Graduate Schools of Business, Public Policy and Military Heritage

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

This past week I joined the occasional and informal gathering of the Vets Club at Duke University. Attendees included Marines, Rangers, Medics, Artillery, a couple of Destroyer sailors- including yours truly – and a Hungarian sky-diver.

I don’t write much here about my position as the President of the local Naval Academy Alumni Association even though my military affiliation has become an important factor in my life even these many years after my own service. My participation renewed once my elder son joined the Naval ROTC at his college and flowered as I met a variety of military types who live, work and pass through our region. Because of the university population here, i.e. UNC, Duke and NC State, I meet a fair number of the more accomplished junior officers who earn billets here. An element of my personal goals within the Alumni Assoc. is to encourage and to help these JOs remain in the area. Several of these young men and women have become among my favorite people and most wished for social partners. I hope that they feel this way about me. On the other hand, as they search for work and expand their families, I am reminded vividly that I am many moons past their stage of life. In an uncertain economic time, with its shadow of organizational mistrust amidst a whiff of desperation, I am invigorated and motivated by their company. Plus, they make me laugh with their candid assessments of circumstance and insights into human foible.

Two threads of conversations with the Vets, over beers, caused me to post. As we discussed their post-graduation plans which range from Fellowships in St. Petersburg, Russia to financial management with JP Morgan Chase (the Army infantry sergeant) to non-profit work in Colorado, we wondered how our training and their combat experiences would translate to the current civilian sector. We agreed that one challenge of military transition is that the armed services are entities consumed by focus on mission. Civilian employment survives by process measurement of profit and loss statements. So, military types have to adjust and rightly so, but you have to know why you belong or affiliate with a revenue-focused entity or else we get what we have, namely, too-busy people running in circles feeling that someone else needs to solve ‘this problem.’ The second thread of conversation addressed management styles. Of course, amongst this well and roundly educated tablet, no one contended that the command and control style of the military makes sense in the civilian sector – even though there are the wannabees. After a round or so, we agreed that one aspect of military management would make a positive impact in the civilian sector. When is the last time, the first time, the any time that your manager asked you what the Marines, particularly, make evident from day one of training: “Do you know what you have to do? Do you have what you need to get it done?” These phrases won’t be found in any handbook of leadership and they are the essence of mission accomplishment. One cannot always know and one does not always have all that one needs. However, without addressing or asking these two questions, the mission cannot be accomplished because it lacks collective understanding and agreement.

Here’s to the young, the brave and the future.