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Military-to-Civilian Transition Success Story: Answering When Opportunity Knocks
by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by:  The Florida State University College of Business


Won Choe during his

service with the U.S.

Navy

Ask former Naval Officer Won Choe to sum up his post-military career in one sentence and he can do it quite nicely.


“At the end of the day, we keep the lights on in New York City,” said Choe, who is now a section manager for Consolidated Edison Company of New York (Con Edison), one of the nation’s leading utilities providing electricity, natural gas and steam service to New York City and Westchester County.

Before moving up the ranks with Con Edison, however, Choe wore a military uniform.
Choe served as a Navy Nuclear Officer from 1996 to 2001. Prior to commissioning, he attended ROTC at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nuclear Engineering.

Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy on active duty as a Lieutenant. Choe served on the USS O’Brien (DD975) and attended the Navy’s Nuclear Power School. After graduating from the intensive yearlong school, he served on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).


“When my tour of duty was up in the Navy, I was at a point in my life where I was ready to settle down. I was ready to be finished with traveling all over the place. I was single at the time but had a steady girlfriend who lived in New York City. So, I decided to try to find a job as close to her as possible,” said Choe.

Choe turned to Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI) to assist him in making his military-to-civilian career transition in 2001. It turned out to be the right move.

“BMI was great. I attended one of their hiring conferences in Boston. They put me in contact with so many companies; it was terrific. At least eight to ten of the employers I met wanted second interviews with me. Several of them even posed potential offers, said Choe.

“It was definitely a successful venue to find myself in at that time,” said Choe.

Choe eventually accepted a job offer from Con Edison and landed in NYC, a place he had always dreamed of living and working. Obviously, it was also a location which kept him close to his then girlfriend. Consequently, she later became his lovely wife making his transition story a double success.

Initially, Choe worked at the company as an electrical distribution engineer. Later, he worked on various projects designed to enhance the electrical construction of the City and provide service to area customers.

In 2004, an unfortunate situation resulted in Choe’s career taking on a new direction within the company.

“In 2004, we experienced a terrible tragedy which involved a woman being electrocuted. As a result, Con Edison formed a new department called Distribution Engineering focused on electrical public safety and I was selected to run it,” said Choe.

“I happened to be in the right place at the right time to get the job. The position itself offered me a tremendous learning experience. I was very fortunate to be able to move up and get promoted,” said Choe.

“Working in public safety was a real eye-opening experience. I was able to be involved in so many areas such as engineering, public relations, government relations and mitigating public perceptions,” said Choe.

“That position afforded me an unexpected and invaluable opportunity to create, build and mold a totally brand new department. It was exciting,” said Choe.

Today, as a section manager, Choe supervises 120 employees and is responsible for the maintenance and construction of the underground electrical distribution infrastructure in Brooklyn.

In May 2008, he was honored as a recipient of the Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Award, presented in New York by the Asian American Business Development Center. Since then, Choe also completed his MBA from Fordham University.

Even though Choe clearly stands as an inspiring success story, he admits that his transition to civilian life was not without its challenges. He graciously offers up a few suggestions, based on his experiences, for those who may be considering a civilian job now.

Aside from the sensitive challenge of being a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan living deep in New York Yankee territory, Choe found the basic structure of his new civilian job was significantly different from that of his in the military.

“My new civilian job was structured very differently from my job in the Navy and that took some time to get used to,” said Choe.

“In the military, there is a distinct chain of command. In a civilian job, you don’t always have that laid out as clearly as it is in the military,” said Choe.

Then, there is the whole “new kid on the block” dynamic to contend with.

“The most frustrating aspect for me was knowing that I had the knowledge to share and to be an asset to the organization but I had to basically start over again as an intern to prove myself to others,” said Choe.

“In the civilian world, most folks don’t recognize or appreciate the level of responsibility that you may have had in the military.” said Choe.
According to Choe, employers do, however, like to tap into those tangible management and leadership skills that are learned and lived in the military.
Choe offers other thought-provoking insights as well.

“There isn’t a union in the military. When you work in a union environment, someone can actually say no when you tell someone to do something. That can be frustrating. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen in the Navy,” said Choe.

Choe suggests that transitioning service members today be ready for any opportunities.

“The promotions that I received didn’t follow a typical career path. It helps to always be prepared to take full advantage of new opportunities,” said Choe noting that in his case, they often presented themselves unexpectedly.

Nearly nine years now into his career with Con Edison, Choe seems highly satisfied with his choice of employers.

“Con Edison is a great company to work for. It’s older, well established and offers a good fit for transitioning military personnel with the right skills. In fact, there are several other employees who work here now that we hired from BMI. They have done well here,” said Choe.

Jason Cook, the BMI representative who works closely with Con Edison today, agrees.

“Con Ed is one of our most valued clients. We share a very deep relationship with them,” said Cook.

“The company likes to hire across various military specialties. They not only look for those leadership abilities found in prior service members, but they look for the technical skills and training as well,” said Cook.

“Those we have placed there say they love it,” said Cook.

Now in this day and age, that is illuminating, to say the least.

Janet Farley is the author of “The Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide and she writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  She can be reached at janetfarley@hotmail.com for comments and/or column suggestions.

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