DAHLGREN, Va. – From debutante to leatherneck – Duanna ‘Kimberly’ Tanner, once the sole minority student in her class at Stuart, a refined all-girls school, embraced a new life as a hard-charging Marine whose many career moves fit one word – “unexpected.”
“My mother gave me the best advice before I left for boot camp,” said Tanner who regaled her 2020 Veterans Day virtual audience with anecdotes about her career. “Do exactly what I’ve been telling you to do all your life – do what you’re told to do and when you’re told to do it.”
She reflected on scoring high enough to qualify for the Marine Corps ground radio repairman rating. “What I found is that I am unexpected,” said Tanner while speaking to military, government and contractor personnel tuning in via Teams at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) sponsored Veterans Day Observance, Nov. 12.
She recounted that one of the drill instructors asked how she was so disciplined. “I had strict parents,” she told him, and her mother’s advice helped craft the Marine she became, guiding her to success throughout her military and civilian careers.
Following military service, Tanner realized the importance of “personal rebranding” to enter the civilian workforce successfully as a contractor supporting the Marine Corps.
“We’re entitled to modify our personal branding to support the current environment that we live in,” said Tanner. "We can figure out who we’re going to be and assimilate as much as necessary without compromising who we are.”
Tanner’s rebranding went far beyond a new image. She earned master’s degrees in business administration and cybersecurity policy as well as bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and business management – and eventually entered federal service as a Marine Corps Systems Command project manager. Along the way, she served as a consultant to the Army, Navy, NASA, Veterans Affairs and the Department of Commerce.
“Life as a Marine was absolutely wonderful,” said Tanner. “I loved it. Then I transitioned into being a civilian, and that was a little tougher. We all had transition assistance as we were leaving the Marine Corps or the military, but I found that the transition assistance really didn’t prep me for being able to socialize as a civilian. The Marine Corps molded me and now, here I am as a civilian, and things were a little more challenging because I was a hardcore Marine.”
Upon discharge from the Marine Corps, Tanner decided to capitalize on her military training by applying for an electronics technician position with a defense contractor. She faxed her résumé every day, sometimes twice a day, for two weeks until the hiring manager called her to say he had 40 copies and that it was not necessary to continue faxing – she had the job!
“That was a whole new world to me, and now I was an electronic technician at Quantico. I could not have asked for anything better,” said Tanner. “I was so excited because I was still working for the Marine Corps and it kind of helped me transition into the civilian workforce. It still was not as easy,” she said, pointing out that the Marine Corps was 96% male when she enlisted after attending school in an all-female environment. As she transitioned out of military service, the electronics field was also male-dominated.
“I was trying not only to be a civilian but to be a woman civilian after being in the Marine Corps for so long,” said Tanner. “I was really focused on trying to find my civilian footing. It took a lot of time and training, but I figured out my branding and modified my personal branding a couple times, just to help myself transition. The other thing I had to master was finding that sweet spot. It was a little bit of a challenge to find it because I have a couple of personalities now – the debutante-like Stuart girl and the hard-charging devil dog extraordinaire Marine! Then, finally, I have to bring all of that full circle as a civilian in the Marine Corps.”
After her talk, the virtual audience submitted a series of questions for Tanner through the moderator.
One veteran asked Tanner for the best advice she could share to help other veterans map their career paths to emulate her success.
“The one thing that we, as veterans, sometimes forget is that we don’t realize how much we already know,” responded Tanner. “When we walk into the civilian workforce, we feel like we’re walking in empty-handed, but we come with so much knowledge that has already been ingrained in us. We’re taught leadership and responsibility. We’re taught integrity, but then as we transition into the civilian workforce – and by the way, we’re actually taught project management – we have forgotten that we know these things or think that we don’t know these things. That’s not true. That’s why it’s so important to find someone on the other side, a mentor who can help you craft that language – dig a little bit deeper into your résumé. I still have a vision of a résumé I was reviewing for an Army colonel. It was one page. I told him that this is not who you are. There is so much more in that résumé that’s just not telling your story. Find a recruiter to help you craft what that résumé should actually look like – and this goes back to personal branding. Sometimes we don’t have those words to put in there. Look at some of your military documents to find those key words and buzz words. Go to USA Jobs and look for the jobs that you are actually seeking and want to do, and find some of those key words. I guarantee that some of those key words actually fit into your résumé – and if you feel it does not – seek education.”
Tanner – who won the Corporate Emerging Leaders top award recognizing the outstanding efforts of the top 10% of emerging leaders – emphasized the importance of family values in her life.
“My mother, father and grandmother will always have a significant role in who I am and who I ascertain myself to be,” she said. “They are a constant reminder of my honor, my courage and my integrity, but my daughter and my two grandchildren continue to make me stand tall and give me the strength to continue to push so hard. If you stand for nothing, you will fall for everything. I truly believe in my Marine Corps values. I believe in the values that my family has set forth that come with the family name, and I try to share those and live by them.”
In his closing remarks, NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Casey Plew thanked the NSWCDD workforce – including its veterans, whether government or contractor personnel – for attending the virtual event.
“What you’ve done is truly remarkable, and we really do appreciate it,” said Plew to the command’s veterans. “These are men and women who served in the armed forces and made that tremendous personal sacrifice to protect our nation and preserve our freedoms. The veterans here at the warfare center are a very important segment of our workforce – as discussed by Ms. Tanner. You bring your combat experience along with quick problem-solving capabilities, and you’re able to translate that now as a civilian to create solutions for today’s warfighters. So, for you veterans – thank you very much! We still send you out to ships and into theater. You continue to go forward and provide training and direct support to our military, and I know you don’t hesitate to go into harm’s way once again for us. You really are our contacts back to the fleet.”
Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance and it became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Veterans Day occurs on Nov. 11 every year in the United States in honor of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 that signaled the end of World War I, known as Armistice Day. In 1954, President Dwight. D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars.