In our second “Veteran of the Month” interview series, we sat down with Marianne Burtnett, a recently retired Army Colonel who served as an attorney in the Judge Advocate Corps for 24 years. We first met Burtnett last March during her transition and were immediately impressed. Now the Director of Government Relations at MITRE, we wanted to follow up with Burtnett to capture her story and convey the lessons she learned while in the Army and in transition.
- Name: Marianne Burtnett
- Military Service: Army
- Branch/Specialty: JAG
- Years in Alexandria: Over 5 years
- Role Model: Nelson Mandela for his integrity and grace under pressure
- Favorite Alexandria Restaurant: Brabo Tasting Room and Restaurant Eve
- Favorite Alexandria Activity: Volunteering and working with youth through the Seaport Foundation
- Favorite _____ in Alexandria: Taking my dog to the dog park in Del Ray!
What did you envision “life on the other side” to be like when you thought about retiring?
When I retired, I had this vision that I would quickly know exactly what I wanted to do and what my next chapter would be like professionally. Now that I am retired, my personal life has not changed too much. I was surprised by my lack of clarity on what I wanted to do when I transitioned from the Army.
First, I was going to practice law and maybe go into corporate social responsibility. Then, I thought about going back to school for teaching. It was really interesting to try and figure out what that best fit was for me.
What has been the most challenging about transitioning from military service?
The biggest challenge was looking at different opportunities and trying to figure out exactly what it was I wanted to do. On active duty, I didn’t necessarily have a complete say in the opportunities I pursued.
So, tell us how you landed the job you now have.
I was interviewing with several firms including one that wanted me to move to New York. I continued my search for a couple more months. At that point, I had my resume refined and polished, as well as my LinkedIn profile.
I began interviewing with MITRE, and it just seemed like a perfect fit for me. At MITRE, I am doing legal work and government relations. MITRE works in partnership with the government applying science and advanced technology to engineer systems of critical national importance. I was drawn to MITRE because the company is committed to promoting the public interest and addressing complex challenges with innovative thinking.
Now looking back on your military service, why did you originally decide to join?
I was working at a law firm, and I was in my second or third year at law school. One of my colleagues was going into the JAG Corps, and I wanted to get some trial experience to become a prosecutor for either the local or federal government.
I ended up interviewing with another office and the JAG Corps, and I chose the JAG Corps mostly because I spoke German! In college, I studied in Austria and minored in German. So, I got a job as prosecutor in Germany. My intent was to go in to the Army for three years and get out. [The Army] kept making me offers for great opportunities, and so I stayed!
Describe at least 3 things that you learned during your service and how they benefit you today.
Teamwork— The ability to work in a team and the importance of pulling together as a team.
Leadership— Inspiring people, motivating them, establishing trust, and helping them understand how they fit in with your goals moving forward.
The ability to prioritize – Figuring out what you need to focus on with the time you have, especially when you have a lot on your plate and you have to figure out what is most important.
Innovative problem solving – As an attorney, you are really there to help people and solve problems. You provide advice about the most effective ways to come to solutions.
Building relationships – Both professionally in terms of building your network and also the ability to collaborate as a part of a team and being able to pull people together.
What is your ideal career? What are your strengths that make you a great fit?
When I was in high school, I actually wanted to be a gym teacher! For whatever reason, working with kids is just a natural thing for me, and I’ve always enjoyed it immensely. I think I have this natural ability to develop trust and build relationships with people and pull them together to collaborate.
I am able to connect with a wide range of people, so my communication and interpersonal relations skills are probably my biggest strengths. I would say my second strength is my ability to problem solve. Think innovatively to reach your goals.
Who has influenced you the most in your career?
I have a diverse, great group of friends, and I look at the relationships that I developed that have lasted throughout my career as one of the most positive influences on me. One of the things the military does very well is advanced schooling. When I was in Charlottesville for a year, I met a lot of great colleagues. It’s some of my colleagues and peers that I met at advanced schooling as well as places like Capitol Hill and the National War College where I came to have the most lasting relationships. These [relationships] have really influenced me in a very positive way. I have worked with some incredibly smart people. It’s just amazing the talent the military can attract.
What are you goals for 5-10 years from now?
In the next five years, I would like to continue to be in a position were I can give back and make a difference. I want to be working in a team were I feel my input is valued and respected. I would like to be in a position where in five years, I could start my own non-profit and work on early childhood education with kids at the preschool level.
What is one misconception you feel people have about veterans?
A lot of people assume that everyone affiliated with the military, especially people that have been deployed, have PTSD or that they are somehow broken. Of course, that is not to down play the serious effects that some veterans are suffering with. But, I think there are many veterans that aren’t suffering in those ways and have a lot of great skills and attributes that somehow get overshadowed.
That being said, what you don’t always have is the stories about amazing people such as Army veteran Francis Hoang here in Old Town! There are a lot of veterans out there that have done some amazing things. I just am baffled sometimes by people’s perceptions of the military; especially old school visions of what women in the military are like.
I think one last misconception people have is that you can’t have a family if you’re a woman and in the military. I have a son and always felt supported as a parent during my military service. I think the expression “Your Mama wears combat boots” has taken on a whole new meaning. There are many exceptional senior women leaders in the Army and other services who balance service in the military and family beautifully. My friend Major General Jimmie Keenan is a prime example. She is an amazing officer, mother, wife, and friend. She taught me that the key to real life balance is constant adjustment, correction, and forward movement. In the end it is the same for everyone, in and out of uniform.