From Officers to Leaders in Innovation

By Major Matthison Hall ’03, USMCR

Every Annapolis graduate will  eventually make the transition to civilian life, some five years after graduation (or even sooner), others more than 30 years later. But the transition will come. While my own transitionmore than 12 years after throwing my midshipman cover into the air was only a partial one, as I immediately joined the Marine Corps Reserve, it was still a significant emotional and cultural adjustment, as it is for us all.

The mission of the Naval Academy includes three long-term goals for its graduates: to assume the responsibilities of command, citizenship and government. Many will achieve command and a few will enter government, but all of us will continue on as citizens during and after our service. An industry of veterans’  transition programs designed to place  service members in impactful civilian  careers has sprung up over the last couple of decades, mostly with good intentions. A few gem programs play critical roles in supporting the citizenship portion of our alma mater’s mission for graduates and for all veterans.

Shortly before I signed the DD-214 that cemented my departure from active duty, 30-some-odd fellow veterans and I, including half a dozen Naval Academy graduates, landed an amazing transition preparation gig at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. At times the month at Stanford and Palo Alto seemed to good to be true, like a paid vacation rather than a serious attempt at preparing veterans for game-changing  civilian careers. We toured the campuses of Google, Andreessen Horowitz and Twitter; met Condoleezza Rice, James Mattis (then still a retired general and not yet a cabinet member), George Shultz and Dan Gordon; enjoyed a San Francisco Giants game from the Virgin America corporate box and sat through crash courses in finance, accounting, marketing and how to write a business plan.

Besides touring Silicon Valley,  rubbing elbows with various bigwigs and spending long but fruitful days in class, we also divided into groups to develop concepts and business plans for new startups. We worked as teams under the guidance of our professors until we pitched our ideas to a panel of bona fide Silicon Valley venture capitalists on the final day of the program. Our proposals varied from lightweight humanitarian supply drones to wearable biometric chips and from collaborative community loan systems designed to replace the predatory payday loan industry to a high- end restaurant reservation marketplace for your smartphone.

That crazy month in Northern California left us all bitten by the entrepreneurship bug. Since then my class has fanned out across the country, joining top-shelf brands like Apple and Facebook or starting companies including a 2009  Annapolis graduate’s Afghan rug import business and a 2004 grad’s men’s grooming brand. Though today I spend most of my time at my day job at Johns Hopkins and many a weekend, late weeknight and several weeks away from home each year in uniform in my Marine Corps Reserve role, I did not escape the startup itch either. My own startup team of five, including four Marine Corps veterans, is working away online and in our garages week after week on our own technology idea, striving to make it, not only for the fortune, but also in hope of leaving  behind impactful change.

Major Mathison Hall ’03, USMCR, is currently the operations officer for 1st  Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th Marine  Division. He attended the Stanford Ignite program in 2015 before beginning his civilian career at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.