Homeland Security and Emergency Management Careers After the Military

A law enforcement officer speaks on a radio with a police car in the background.

After military service, veterans often have concerns when seeking civilian employment. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, common challenges include acquiring new, competitive skills; updating skills gained in a pre-military role; or sometimes even crafting an updated resume.

Every day, despite these challenges, veterans gain valuable professional skills and knowledge, and build rewarding careers after the military with the help of their military experience and expertise.

Earning an advanced degree — such as Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness — can further aid veterans seeking to enter the civilian workforce by providing a foundation in many key areas. These include national defense, emergency management and law enforcement, advanced leadership skills and interpersonal skills, and tools for confronting natural disasters and terrorist threats.

By combining an advanced education with past military experience, VCU’s program can position veterans to succeed in a wide range of roles, including careers in homeland security as well as roles in law enforcement, intelligence and cybersecurity.

What to Do After the Military

Military service can provide an excellent opportunity to develop skills that can lead to a broad spectrum of career paths. Making a career transition can be a challenge however, as some veterans may not know what steps they need to take to pursue a post-military career.

Fortunately, organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offer veterans a number of resources and tools to help them figure out what to do after the military and make a smooth transition to a new career. These resources provide veterans with practical information, such as how to write a resume. They also give veterans access to job fairs and networking events, where they can forge valuable connections that could lead to job opportunities.

Veterans who take advantage of these resources and earn an advanced degree can position themselves to be strong candidates in several fields.

5 Types of Careers After the Military

While veterans may qualify for a wide range of roles, certain post-military careers are a natural fit for veterans based on their responsibilities. As the following roles demonstrate, these careers can allow former service members to apply their unique skill set within a wide range of work environments, giving them an opportunity to chart a career path that aligns with their interests.

1. Defense/National Security Contracting

Veterans seeking a career after the military may find the defense and national security contracting industry a natural fit. These contractors sell services or products to government agencies and organizations, but they aren’t part of the federal government itself.

Defense contractors can range in size and services. Their customers can be inside or outside the military. For example, Boeing not only sells equipment to the U.S. military but also sells planes to major airlines.

Defense contractors offer many professional career paths for veterans. Veterans working for defense contractors may serve as engineers, business analysts or project managers. These roles demand technical knowledge and expertise, as well as strong interpersonal skills. According to the compensation website Payscale, the median annual salary for defense contractors was approximately $65,000 as of October 2022.

2. Intelligence

Police officers and border patrol agents focus on physical dangers to communities, states and even the entire nation. Intelligence is also a field crucial to law enforcement, where dedicated individuals evaluate potential threats to the United States.

Officers in an intelligence division or law enforcement agency may analyze a criminal suspect’s financial activity to investigate evidence of a crime, monitor digital communications for information regarding potential criminal activity, use advanced technology to surveil threats from remote locations, and call on a network of contacts and resources to gather information on threats or criminal activity.

The following are examples of intelligence organizations where veterans can forge a fulfilling post-military career path.

  • CIA — The CIA is a federal agency with a wide range of tools and resources at its disposal. It is primarily focused on gathering foreign intelligence on threats to U.S. national security, including terrorism and cyberattacks.
  • National Security Agency — Part of the U.S. Department of Defense, the NSA collects and analyzes intelligence from across the globe, identifying and combating threats to national security. The NSA may also monitor suspects within the United States.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency — The DIA gathers information and data regarding defense and military affairs and evaluates military threats that certain countries or individuals may pose.
  • Bureau of Intelligence and Research — Part of the U.S. Department of State, the INR analyzes information that can benefit U.S. diplomatic relations.
  • Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence — Part of the U.S. Department of Energy, the OICI collects and analyzes information on energy and scientific and security topics, such as nuclear weapons.

To build a successful post-military career in an intelligence organization, veterans need to have the requisite education and skills. For example, to become an analytic methodologist for the CIA, candidates need experience in areas including statistics, mathematical programming and modeling.

To compete for a computer science position with the NSA, successful candidates typically have strong backgrounds in areas like vulnerability discovery, object-oriented programming and information assurance. It’s a good idea for veterans to have a specific career path in mind that incorporates their prior military experience and understand the position’s basic requirements.

Intelligence careers tend to pay well. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for intelligence officers as of September 2022 was around $97,800.

3. Emergency Management and Public Safety

Natural disasters and emergencies take a devastating toll on individuals and communities across the country. Veterans who wish to help people whose lives have been disrupted by catastrophic events can pursue a career after the military in emergency management and public safety.

Emergency management professionals develop and oversee emergency management strategies that safeguard the public from natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), responsibilities include meeting with public and government officials to coordinate efforts, analyzing the damage after disasters have occurred, organizing emergency response efforts, working with individuals impacted by disasters, and managing funding during recovery efforts. Emergency management directors often work for the government, but they also serve private and nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross.

These professionals travel on short notice to areas stricken by disaster, work with individuals whose lives and health have been damaged, and collaborate with new team members on the spot. Because of the high-pressure nature of these roles, emergency management professionals must keep calm in stressful situations, be highly organized, have a firm understanding of government procedures and protocols, and be able to make difficult decisions quickly.

Public safety professionals help individuals and communities whose lives, health and security are at risk. These professionals include firefighters, emergency medical technicians and professionals who work for a department of animal control.

Because veterans often have military experience working under pressure and taking on a wide range of responsibilities, these positions can be ideal. Military work experience makes veterans great candidates for roles in emergency management and public safety. Military experience also equips individuals with the capacity to make tough but critical decisions in high-pressure situations.

Emergency management and public safety professionals are often well compensated. The 2021 median annual wage for emergency management directors was $76,730, according to the BLS.

4. Information Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection

In today’s digital age, threats to national security often take the form of cyberattacks. That’s why the United States has built a strong cyber defense, full of talented professionals with strong technical skills. An exciting role in this cyber defense environment, and a potential veteran career path, is that of information security analyst.

Government organizations that employ information security analysts and other tech-oriented professionals include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. This agency’s mission is to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from physical and digital threats. Examples of critical infrastructure include the chemical sector, communications sector, defense bases, and food and agriculture infrastructure. Compromising any of these threatens American security. Information security analysts monitor cyberthreats and strategize digital defenses against them.

To become an information security analyst, candidates need proficiency in information technology. Employers typically require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Additionally, information security analysts tend to have considerable experience working in technology. While some veterans may already have an impressive technical background from their military experience, they would do well to gain additional education or certifications to stay competitive.

Additionally, information security analysts need strong attention to detail as they apply new security procedures and monitor potential and existing threats. Because they need to support their strategies for combating cybersecurity threats, information security analysts also exercise persuasive interpersonal skills.

Pursuing a role as an information security analyst can lead to a high-paying career. According to the BLS, the 2021 median annual wage for information security analysts was $102,600.

5. Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is a popular career path after the military. On any given day, a law enforcement officer might patrol an assigned area, issue traffic citations to make roads and highways safer, or respond to emergency calls about threats or dangerous situations.

While there is some variance in duties depending on the employer and the role’s particular function, law enforcement personnel share certain key traits. For example, police and detectives keep detailed records and write reports, which are useful if they need to testify in court. They also usually carry typical law enforcement tools, like guns, handcuffs and radios.

Police officers must know local, state and federal laws and carry themselves professionally and ethically. They are expected to not only show empathy and practice good judgment, but also make tough decisions when necessary. They are also trained in special skills like firearms use and first aid.

Some federal agencies that hire law enforcement officers include:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — As the name implies, the ATF monitors and regulates tobacco, alcohol, firearms and explosives.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration — The DEA polices and prosecutes illegal drug trafficking.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE monitors and regulates immigration activity.
  • State police — A state police agency combats crime throughout an entire state or multiple jurisdictions within a state.
  • Border Patrol — A border patrol agent monitors the safety of U.S. borders against potential threats.

An officer in a state or federal agency often collaborates with other officers from a different department or agency. For example, if there’s a major drug bust in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles police and the DEA usually act together.

Police officers seeking employment in these state and federal organizations will need to meet specific requirements. For example, to become a special agent within the ATF, applicants must pass a special agent exam and an assessment test, comply with the organization’s drug policy, and complete a field interview.

Requirements for becoming a border patrol agent differ. Applicants need to have lived in the United States for at least three of the past five years, complete training and education courses, and speak Spanish well.

Employees advance within law enforcement only after a probationary period. How far someone advances within a law enforcement career is directly tied to their job performance and how well they score on certain written evaluations. Promoted officers may end up working in a specialized unit.

While salary can vary based on the organization, the salary for police and detectives provides insight into potential law enforcement earnings. The 2021 median annual wage for police and detectives was $66,000, according to the BLS.

Keep Making a Difference: Start Your New Career After the Military

Switching from military to civilian life can be challenging. Fortunately, many opportunities are available to veterans who want to leverage their military experience in a meaningful new role.

Veterans with previous knowledge and experience from military service still need to be sure they have the in-demand skills employers are looking for. Doing so will go a long way in making them top candidates for a fulfilling post-military career.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts program in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness gives students an in-depth education in professional theory and practice, and can equip them with extensive leadership and communication skills.

Take your career to the next level and discover more about VCU’s online program today.