Returning to civilian life brings many challenges for veterans—finding a job, figuring out the next stage in life, coping with leaving the camaraderie and adrenaline. “It’s difficult to make that transition. It can be done successfully, though,” City Councilman Chris Herndon said.
Herndon returned from the Army in 2006. He started as a supervisor for an operations manager at United Airlines, worked as a store manager at Walmart and eventually was elected to city council. Herndon is now a mentor in the Boots to Suits program at University of Colorado Denver, where he recently completed his master’s in public administration.
Boots to Suits helps veterans transition into civilian life. CU Denver has the fastest-growing student veteran population in Colorado and the state’s largest Veteran Student Organization.
Boots to Suits pairs a student veteran with a mentor who works in a profession the mentee wants to pursue. (The mentor does not have to be a veteran.) At the end, the mentee is given a custom-tailored suit ready for the professional world.
Nearly 100 students have graduated from the program, with another 39 currently in the program.
Herndon is the mentor for 29-year-old Jeremy Bruce, a marine veteran. Once the program started, they found out they both worked in artillery during their service. One of the reasons the Boots to Suits program has been a good experience is because the two have that in common, Bruce says. He has been out of the service for five years and says the first couple of years were very difficult transitioning from the Marine lifestyle. “I miss the camaraderie, and the feeling of one big family,” he says. He is now studying political science at UCD and figuring out what area of public service he will pursue, which is where Herndon comes in. Over the course of the semester, the two meet every couple of weeks and discuss careers and Bruce shadows Herndon, most recently at budget hearings. “He asks me what I’m interested in and connects me with the right people. I get a much more real-world view of politics from Chris than in classes.”
The two plan to stay in touch after the program ends.
While Herndon also misses the camaraderie of the military and knows it cannot be replicated, he loves what he does now and is confident Bruce will too.
To learn more about the Boots to Suits program, visit ucdenver.edu/BootsToSuits.