September 1969 Electronics Illustrated
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history
of early electronics. See articles from Electronics Illustrated, published May 1958
- November 1972. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
honest, I don't know whether military electronics training commands the respect
in private industry that it did back in 1982 when I separated from the U.S.
Air Force. If you left the military within the last 20 years or so and care to
share your experience with seeking civilian employment, I'll be glad to add it
here as a side note. Many of the electronics technicians I worked with both as a tech
myself and then as an engineer (after earning a BSEE) got their initial
training in either the Air Force or the Navy. There were probably some from the
Marines and Army, but I don't recall any off-hand. I hate to admit it, but I
think the Navy vets were even more highly sought after than we Air Force types.
This 1969 issue of
Illustrated magazine reported on the situation during the middle of the
* For those who don't know, the difference between a war and a conflict is
that the U.S. Congress must formally declare war for it to be a war.
The Real True Facts About Military Electronics Training and Subsequent Civilian
U.S. Army Photos
By Forest H. Belt
The real true facts about military electronics training and subsequent civilian
employment could be illustrated by the case of a young airman who spent 25 weeks
of his four-year enlistment in various Air Force electronic schools. He became
a really good repairman on fire-control radar equipment. Coming out a few months
ago, he applied for an electronics job at several different companies. No luck.
His training had been too specialized, they told him.
A young Army specialist spent 18 months of his two-year hitch in Germany
where he was responsible for maintaining human-hunting radar equipment. Shortly
after leaving the service he was hired by the service organization of a large
manufacturer. Today he is a successful color-TV service technician.
Why the difference? Why do some military-trained electronic specialists make
the grade in private industry while others don't? There's a lot more to it than
mere personalities. And the value of military electronics training depends on
There's no doubt about it, military electronic training generally is the
best available. Yet while many young men join the Armed Forces every year in
search of a Glamorous Career in Space-Age Electronics, they find that military
electronics isn't quite the same as consumer items like television, hi-fi, two-way
radio and CB. But that's where the civilian jobs are, so a successful transition
between the two fields is a must.
Electronics is the skill most in demand by all the services and this field
takes up a substantial portion of the $5 billion spent for training every year
by the Department of Defense. The training is excellent for the purpose at hand.
However, the main drawback found everywhere is overspecialization. The Air Force
technician's training, for example. was specifically military, and a Marine
specialist may be taught to repair or operate only one electronics system or
a single piece of equipment. The reasons are not hard to understand.
Here, an advanced class in radar is given by the Signal
Corps for specialists. Career military men who have specialized in electronics
usually have easiest time finding positions in private industry or government.
Classified work can sometimes prove a stumbling block, however.
A draftee is available to the Army for only two years. Even if he joins voluntarily
his hitch may run only three years. Marine Corps enlistment is for two years,
while Air Force and Navy enlistments run four years. Little wonder that the
services try to get a man trained as quickly as possible. Training usually is
limited to bare fundamentals and a single specialty. The recruit never gains
the broad experience which helps him adapt to civilian gear.
Another reason for short training periods and specialized instruction in
the Army and Air Force is that electronics maintenance in both services amounts
to black-box changing. Instead of repairing electronic equipment in the field,
you exchange a faulty module for a good one and ship the bad one to a repair
depot or the manufacturer.
In the Navy, however, you repair everything possible on the spot. A unit
that goes bad at sea can't be sent back to the manufacturer. So Navy technicians
need more training and must be familiar with a wider range of equipment. This
broader training pays off in civilian life.
People who find jobs for military-trained specialists say its easier to place
graduates from certain schools. Those we talked with consider the Navy to have
the broadest training programs in electronics. The Army's Fixed Communications
School at Fort Monmouth, N.J. rates high in turning out communications experts,
while the Air Force school for aviation electronics at Chanute AFB near Rantoul,
Ill. is also high on the list. For computer training no one denies that the
best school is at Keesler AFB near Biloxi, Miss.
When you evaluate electronics training in the military consider both the
quality and the length of training available. An Army draftee usually gets little
more than 15 weeks while a Navy enlisted man, under certain circumstances, may
get as much as a year of advanced electronics; also, this experience is likely
to cover a variety of equipment ranging from TV sets to computers.
If you're a student facing a hitch in the service it's smart to do some planning
ahead. One of the most basic requirements is a high-school diploma, but a little
college won't hurt.
All special training in the military is based on aptitude tests. If you want
some schooling in electronics you must pass these tests. Best way is to get
all the electronics you can beforehand - in your school's vocational-technical
program or from a correspondence school while you attend high school.
Code class is one of the first hurdles a specialist in Army
communications must overcome. Communications equipment does offer excellent
background in general electronics, a factor to be considered if you're looking
for a springboard into a career in consumer or industrial electronics.
While you can try to obtain a commitment for the training you want, only
the Army guarantees your training before you sign up; even then, you must first
pass a battery of aptitude tests. In other branches of the Armed Forces the
needs of the service come first and your wishes second. If you score high on
the AQT (applicants' qualifying test) and show promise, you can probably get
some kind of electronics training since the need is so great. However, you have
little choice as to what kind or how much.
Adapting your military training to a civilian career is easy in some specialties.
Computer technology is an example. Companies are always looking for console
operators, programmers, systems analysts and computer repairmen. Computers used
in the Armed Forces are the same as those used by corporations all over the
country, so anyone who qualifies for computer training can transfer to a lucrative
civilian career. Some other specialties serve as springboards, too. Examples
are closed-circuit TV systems, military radio and TV equipment, and most communication
Some military equipment is very unlike civilian gear. However, once you understand
the basic principles of electronics you are half-way along the path to a civilian
job. Fire-control radar is an example. Being a pulsed radar, its principles
of operation are much the same as for most weather radars. Any Doppler radar
is based on the same principles as speed-control radars and some burglar alarms.
Certain military IFF (identification - friend or foe) equipment operates on
principles used for navigation transponders in commercial and business aircraft.
Two important ways to assure a successful transition from a military specialty
to consumer electronics are: One, recognize that fundamental principles apply
to both and get all the schooling you can in basic electronics: and two, study
civilian electronics on the side through correspondence courses available from
the Armed Forces Institute (most are free). If you fail to qualify for them,
you can still take other courses on your own.
If you cannot obtain an electronics assignment, there is still a way you
can get some electronics training from the military. A new program called Project
Transition is now being offered to members of the Armed Forces who have six
months or less left to serve. Previous electronics education or experience is
not required. You only need take a screening test to show that you have aptitude.
No matter how specialized the military equipment you work
on, if you have a thorough understanding of basic electronics and fundamental
circuitry, you can apply what you know to consumer products.
Project Transition was instituted by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
during the summer of 1967 to help prepare short timers for civilian jobs. One
skill being taught is electronics repair. The Department of Defense furnishes
classrooms and provides counseling and testing for servicemen wishing to participate
in this free vocational training. For the field of electronics, the Electronic
Industries Association worked out a curriculum aimed at turning out TV repairmen
in a 90-day period. Member companies of EIA furnish test equipment, TV sets
for the classes and instructors. Their aim is to answer the television industry's
need for service technicians and at the same time give discharged servicemen
a valuable skill.
The first electronics class began at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in
March 1968, drawing 20 short-timers from nearby Fort Sheridan. A placement program
is also a part of Project Transition; and there is a follow-up system to see
if trainees prove permanently employable. Any man about to be discharged can
ask his commanding officer if Project Transition training is available near
his base. Not all bases have such facilities yet, but more and more are becoming
available throughout our country - particularly at mustering-out points.
Career military men (20 years plus) whose assignments have been in electronics
are top candidates for civilian jobs. Yet, odd problems crop up here, too. For
example, one lieutenant colonel retired last fall after 27 years experience
in the Signal Corps. In the five years before his retirement he had acquired
valuable experience with missile systems and was eminently qualified to serve
a certain defense contractor in a top-paying job. But his work has been classified,
so he couldn't even describe his experience to this prospective employer.
A placement counselor for NCO Availability, Inc., an employment service for
departing military men, describes this problem as common. "Our toughest placements
are people who have been on secret projects. They can't talk and neither can
the companies who are interested in them." This dilemma is usually solved by
giving a general idea of the applicant's training and convincing a company he
is worth taking a chance on. (Another solution is for the job candidate to apply
to the company that makes the secret equipment. Trying a company that supplies,
designs or builds a familiar piece of electronic gear is a good angle for any
Within the past three years several employment agencies have sprung up which
cater to the needs of the retiring military expert. NCO Availability, Inc. of
Arlington, Va. was formed by noncommissioned officers from various services.
This agency specializes in the problems of the long-time NCO. Another such agency
is Lendman & Associates of Norfolk, Va. Its operator, Ernie Lendman, specializes
in finding jobs for junior officers.
Joseph D. Harrington, president of Harrington Associates, Inc. of Washington,
D.C., works with both enlisted men and officers and has examined all aspects
of the problem involved. "We start by sitting a man down, handing him a cup
of coffee and asking him three important questions: what he wants to do, where
he wants to do it, and how much salary he wants. We find hundreds who have no
idea of any of the three.
"We help him decide what his training and experience best qualify him for.
A good many have delusions of moving directly into a middle management post
in private industry. They've usually been misled by conversations with other
service people. We help them see what they can realistically expect in the civilian
job market. If a man's military training does suit him for management, we help
orient him to the difference between military and civilian life. Often we convince
him to lower his sights a little."
Some of the best job opportunities for military men lie with government agencies
which hire through the Civil Service Commission. For example, Federal Aviation
Agency (FAA) spokesmen tells us that many ov their best maintenance technicians
have military backgrounds. The transition is remarkably simple because most
of the equipment used by the FAA to control our airways is just like equipment
used by the Armed Forces. And ex-military men have an advantage in CSC job competition
since their service time counts in their favor.
Certain bits of advice apply to everyone in military electronics who wants
a related civilian career. Some of the most appropriate bits of counsel come
from Joe Harrington. He stresses his version of the three r's-realism, relocation
and resume. Realism about experience, training, ability and salaries. Relocation
to where the jobs are; and a professionally prepared resume to present the applicant's
capabilities to best advantage.
Posted July 24, 2020