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How One Veteran’s Education Helped Her Transition to Civilian Life

Podcast featuring Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.Lt. Col (retired), U.S. Marine CorpsFaculty, AMU
Da’Juanna Gurley, U.S. Navy veteran

On this episode, Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr. – Lt. Col (retired), U.S. Marine Corps and Department Chair of AMU’s School of Business – talks with U.S. Navy veteran and AMU faculty member, D.J. Gurley about her military career, her education and her transition to civilian life.

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Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr. Today, we’re gonna have a talk with another member of the United States Armed Services that transitioned and is finding success as a Veteran. My guest today is Da’Juanna Gurley, who is known to us as DJ. DJ is a Navy Veteran of nine years, and DJ, it’s gonna be a little different with us today for my guest, because I know you, and so I’m gonna be learning a little bit more about you as we go along. Truly, it’s an honor to have you, and it’s great to have you on the podcast.

Da’Juanna Gurley: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate being here.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. So, let’s start out conversation by talking about you, a Navy Veteran, a leader then and now. This will be the interesting part of the interview, where you’re actually already part of the Wally Boston School of Business Staff, and so, we need to know where you actually started, how you came along your path with the Navy, and that led you to where you are today. So, I will first, thank you for your service, and then, I know the audience would like to know, how did you find yourself in the service? Why did you originally join the service?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Originally, I joined the military to serve my country. I didn’t have any other reason. Education was not at the forefront of my mind like it is for most people. I just had a desire to serve my country. That’s what I wanted to do.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: That’s great. Why the Navy?

Da’Juanna Gurley: You know, Dr. Parker? It’s only because my parents would not sign my delay entry form paperwork at the age of 17 for the Marine Corps.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay, appreciate [inaudible 00:02:16]. Now, we get to what you did, or at least what your occupation was, within the service. In the Marine Corps, we call it Military Occupational Specialty, MOS. What is it called in the Navy?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Rating.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. So, what rating did you have, and why’d you pick that one?

Da’Juanna Gurley: When I first joined the military, I was an Operations Specialist for five years, and then I converted to a Legalman. The reason I didn’t join as a Legalman, which is the equivalent to a Paralegal, is because that’s not an option for the Navy. It’s a meritorious-based program, or a specialty so to speak, and you have to have recommendations, and prior service in order to be a Legalman.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. So, that probably came with some mentorship. I’m just kind of stepping outside of this here for a second, and just wanted to look at that point, that beyond what you were recruited to do in the Navy, there’s other occupations, or ratings within the military. So, you can actually join, and then find yourself doing something else. Do you know a lot of individuals that do that?

Da’Juanna Gurley: So, in the Navy, there are quite a few people who join un-designated. So, they join the military without a specialty at all, and they enter the military, they see different ratings, different specialties, and when they obtain a certain time in service, they’re able to select a rate, or select a job so to speak. So, it’s common in the Navy.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. Well, I mean, it’s good to know that even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you can still join the service, serve your country, and if you find something, or you’re drawn to something else, you can, and that’s good to know. Now, I often hear education, and training beyond what individuals had prior to joining, is a major reason individuals enlist in the service. What factor did college play in your career?

Da’Juanna Gurley: College was a big factor for me. While I wanted to join the military, I wanted to serve my country, not going to college was not an option. So, the military afforded me the privilege of having four degrees now, and I haven’t paid a single dime out of my own money. So, when I was active duty, I obtained my bachelors with tuition assistance, and post-Navy I had my masters with my GI Bill.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Wow, now that’s impressive, and that’s a plug for the tuition assistance. I know I utilized it when I was in the service. Do you find enough people know about it, or are enough people taking advantage of courses?

Da’Juanna Gurley: I think now- when I first joined the military, it wasn’t as widely known, but because it was so underutilized. At the time I was in the Navy, it was underutilized. There was talks to doing away with it. So, in order to ensure that that opportunity still existed for other sailors, they started to promote it more, and to push it more, and then mentorship, and coaching, that era came in.

So, education became a mentorship piece, and even in the Navy, in order to rank up, you had to take the Navy-wide advancement exam, and having different degrees gets you a certain amount of points on your exam. So, that’s another incentive to get your education.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: So, you’re taking classes now, and some individuals would say, or provide the excuse, of why they can’t get it done, and, “Well, I don’t see it being possible to take classes while on active duty.” What was it like taking classes while serving?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Oh, it was hard. There was nothing easy about it, especially being out to sea, you know? For being deployed, I was stationed in Japan, and I was out to sea more times than I was in port. So, dealing with that, you have intermittent internet. Sometimes, you don’t have internet at all. So, it’s just important to go to an institution where they understand where you are located, and that you are an active-duty service member, but even if you are stationed at an operational command on base, it’s still complicated.

I remember reading a book with my daughter strapped to my chest, and stirring a pot of food I was cooking. You just become a great multitasker, but it can definitely be done, but no. It’s not easy.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. Well, appreciate you giving the straight scoop on this, because, it’s not sugar-coating it, and telling individuals that it’ll just be perfect, and you’ll never run into any problems, but you’re proof that it can be done, and that you can be successful. Now, you’re working on your degree, and I just want to touch on this one more time. Are you already looking beyond the Navy, and the courses that you’re looking at, or the major that you’re focused on, or is it directly helping you where you are in your current career?

Da’Juanna Gurley: So, fortunately for me, when I was obtaining my degree, my degree was relative to the field that I was in in the Navy, but I have served with other people who have obtained degrees that had absolutely nothing to do with what they were doing while they were in the service. They obtained a degree that was their passion. My degree is in legal studies, law, that area.

That’s my passion. That’s what I want to do for the foreseeable future. So, that’s what I studied, and that’s what most people do when they go to university. They study something that they are interested in, or they have a passion to do.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: At some point, we all have to transition from the service. So, for you, what was that transition like? I know we have TAP or TAMP in the Marine Corps, standing for Transition Assistance Program, I know various services have different things. What was the transition program like for you?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Honestly, the transition program for me was a refresher. I was fortunate enough, in the military, to have really great mentors, really great leaders that paved my way for success. I’ve always been coached, so to speak, to plan to stay in and plan to get out. That’s a really big motto in the military, because you never know what can happen. Anything can happen.

So, for as long as I’ve been in the military, I’ve always planned to stay in. I made sure that I was meeting all of the wickets for me rating, for my job, and I also was making sure I was meeting the wickets (i.e., my education) to be successful when I got out of the military.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Now, what was the most valuable thing you felt you learned on that transition process?

Da’Juanna Gurley: I think the most valuable thing the transition process taught me was turning the switch from military, boards, and awards boards, and things of that nature to interviewing in the civilian sector. In the military, it’s more structured. It’s militant. It’s direct. It’s to the point, straight face, thousand-yard stare.

In the civilian world, you want to be more personable, more inviting, more friendly. You want your prospective employers to have a sense of your character and your person. In the military, it’s not that freeing, so to speak. So, you learn that in TAPS or TGPS is what we have in the Navy, and you learn what to wear, what not to wear, things of that nature.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Okay. So, if you were to share your knowledge with your peers, or those that are coming after you, for them to focus on the issue, or the item for them to focus on their first year out of service, would that be what you would impart with them?

Da’Juanna Gurley: So, I would definitely tell them to just have grace. Have grace with themselves, be patient, the transition in not easy. It’s like you’re living in two different dimensions. So, the military is it’s own comfort zone, so to speak, and then you transition into the civilian sector, where you pretty much have to figure it out on your own.

In the military – well, in the Navy specifically –  it’s, “Ask the Chief.” So, there’s always someone above you for you to ask if you need direction, if you have questions, if you need assistance, whereas in the civilian sector, you don’t really have that. You don’t have that safety net, you don’t have that cushion, and that’s okay.

It’s okay that you don’t have that. You’ll learn to be that for yourself, and just give yourself grace in finding that- that position that you put yourself in.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Great words of wisdom there. Now, you mentioned how things are perceived in the service, or how they may have felt in the service, versus out, and that brings me to the point of regarding the perception of Veterans. What was the sentiment of your family, neighborhood, or just others once you got out, that knew that you served? What was your families, or those around you, their sentiment of you being a Veteran?

Da’Juanna Gurley: They were just really proud. They were proud of how many years I’ve served. They were proud of the fact that I served, and that’s just the basis of it, like, they were proud of me.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: That’s great. Now, there’s always the major stereotype that’s out there, or there’s often stereotypes of individuals that are in the military. What are some of the most common, inaccurate, stereotypes regarding Veterans that you’ve encountered?

Da’Juanna Gurley: The most common one for me is that I was boots on ground, fighting in the war. That’s the most common stereotype for me. When I was out of sight, out of mind, they thought I was off fighting the good fight.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Yeah. I would agree that’s often what I run into, asking’ me about direct combat. If you don’t have something to tell them, they’re wondering about their belief in what Veterans do. Veterans come in all different professions, and support the service in different ways, because as you can see, a lot of times our missions are not always boots on ground. Our missions are other things, and supporting in different parts of the world. Now, you are that Veteran, you are out of the service, and I believe that Veterans often fall into four immediate categories. Either they’re a student going’ right back in, into a school, a government contractor, probably working very closely in the same office, or on the same base that they were, corporate in a civilian sector working some job, or become an entrepreneur. They start their own business and you sharing your story, you actually kind of are a blend. You’ve done a couple of things, you know? A student and you’ve been back into the work sector. How did you choose your path?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Well, COVID chose my path for me, Dr. Parker. Like many people, I separated right at the beginning of COVID. January 2020 is when I first separated from the service. Unfortunately, I did not get into law school, as that was my original plan. I applied to Seton Hall University’s Law School. They denied my entrance for their JD program, but offered me admission into their Master’s program, and that’s where I started my Master’s in privacy law and cybersecurity, and I gained a different appreciation, or a different love, for a different field of the law.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: So, now, as we look at what you’ve done, you left the service, and again, I emphasize what we did at the very beginning, or what we spoke of. You’re actually one of my colleagues, now, that’s on staff. So, that’s something we won’t just gloss over. I just wanted to say how did that happen? People probably can’t even fathom that, at a place where they were getting their education, that they wold find themselves on staff. How did you find that?

Da’Juanna Gurley: It goes back to that military piece, where you’re finding your way when you separate. So, you know, at separating, I gravitated towards something that was familiar to me. APUS is familiar. It’s where I obtained my degree. They still have a sense of military. I can still give back like I was in the military, you know? Serving my country. This is a different way of service, but it’s still service, and I find that that’s where I get the most enjoyment.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well, we’ve come to that point in our podcast where I put you on the hot seat. So, here we go. As a Veteran, what is the greatest positive attribute you gained as a result of your service?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Dependability.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Number two, what is the single most important point you want to leave for current, or future, Veterans?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Grace. Grace. Grace and education. Give yourself grace and get your education while it’s free. You get a free education while you’re in the military, and you get a stipend for education once you separate from the military. So, take advantage of the educational opportunities, and just give yourself grace while you do it.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: And then, this last one we’re gonna focus on those that we encounter when we get out. What is the single most important edge, or benefit, future employers or business partners, can expect from a Veteran?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Punctuality, accountability, dependability.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Well, DJ, this has been a great conversation. I appreciate all the knowledge that you’ve shared with all our listeners. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Da’Juanna Gurley: Just the education piece. Just go to school while it’s free. Maximize- maximize your education benefits, and capitalize on your success.

Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr.: Again, thank you so much for sharing your expertise today for this episode, and to our listeners, thank you for joining us. Be well and stay safe.

Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr., currently serves as the Department Chair of Transportation and Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management with the School of Business. He serves as an adjunct faculty for various universities around the world.

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