Under the shadow of war, US soldiers in Iraq take 'live' online classes on running a business - with time out when they go into 'stealth mode.'
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The unit is due back in December, after about two years away. Celli plans to keep the class going until then, well beyond the original nine weeks, because "it's been a lifeline to them," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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This kind of opportunity can be a jumpstart for a successful return to the homefront, says Fred Medway, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina who studies military deployment and reentry. "Usually people in the Guard and Reserves have more difficulty with the separation from friends and family.... They haven't had the experience.... Then you throw on top of it the fact that they're leaving jobs where they've had a degree of stability; they have worries about what things are going to be like when they come back," he says.
The class helps because "it gives the service people a chance ... to focus on the process of coming back, and on self-improvement while they're there," he adds. But the one caution is to avoid creating expectations that are too high and could lead to disappointment when they return.
Celli agrees, and says if anything, "expectations are falsely elevated before the class." Once he marches them through, they realize it's going to take a lot of work. "I ask the hard questions.... I'm not family - I don't have to worry about their feelings."
The Veterans Corporation gave Celli a grant to teach these classes, and he's chosen to offer them free to the soldiers. In the past year and a half, he's also instructed about 250 local veterans, who have gone on to launch everything from a tour-boat business to a company that sells snack mix made from an old family recipe.
Celli will also soon open an office for his Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center, one of several regional sites supported by The Veterans Corporation.
"It's quite important because some veterans, especially the older ones, still believe in the old-fashioned way: Let's shake hands and talk," Madigan says.
During this day's class, Celli shows Martin a half-dozen online resources that will help him develop his e-books plan, and encourages him to write his own, too. "But don't sell it for $1 or $2, or people won't take it seriously." Either make it free, or charge at least $10.99, he advises.
The microphone in Iraq is turned off because it causes an echo, but Guzofski and Martin continue to type questions and responses into a chat window that Celli has running on his screen. At 5 p.m. Iraq time, they write: "We have a mission to do in 20 minutes." Without blinking an eye, Celli starts to wrap things up.
Once "my guys" come back to the US, Celli says, he'll have a graduation celebration and give them each 500 business cards and a website, the future online home for whatever business they create. Citrix plans to give them GoToMeeting software.
Celli loves teaching fellow members of the military because of their commitment, discipline, and leadership skills. Especially career vets. "They've learned all these great ways to do things, and it's been harnessed for so long that ... they just have that I-can't-lose attitude."
• For more information, log on to www.veteranscorp.org or call The Veterans Corporation at 1-866-2-VETCORP.