Tracing the Tech Contributions of United States Veterans

By Julia Tolstrup

Joining the military is a selfless act that not everyone can imagine. There are those for whom the call to defend and protect the values of our nation is too great to resist. But what happens after that? Some military veterans go one to achieve greatness in civilian roles, from technological innovations to building businesses.

New Englander Chris Thompson says there was one simple, driving factor that led to his decision to join the US military more than 19 years ago: “To defend those that couldn’t defend themselves.”

Today, Thompson is a Comcast Construction Specialist who works out of the company’s Westfield, MA office and lives in Springfield, MA. He is active in the Air Force and previously worked with the prestigious Navy Seabee division for 14 years.

When he first joined up, Thompson says he came with virtually no experience. His time at Comcast allowed him to find a place in the military and excel.

“I think my time at Comcast is what helped me in the military,” Thompson said. “When I joined the Navy in 1997 I didn’t have any skills so they took me in with the skills I had from communications so I became an electrician doing communications work. I think it’s a reverse role, how Comcast really helped me with my Navy career.”

Thompson is one of a long line of military veterans who have gone on to contribute significantly in the civilian sector.

Bill Rasmussen, a native Chicagoan, went from a career as a Supply Officer in the US Air Force to founding ESPN, headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut. ESPN changed the landscape of sports viewing as we once knew it.

Often veterans face a difficult transition back to civilian life. There are organizations across the nation and throughout the state of Connecticut helping connect veterans to the resources they need for a smooth reintegration following their service. The Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) at UConn is one such organization. EBV makes it their priority to link returning veterans to the skills they need to excel in entrepreneurship and small business management.

For some veterans, the world is not enough. Eileen Collins shattered gender barriers not only during her US Air Force career, but far beyond. After her time in the military was over, Collins went on to become NASA’s first female space shuttle commander, a role she hoped would help pave the way for others to follow soon after.

Another veteran who made it her personal mission to connect others like her with the wide array of benefits available to vets is Courtney Wilson. She recognized that there was a problem when it came to veterans finding the opportunities available to them. Wilson took matters into her own hands and founded DropZone Veteran Resources, an online hub connecting veterans to the programs and benefits to help them make the most of life after service has ended.

Former US Marine Donald Coolidge is the founder of Elemental Path, a New York City startup that helps bring technology down to earth for the those who aren’t experienced in code. Cognitoys, a component of the company, creates smart toys that help children learn communication using a cloud based dialogue program.

One military veteran who made much of the computer programming we do today possible was former Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Hopper was one of the original programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, an integral tool during WWII. She went on to pioneer computer compiling systems that allow code to be translated into other forms of language. Without Hopper, many of the things we take for granted in computer technology today may not exist.

The military often leaves veterans with a variety of technical skills that, with a little additional training and education, can translate into amazing work in the civilian sector and can allow veterans of all kinds to fulfill their role as important, and sometimes history-making, members of society.

Lead photo by Andrew Pons on Unsplash

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