like to see that are more veterans that are out there in the emergency management roles, you know, become a part of the group and you know, specifically begin to reach out to the other younger members and or members period to say, hey, you know, if you are looking for a mentor or reach out to me, you know, via this means of communication.

Rynele Mardis:   But those, senior guys that are out there that are a civilian sector that are emergency managers, I would love to see them do more reaching out and explain to those young service members the opportunities that exist in the field of emergency management.

Todd DeVoe:      You would be amazed to know, The number of emergency managers that are in this field such as myself and yourself that are veterans. There’s a huge number of veterans in the, in the FEMA, ranks, especially at the IEM the Institute of Emergency Management I know of at least in leadership, four or five of them that are up there that are veterans, you know, so it’s, it’s a comfortable place to be. If you’re a veteran and you’re listening to this emergency management, you’re not going to be lost. It’s a comfortable place to be. Your, you’re going to get in there and go, okay, I get it quickly. And I honestly believe that as a Vet that you’re going to be able to really add to what we do as emergency managers and be able to provide great service to the community still. And I know that if you went into the military, you are service minded and if you go into the emergency management, your still service minded, and so I think there’s a good connection there. So, going on that, I know there are a few veterans’ groups out there that that really worked on services such as Team Rubicon. Obviously you got to Mission Continues, groups like that. Have you reached out to those type of groups to say hey this is how you can get it into the professional side of emergency management?

Rynele Mardis:   Well, I volunteer for Team Rubicon, many of those other groups I have not specifically sought them just identify some of those veteran organizations that have that understanding of what needs to take place to transition into emergency management. Team Rubicon, of course, is getting after it. You know, so I wanted to join them but mentorship network is another, a veterans group found out there that was pretty robust. So, looking at those two groups were the ones that I as a service member looked at.

Todd DeVoe:      if somebody would like to get a hold of you, how would they find you?

Rynele Mardis:   Of course LinkedIn. I am easily searched on LinkedIn. Just connect with me there.

Todd DeVoe:      If You guys are driving down the road. Don’t worry about that. We’ll have those in the show notes. What book, books or publication do you recommend to somebody in the field of emergency management?

Rynele Mardis:   Looking at books, the book that I speak to is Light’s Out, Light’s Out is a book by Ted Koppel that speaks to a cyber-attack and how we are potentially unprepared. The book examines how major cyber-attacks on America’s power grid is possible. More than likely how such an attack can be catastrophic, most importantly the book explains in many instances, we as a nation are possibly unprepared. So that would tell me based on this book is that we need more emergency managers who have a strategic understanding of the role of the emergency manager.

Todd DeVoe:      Lights Out is a great book I have read is and recommend it as well. If you had the ability to talk to all the emergency managers at one time what would you say to them?

Rynele Mardis:   Reach out and become mentors, not only serves members out there, but you know, those young and upcoming civilians who look toward and need to become emergency managers out there. So definitely reach out and mentor more, and bring more to emergency management.

Todd DeVoe:      It has been a pleasure having you on the show today, and I would love to do this again sometime.

Rynele Mardis:   Likewise, and please reach out to me.





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1 thought on “Veterans Transition to Emergency Management”

  1. Military/Veterans were the first emergency managers! Don’t let FEMA fool you! Veterans should have an easy time transitioning to Emergency Management, as the ICS model came from the military staff model. This ICS system is just a recanned version of the Prussian army staff system. The US Army adopted it in the late 1880s. The US Army is intellectually honest that they officially claim they borrowed it from the Prussians and did not invent it. I took ICS-100 from Canada and their slides say it comes from the US Army, but that is only half true. One past Superintendent of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy (NFA) even said it came from the Army. One of my EMI basic academy instructors (privately knew a WWII Veteran FIRESCOPE person) who said that is did come from the Army as that is what they knew. Vietnam was unpopular at the time and they had to distance it from the Army around 1970ish. One major Canadian University that teaches EM also calls BS on fire inventing this system. New Zealand still calls it the “military model” and Civil Defense (CD) when I took an online class from them a few years ago.

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