Plenty of fellow Marines spent their off-duty hours on the base in Okinawa, Japan. But not Jonas Cutler.
Cutler joined the Marine Corps in 1989 and was determined to make the most of the four-year enlistment. During his off-duty hours, he traveled, learned to scuba dive, and started his college education. He gained rank and responsibility, too, eventually becoming a non-commissioned officer.
That mindset—take advantage of all your opportunities—has been a guiding force in Cutler’s life. It’s taken him from the Marines to law school to his current position with the contracts team at Principal®. The skills he learned in the military have helped him successfully transition to civilian life and enabled him to help other veterans see the opportunities they may have after their own discharge, too.
A reset and a way forward
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Cutler and his mom moved around the Midwest after his parents divorced. He didn’t have the money to go to college and his school experience had been disjointed. “My parents were hippies, and how do you rebel against hippies? You cut off your hair and join the Marine Corps,” Cutler says with a smile. “My opportunities outside the military were limited. It was a chance to reset.”
After enlisting, Cutler headed to San Diego for 13 weeks of boot camp, which was located next to the airport; private planes taking off provided the soundtrack to predawn drills. Next came both infantry and combat engineer schools before Cutler shipped out. He was based in Okinawa and deployed around the region, including six months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for the Gulf War. There, he cleared lanes in minefields and other barriers to engage Iraqi units. Cutler finished his last year of active duty at Camp Pendleton in California.
His honorable discharge came four years to the day from his enlistment date.
Transitioning to civilian life
Some veterans face difficulties when they leave military life and re-enter civilian life. They may be more reluctant to seek care for mental health challenges, for example.1 Over one-third face underemployment,2 and businesses sometimes struggle to match military training and combat skills to jobs in the private sector.
“Think of it like a language and cultural barrier,” Cutler says. There are communication styles and processes that may be unfamiliar to those in civilian life, and vice versa for those coming out of the military.
But Cutler sees similarities and was able to use that approach in his own transition. “In the Marines, we collect information, evaluate opportunities, and make strategic decisions,” he says. “As empowered employees, we do that, too. We use our skill sets to produce something bigger and better.”
Post discharge, Cutler finished his degree at the University of Minnesota, had a job at the Veterans Administration, and then decided to go to law school. By graduation, he was married and a father and worked for several years for the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation. “I loved the mountains and ocean,” Cutler says. “But the work became more demanding, the cases were contentious, and it became difficult to see a trajectory.”
Through a friend, he reached out to Principal and found a position with compliance. “Everyone said it was a good place to go,” he says.
That was March 2008.
‘The company is very good for us.’
In 2008, of course, the economy collapsed; the real estate market stalled, and layoffs soared across sectors and employers, including Principal. Cutler’s family stayed put in New Hampshire, unable to sell their house, and for more than a year he flew back when he could. “The company was able to keep me on, and for that I’m exceptionally grateful,” he says.
And he never lost the ability to see the opportunities ahead of him and to help fellow veterans, too. Take a recent project he spearheaded with Principal colleague Micah Greene. The pair saw a gap in technology accessibility within the veteran community. If you’re a veteran lacking tech, you probably also lack access to services and employment or educational opportunities.
That led to an October 19, 2021, effort, sponsored by both Principal and the Principal® Foundation, to donate gently used, fully operational laptops at no charge to more than 100 veterans in the Des Moines metro area. The event also included free haircuts and free food (from two veteran-owned food trucks) for all in attendance, as well as job booths from several area employers. (Principal employees assisted with laptop setup.)
For Cutler, it was yet another example of Principal putting its commitment to veterans into action. “I remember during the economic crisis in 2009, we had a scaled back Veterans Day event, but the company still put time and effort into it,” he says. “I emailed [former Principal CEO] Larry Zimpleman to say thanks, and he replied personally. That’s the nature of the company we work for: Recognizing good work and talent is in our DNA.”
It’s a message he conveys to other veterans. “I enjoy it here, and I’m proud to work here,” Cutler says. “I talk to other combat vets fairly often and encourage them to take a look. The company is very good for us.”
One day a few years back, Cutler flew on the corporate jet to California for work. During the early-morning takeoff, he saw service members doing their predawn pushups, just like he did all those years ago. “I thought, I did pretty darn good,” he says.
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