Why I love be­ing a vet­eran

The Progress-Index Weekend - - OPINION -

If you had told me how I’d look back with fond­ness on the time I served as bri­gade com­man­der dur­ing the worst of Diyala Province in 2006-2007, I would have smirked. Of course I’d love be­ing a vet­eran, I can imag­ine my younger self think­ing. It meant I would be any­where but Iraq.

Ten years — six of them since re­tir­ing from the Army — have given me per­spec­tive. Now I love be­ing a vet­eran not be­cause it means op­tional work­outs, less bu­reau­cracy or not hav­ing to up­root my fam­ily, but be­cause it’s given me an even greater sense of pride in who I am and with whom I served.

I’m a lim­ited edi­tion, part of a unique club. It’s not that vet­er­ans, who make up less than 10 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, are all that dif­fer­ent than ev­ery­one else. We sim­ply have dif­fer­ent life ex­pe­ri­ences. Iron­i­cally, un­til I’d been out of the ser­vice for two years, I didn’t re­al­ize how much I loved and missed those ex­pe­ri­ences.

The longevity of th­ese life ex­pe­ri­ences car­ries through now that I’m in the pri­vate sec­tor. Though they trans­late to all generations, th­ese three ex­pe­ri­ences are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to mil­len­ni­als, who will make up 75 per­cent of the work­force by 2025.

Some­one once asked me what I’d do dif­fer­ently when I served as an in­fantry bat­tal­ion com­man­der. It was an easy re­sponse. I’d be more pa­tient with my lieu­tenants, who were of­ten fresh out of school with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, yet a core de­sire to step up and do the right thing. Mil­len­ni­als want bosses who serve as men­tors and lead­ers who treat them with re­spect.

An­other life ex­pe­ri­ence that I carry with me is a will­ing­ness to stand up for your peo­ple. Good lead­ers pro­tect their teams so that they are able to ac­com­plish what they’ve been asked to do. I love the fact that I can look back and say, “You know what? I ad­vo­cated for my peo­ple, and I take great pride in what they ac­com­plished.”

Fi­nally, en­gage­ment mat­ters. I chal­lenge main­stream busi­ness to cre­ate the trust, pride and esprit de corps I felt as part of any unit. In 2nd Bat­tal­ion 7th In­fantry, we ac­cepted chal­lenges with “will­ing and able.” In the 82nd Air­borne, we’d re­ply, “All the way, sir” and in the 1st Cav­alry Divi­sion, the proper re­sponse was “Live the le­gend, sir.” Em­ploy­ees in a high trust en­vi­ron­ment such as the Army are six times more likely to achieve higher lev­els of per­for­mance than oth­ers in their in­dus­try.

When I came home from Iraq, friends asked me, “What did you do over there?” Fam­ily asked me, “How do you feel about what you did?” I asked my­self, “What did I ac­com­plish?” Vet­er­ans Day is an op­por­tu­nity for all of us — civil­ian and vet­eran — to re­flect on the achieve­ments and ac­com­plish­ments of this unique pop­u­la­tion. Rather than wish some­one a Happy Vet­er­ans Day, I’ll ask them to share their reflections on their time in uni­form with me.

We vet­er­ans share the knowl­edge that noth­ing is daunt­ing. Sure, we may stum­ble. We may have chal­lenges. But there is al­ways a so­lu­tion. It’s sim­ply how hard you want to work to get there.

I don’t regret leav­ing the mil­i­tary. I re­main part of its legacy. While I travel around the coun­try speak­ing about lead­er­ship I take great pride in show­cas­ing the achieve­ments of my fel­low vet­er­ans.

I love be­ing a lim­ited edi­tion. I love be­ing a vet­eran.

David Suther­land, chair­man Dixon Cen­ter for Mil­i­tary and Vet­er­ans Ser­vices

New York, N.Y. via In­sid­eSources.com

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