Advice, support, the “inside scoop”—when anyone needs information, especially in the digital age, there are a lot of resources. And this is in addition to tapping into insights from family, friends and colleagues. But for members of the military—whether active duty, veterans, spouses and family—some specific insights this community needs can only come within.
“Considering, joining, transitioning from, and leading a successful life after military service can include some incredibly fulfilling experiences, but can also trigger some of the most challenging ones,” says Dave Gowel, CEO of RallyPoint, an online platform for military service members and veterans.
RallyPoint was created by two veterans who served together in Iraq and met up again while attending Harvard Business School. Their idea was to create an online social media network for the military. The duo launched the service on Veterans Day 2012 and now have almost two million members who created more than six million post about military life.
How RallyPoint is Different
“RallyPoint provides a level of connectivity that is not available otherwise in the siloed culture of the military. We not only help servicemembers and veterans share with and learn from people outside their chain of command, unit and geography, but we also allow civilians considering military service to connect with those currently serving and those who have already departed service to get real answers to questions about what it’s like to serve,” Gowel says.
While other already-existing social networks offer the capabilities to create pages, lists and groups for specific interests, Gowel says RallyPoint offers something extra that those platforms do not.
“Focus. Given the differences in our professional/personal life considerations, we just felt that the military was too different to be supported well on other sites,” he says. “Our focus on the military allows us to build experiences on RallyPoint that are customized for the audience we serve.”
Addressing Serious Issues
A big example of that focus is the new collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to prevent suicides. Close to 17 veterans commit suicide a day, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s a 50 percent higher rate than non-military adults. Through this pilot program, RallyPoint, AWS and Harvard University’s Nock Lab are using artificial intelligence to analyze public posts for indicators of self-harm and intervene by sharing messages with resources that can help.
“Suicide is a public health emergency facing our nation. Sadly, our veterans are at high risk—often because of the sacrifices they have made to protect our freedoms,” says Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, executive director of the President’s Roadmap to End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Task Force.
“Because suicide is not just a concern for our veterans, it’s critical that leading veteran and non-veteran organizations partner in order to ensure that everyone is protected against this very real threat. This type of whole of nation approach exemplifies the strategy the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs believe is necessary to accomplish our shared mission to prevent suicide. We thank RallyPoint, AWS, and Harvard for the meaningful work they are doing to save lives, now more than ever before,” she tells WorkingNation.
Who’s Using RallyPoint?
Of the two million members on RallyPoint, there’s an almost even split between the number of active duty and veteran military members mostly based in the U.S. but do have representation; 11 percent are civilian supporters. Female members make up 11 percent but produce 14 percent of the content. Gowel says giving them a safe space to have a greater voice is important.
“Given the male-dominated culture of our armed services, I didn’t observe females having equal share of voice while I was serving, let alone a greater share,” Gowel says. “We think this difference on RallyPoint comes from our site moderation, which isn’t often present in the real world in the barracks, in the field, during deployment, etc.”
Easing the Transition to Civilian Life
The networking aspect of RallyPoint also serves as a supportive environment for those transitioning out of the military and looking for their next job or career. Advice, job leads and guidance are shared, and organizations that support RallyPoint members can advertise services and job postings.
“The military does not teach networking for career progression while we are in uniform. You let your performance speak for itself and you will be offered options for career progression every few years during your military service,” says Gowel. “Since RallyPoint allows those currently serving to search and find people who are now Veterans in civilians jobs to ask them questions, ask them if they are hiring, etc., RallyPoint is a free tool that helps our military easily start networking long before they take off the uniform.”
For Gowel, his commitment to military service began when he was young. He visited his older brother frequently at West Point then attended himself; served in the Army for six years and as a platoon leader in Iraq, then in the Reserves when he transitioned to entrepreneurship. Now, he not only leads RallyPoint, he is also a member.
“I use RallyPoint to listen to what’s going on in the military community,” he says. “By listening to what our members are raising as important issues in areas that are most interesting to me (joining, readiness, transition, mental health, and leading a successful life after service), I still feel like I’m serving the military by driving our team to create experiences on RallyPoint that address those issues.”