Transitioning from the military to civilian life is more than just a career change. It is a life transformation, often forcing a complete reworking of identity and a reconfiguring of self-worth.
Operation New Uniform, a nonprofit organization founded in 2014, in Jacksonville, supports veterans and military spouses, across Florida, making this transition. By offering the necessary accouterments of education, work-skills and life training, ONU provides servicemen and women the chance to clot1he themselves in a new career and in life.
Branching out two years ago to its first satellite location, in Tampa, ONU graduated its third cohort of Tampa Bay area students from its programs, in September, their 55th graduation overall.
For ONU, Tampa was the logical choice for their growth as an organization.
“One of the things that we look for when we are expanding, and as we continue to expand, is our partners… and, of course, a strong military presence,” says Michele McManamon, co-founder and executive director of ONU. (Pictured above)
With most of ONU’s key partners represented in Tampa – Sandler Training, Wounded Warrior Project, Covid Veteran Network and Fire Watch, in addition to MacDill Airforce Base — ONU focused on the Tampa Bay area as a way to extend their services across the state. Since Tampa also houses leading Florida companies like Bank of America and Vystar, which bring important connections for networking and employment opportunities for their graduates throughout the state, the expansion became a case of “the stars aligning,” as an area perfectly placed to reach the most veterans, and their families, while offering a wide range of career choices after the completion of ONU’s program.
“We feel like Tampa has become our second home,” McManamon says. “We sputtered, somewhat, in our Tampa launch during Covid, but we’re full sail now. We want the wider community to know who we are and why we’re here – to assist any organization working with our military veterans and their spouses, while we provide support with their transition to a new career.”
ONU was founded by McManamon and her husband, Pat, nearly ten years ago. As longtime business partners running a Sandler Training Program in Jacksonville, a corporate training program for sales and leadership, the couple was looking for ways to give back to their community.
In 2014, they joined with their local chapter of Wounded Warriors Project and hosted a lunch event specifically targeted at veterans, teaching them how to perfect an individual “30-second pitch” to use during networking opportunities. Only one of the participants at the luncheon was interested in networking opportunities, however. It was an important moment of realization, McManamon says.
“We didn’t realize that these amazingly smart, wonderful servicemen and women were coming out, feeling lost, disconnected and not having any type of business network that we take for granted in the business community. Networking is easy for us … but it’s not easy for them.”
Speaking after the event, one of the veterans admitted: “Once we take off these uniforms, people don’t treat us the same.”
The idea for Operation New Uniform blossomed and the McManamons decided to create a new program, using the Sandler Training materials as a starting point, specifically geared towards helping veterans, and their spouses, transition to new careers. McManamon dove into the research and logistics, launching ONU later that year.
ONU offers flexibility and choice to their students with various programs, both online and in-person, in Tampa and in Jacksonville. There are no costs to veterans or their spouses and the results speak for themselves.
“ONU has a 97% success rate of our students getting careers – not jobs – after they graduate our program,” McManamon says. “Their average salary is $74,000. So, it’s been incredible. We’re so proud of our numbers and the opportunities we’re giving to change lives.”
ONU remains in contact with their graduates “for the duration” – spurning the idea of a “one and done” course and growing their ever-expanding network of alumni. “Our goal is to offer support to our students for life,” McManamon says.
With ONU’s success comes the responsibility to offer a wide range of employment connections to their graduates.
“We are always looking for business partners and collaborators to support our graduates. We need local companies to support, hire and volunteer with us. We need all that time, talent and treasure of Tampa to align with our programs and make hiring veterans a part of the plan,” McManamon says. ♦