Former Operator reveals secret to why veterans are better leaders

The challenge of how to find the same sense of purpose and the driving force of a compelling mission has been a challenge of veterans for decades, probably even centuries. Most recently, one of the greatest unifying comments from post 9/11 veterans has been how to rediscover and incorporate that same sense of purpose that they found in Iraq, Afghanistan, on their ship or at the hundreds of other deployed locations around the globe.

The true benefit of service is that it is a period in our lives that is singularly dedicated to serving a higher purpose and a higher mission that is far beyond individual concerns and worries. The benefits of service go far beyond the pay, promotions, education, skills and adventure that are the basis of recruitment advertising. You may join the for pay and benefits, but you stay to contribute your part to completing the mission, protecting your friends and instilling a sense of mission focus and mission accomplishment in your team.

I joined the U.S. Army right out of college and went into the infantry and the Special Forces (The Green Berets). I was nothing extraordinary when I came into the U.S. Army, but the soldiers I served with helped to make me a far better person than I ever could have become on my own.

In my first duty station in Korea, three of the sergeants in my platoon – Sgt. First Class Moore, Sgt. Tipton, and Sgt. Sowers – held me to a very high standard. Despite being their platoon leader, the officer supposedly in charge of them, those three made me learn how to work every weapon, radio and vehicle in our mortar platoon.

Later, when I was in the Special Forces, two other senior sergeants, Master Sgt. Trammell and Sgt. 1st Class Howell, were even more demanding that I learn how to be a parachute jump master, learn over-the-horizon navigation in rubber boats for ocean navigation and how to be proficient in any number of foreign weapons.

When I was in Iraq, Lt. Col. White helped me truly understand how to employ strategy and effects so every single soldier placed on the battlefield was there to make a difference.

My service in the U.S. Army still inspires and gives me a sense of purpose today. First, my exposure to the people of America showed me that differences of race, income, education, religion and language matter very, very little in running a successful organization. What matters to run a successful organization is showing how every person’s job and purpose connect to make the organization run better.

Second, my sergeants taught me that personal performance always matters and high standards in learning your job are a baseline requirement, not a “nice to have.”

Third, a leader must constantly set the example. I remember Master Sgt. Trammell in the Special Forces doing a 15-mile hike with an 80-pound backpack the day before he retired because that was what leaders did.

Finally, leaders must always be looking out to make their teams more effective and successful through teaching and training.

veterans need to look back on that sense of purpose and mission they had in the and then find or recreate that sense of mission and purpose in their daily lives.

Today, I am an old soldier and retired from the U.S. Army. I am involved in business, teaching college students and helping veterans succeed in their next careers. However, my drive, passion and performance to be better each day come from the hills of Korea, the fields of Bosnia, and the sands of Iraq, not the columns of a spreadsheet or a piece of software. The soldiers I served with years ago still inspire me today to make a difference in my company, my classroom and my community.

By Chad Storlie, an adjunct lecturer of marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, Neb., is the author of two books.


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