Cha-BOOM! Another morning starts with mortars landing on the roof. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap. The M-240 machine gunner on the observation post over my head fires at someone or something as I roll out of bed and turn on the radio. I hear the Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) informing the operations center that we are receiving direct small arms fire and indirect mortar fire. I think, “No $#!7, we can hear it!” As I pull my body armor on, I hear the SOG directing one of the posts to fire on a position believed to house the forward observer for the mortars. He controls the fire of that position by calling in small corrections, allowing the gunner to zero in on the forward observer. As he radios each correction, we can hear shots cracking around him and the mortars continue to rain down.
By now I am racing to the operations center to check in, receive accountability from my other squads, and coordinate a counter-attack. Cha-BOOM – another round lands on the roof, shaking the building. “I’ve been hit!”, the SOG yells into the radio. “Tweak it down one more notch,” he directs the machine gunner as they continue to zero in on the observer. “You got him. Now find that RPK.” directs the SOG. The mortars stop and soon, so does the small arms fire. The insurgents melt back into the city before we can roll out the gate and engage with them.
The one thing that stands out in my mind after nearly two decades since this battle occurred was the way the Sergeant of the Guard skillfully directed the fires of the fighting positions while under direct fire. What still amazes me however is that had he not announced on the radio he had been injured, no one listening would have any idea he was wounded. He continued to direct the battle and move from position to position like he was doing a little fitness training in his hometown.
I have heard people say that leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. The leadership provided by the Sergeant of the Guard on that June morning directly resulted in the enemy lose of their eyes directing the mortars being used against us. Because they lost the ability to control their fires, the others fighters gave up the fight. The SOG’s cool reaction under fire, and while wounded, set an example of how good leaders instill confidence, provide guidance, and create trust under pressure.
Most leaders in the most work places will never face such a life and death situation. However, many react like minor things are life and death events and engage in seagull management. The term comes from The One-Minute Manager. Ken Blanchard shares the story of a manager flying over his workers. When she catches someone doing something wrong, she swoops in, flaps her wings, makes lots of noise, and on the way out dumps on the people as they sort out the confusion.
When an employer hires a veteran, they gain an employee that knows what crises look like. Most know what an appropriate response is to given situations. Too often, employers look at a veteran’s employment history and sees they served in one of the combat arms, infantry (queen of battle), field artillery (King of Battle), armor, or carvery and has no idea what their real skills are.
The military makes leaders of young people. A 20 or 21-year-old Soldier might be responsible for the very lives of four or five other people, like the Sergeant on the roof during the mortar attack. Even if that Soldier makes a text book correct decision, the Soldiers he leads might still die. How many life and death decisions do leaders in your organization have to make on a regular basis? I suspect in most cases, the answer is few. Yet the very people who are qualified to recognize and make those decisions are placed at the bottom of hiring lists because they do not appear to have skills.
If you are an employer that values leaders who can work independently, create a positive work environment, motivate people with a variety of skills, and accomplish things, you need to look at that veteran a second time. Lots of people now feel free to walk up to a person in uniform and thank them for their service. What are you really thankful for? If you are grateful they provided leadership in tough circumstances, offer them a job or connect them with someone who can.
Veterans have demonstrated the capability to learn new things under pressure. They know how to work in teams. They understand you do not have to like the other person in your foxhole, but you need to know how to work with them so you both survive. Veterans value loyalty, duty, honor, and service. They know what hard work is because for them, and eight-hour day is only the first part of the work day; many have worked 20 or 30-hour days
As a job interviewer, you may not understand all the jargon veterans use. Ask them to clarify what they mean. Even the most junior leader in the military creates mission orders for their team based on what their boss needs. Veterans learn to understand the intent of the mission, which in the business world is a job or project. They develop plans to accomplish their part of the project. They communicate their plan with their bosses and their team. Veterans learn to coordinate their actions with the teams operating to their left, right, and rear, basically, all around them.
Veterans may not know how to operate your Black Hole Client Management System, but they know how to gather information. They may not be able to operate your particular milling machine, but they learn to operate lots of different military equipment. They may not know your particular protocol to deal with a crisis, but they know how to quickly make decisions based on the available information, their understanding of the intention of the project, the guiding principles of the organization, and then how to execute in a calm, disciplined way. Every organization needs people who can make decisions under pressure, inspire others to be more than they are, and complete important work with little supervision. Those are normal days in the military, and that is why veterans make good hires. Do not just thank a vet this Veterans Day; hire one.
Blanchard, K, & Johnson, S (1983). The one-minute manager. Berkley Books. London, UK.
Marshall A. (2019). Baqubah: Bones and blood. Baqubah Press. Barrington, NH
Willink, J, & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.
Top photos by author
Bottom photos from New Hampshire National Guard
These are a small number of organizations looking to help employers find and hire Veterans. Selecting these sites for sharing here is intended only to raise awareness for employers and Veterans of some ways they can connect. Their selection is not an endorsement.
(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr