Col. Ed Vaughan has made a career out of finding innovative solutions to challenging problems.
Now, the Colorado Air National Guard officer has his sights set on a serious issue confronting members of the military's reserve components.
"Guardsmen and Reservists of all branches have hybrid careers," Vaughan, a 22-year veteran, explained. "Their careers (comprise) some combination of civilian work and military work, and despite the many options offered by military personnel organizations, there are few resources that can help Guard and Reserve members chart a path to success that truly integrates both sides of their careers."
Vaughan, the Air National Guard Advisor to the Air University commander and president, said he and Chief Master Sgt. Carl Collins, the Air National Guard Advisor to the commander, Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, established the Guard and Reserve Network, or GARNET, to address this challenge.
Vaughan worked with Collins, a Florida Air National Guardsman, to set up the first GARNET chapter at the Air University in 2011. Since then, GARNET has spread nationally, with Vaughan and Collins helping to establish new chapters in five other regions to date.
"Chief Collins and I observed that career development within the military's reserve components works well for those intending to remain in uniform full time. However, these programs are not designed to provide a holistic approach to professional growth that addresses the non-military experiences and goals many Citizen Warfighters bring to the table, nor help springboard them into civilian employment after the military" Vaughan said. "The only organization that we can count on to augment the military's development programs in this way is our network, it's each other. In order for that network to happen we've got to build it, and that's how GARNET started."
However, according to Vaughan, GARNET is more than a traditional networking group.
"GARNET is a collaborative, networked approach that provides mentoring and crowd-sourced solutions to address the civilian and military career needs of Guardsmen and Reservists, and at the same time, match their talents and abilities to the requirements of the larger organization," said Vaughan. "GARNET fills gaps and seams in both military and civilian career development by looking at the 'whole person.'"
Vaughan, an F-16 fighter pilot, previously served combat flying tours with Indiana and New York Air National Guard squadrons in Iraq. He also has a track record of success out of the cockpit.
Vaughan earned a spot in the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame in 2009 for his life-and-limb-saving initiatives. In 2007, Vaughan created the Wingman Project for the Air National Guard, offering peer-to-peer suicide intervention training and outreach to military members and families. By 2009, the Air Force Reserve called him in to help launch their variant called the Wingman Toolkit. Vaughan has also led entrepreneurial joint initiatives within the Department of Defense, including seeandavoid.org, a popular mid-air collision avoidance portal that the FAA recently acquired.
Vaughan credits his accomplishments to a bureaucracy-busting approach to solving problems, an approach he said GARNET exemplifies.
"One of the goals of GARNET is to cut through red tape and simply offer help that is really needed in a format that is inviting and safe," Vaughan said. "Such help may include converting military experience into civilian resumes, conducting practice interviews, determining which civilian jobs might be a good match for military commitments, and advising which educational and training opportunities result in industry-standard credentials."
According to Collins, GARNET combines the power of social media with more traditional forms of networking and expands that network to include human resource experts and senior civilian mentors from corporate America.
"GARNET leverages the latest technologies to promote and enable face-to-face interaction, not avoid it," Collins said. "We have GARNET pages on various social media, particularly LinkedIn, where members can connect with one another at times that work for them, but we also have networking lunches at least twice a month, so when you show up you join a group of people who you can talk to online, on the phone or at the next meeting."
Brig. Gen. Paul Ayers is a Rhode Island Air National Guardsman who currently serves as the Air National Guard assistant to the commander, Air Education and Training Command. He is also a Boeing 777 pilot for United Airlines who was the guest speaker at a GARNET meeting here in June. Ayers said he emerged a fan of the group.
"GARNET, in particular, is a great example of what can be done at the unit level where members come together and share their experiences and build these networks and use some of the social media that's out there today," Ayers said. "GARNET really capitalizes on developing relationships and networking so we can ensure everybody is gainfully employed and really bringing the best of their experiences to the table."
GARNET member Capt. Theresa Chrystal, a California Air National Guardsman, was until recently a flight commander with Officer Training School. Chrystal will soon begin a new job working in the office of the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and she credited her GARNET involvement with helping her secure her new position.
"Because of the networking opportunities through GARNET, I was sent on a temporary duty up to the Pentagon to work for five weeks and to be a staff member working actions for [National Guard Bureau Chief] Gen. McKinley," Chrystal said. "It was a tremendous opportunity for me to be able to work hand-in-hand with the folks at the Guard Bureau that I never would have had without GARNET."
Vaughan agreed that Chrystal's experience is both a GARNET success story and a testament to her professional skills. Vaughan pointed to his experience in 2010 and 2011 when he commanded a McMurdo Station military detachment, part of Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, as the inspiration behind GARNET.
"There's no way to succeed in an environment like Antarctica without each person digging deep and applying everything they've ever learned, whether military or civilian or academic, on a daily basis," Vaughan said. "Seeing all the energy and competence of our Citizen Airmen there, it occurred to me that these folks are much more than their military specialty codes. With such diverse backgrounds, they hold the solutions to many of our nation's challenges, and if we support and enable them on their chosen paths, they will become a greatest generation for their time," Vaughan concluded. "That's what GARNET is all about."