Making the decision to step away from the military was one of the hardest decisions I have made. My dream was always to be a Green Beret and serve my country–what I had always believed was the ultimate purpose. Now, my dream and purpose has shifted–being a present dad and connected husband to my growing family.

The questions of what’s next, how I satisfy my appetite to connect to something bigger and challenge myself outside of my family kept bouncing around my head. The daunting task of transitioning out of the military and setting me and my family up for success loomed in front of me. I needed a plan and needed to orient myself with the opportunities and challenges ahead of me. 

The daughter of Iain Turnbull, a student in the Global Executive MBA Class of 2024, holding ultrasound photos wearing a t-shirt reading "big sis"

Using one of the Special Operations Forces pillars that “humans matter more than hardware,” I reached out to my network and researched what a successful exit from the military could look like. The stories were inspiring and, long story short, I ultimately decided to pursue my MBA.

I submitted my application to Duke two weeks after my new baby girl, Aubrie Kay, was born on April 7th, 2022. (She would poetically and coincidentally have the initials/birthdate AK 47, much to the joy of this Green Beret!) and shortly found out to my excitement that I was accepted into the Global Executive MBA Class of 2024.

Iain Turnbull, a special forces veteran, with his wife, who is holding their baby daughter, and their dog enjoying nature

During my journey, I lacked the awareness and confidence that my military skills would translate well into corporate America. I thought that getting an MBA would “look good” on my resume, and I could leverage any institutional knowledge gained from Duke to start out fresh again. But, I would learn that my experience in the military set me up for success more than I realized, and I would have struggled to understand this if I went straight into a new job.

Here is my advice for my brothers and sisters who served and have a big transition to make:

  1. Civilians don’t understand what it means to serve and what your job was in the military. It will take a lot of effort (on your end) to have the patience to explain that every day in the military isn’t what Hollywood portrays it to be. At times, it may seem it goes in one ear and out the other, but give your classmates time–they care but also have a million competing interests. 
  2. Don’t just talk about what you did in the military, talk about yourself. At times you can feel like your identity is solely tied to your rank/job from the military as that is all anyone wants to ask you. Find those core things that connect you to your classmates (hobbies, families, travel) and those things will say a lot more about you than your career ever did–your connections will be deeper. 
  3. Don’t be afraid to manage. This is what you’ve been trained to do. Task organization is second nature to anyone that has served so don’t be afraid to organize your teams and delegate tasks. Your classmates will appreciate your decisiveness and ability to keep track of priorities. Team Fuqua only works when the team operates with a common direction it is steered towards–find moments to lead and support, but always be active and engaged. 
  4. You’re a leader. You are great at finding people’s strengths and weaknesses and leveraging that to accomplish the mission. Find your Team Fuqua’s strengths and weaknesses and guide them in positions to succeed so that your team can succeed. 
  5. Your work ethic and problem solving is your greatest strength. The course material is dense and difficult (you’re getting your MBA from a top school–of course it is)! But remember, you’ve done this hundreds of times in forced ruck marches, field problems and deployments. You know that it takes grit, dedication and focus to overcome any obstacle. Taking that mindset into your studies will go further than you think. When in doubt, outwork everyone else. 
  6. Leverage your class network as you seek your next career. This may be obvious, but be humble and pull aside your classmates for advice and guidance as you continue your post-military life. They know the reality of corporate America. 
  7. Be curious. Your way of thinking may work in certain instances in corporate America but ask your classmates how they would resolve conflicts/handle problems from their experiences. You will be surprised what things you may have taken for granted in military counseling and NCOER/OER reviews that will continue to work as well as what things you should probably drop (no, you can’t smoke your co-workers).
  8. Keep your standards as they have been your guiding light up until now. I told myself I was not going to wear Duke swag until I graduated just like I could not wear a Green Beret until completing the Qualification Course. It helps me keep focused on the bigger picture without getting complacent. 
  9. Share. Your perspective on the world is vastly different from your classmates–albeit sometimes brutally pragmatic. Give your perspective on world events and leadership techniques in class. I guarantee that you will be adding as much value as the professors are.
  10. You’re not alone. Duke has a great veteran’s network, but keep in mind that your classmates care about you. I can’t emphasis this enough. My last active-duty day was realized thousands of miles from home on the other side of planet, in Bangkok, Thailand during a residency. On my last day in the Army, during our last day of residency, my class recognized my service with a slide show of pictures of my time in Special Forces, handed me a beautiful Thai artwork (signed by everyone in the class) and raised glasses to toast my last day. I’m still awe struck to this day of the kindness and support that my class showed me.
Members of the Global Executive MBA class of 2024 enjoying a special meal at a restaurant during their residency in Bangkok, Thailand

Transitioning out of the Army while being in the Global Executive MBA program helped me get my legs underneath me. I now realize how to think and act faster and more effectively in my new job than I would have going at it alone. Our world needs great leaders more than ever, and I am confident Duke will give me and others the tools and network to become what the moment calls for.