A Fun Gig

One never knows where or when small and seemingly insignificant skills acquired over the course of a military career might prove useful and profitable. I just found a perfect side hustle for my small company, B&B Clark Consulting.

Augusta University JagRide

I cannot count how many times while stationed overseas or deployed I purchased a used beat up bicycle. In some instanced I purchased more than one bike on a deployment when some sticky fingered never-do-well would re-appropriate my ride. I became pretty adept at maintaining these old clunkers.

Additionally, like many military folks I became pretty good at operating and maintaining GPS enabled equipment. So much of our individual kit and vehicles required this knowledge.

Last month I came across a contract opportunity to maintain the bicycle fleet for Augusta University’s JagRide program. A company out of Charleston owns the bikes and the prime contract. This opportunity was enough to push me over the threshold and make the decision to turn in my notice to leave my government service position. I decided last month that GS work was not a good fit for me, but this contract opportunity gave me the courage and motivation to make the move.

The bikes are GPS enabled so my skills at minor bike maintenance and GPS/electronic systems come in handy.

This is not enough work or money to equate to a full-time job, it is not intended to. I have several other things I want to do with this company, this allows me the time and space to do that.

As a tremendous bonus, my boxer, Cooper, truly enjoys this new gig. He rides along in the truck as we check on the bikes and he is a big hit with folks walking around campus.

The takeaway of all this is one should never underestimate the myriad of skills you pick up over the course of a military career. Some of those might buy you freedom and opportunity some day.


The More Things Change….

It is my sad duty to report that all is not well with the US Army Signal Corps.

I retired from active duty in the US Army as a field grade Signal Officer after 33 years of service last April. I took a position as a project manager at Augusta University and then a contract position with the Cyber Center of Excellence doing lessons and best practice analysis. (you can read a bit about what that experience taught me here). Last August I took a mundane general service position with the Signal School because I had heard things might be changing and there might be hope for the future. I wrote about those hopes here.

My assessment at this point is things are not better, nothing is changing in a positive way and essentially the Signal Corps is mired in the same sort of ineptitude, bureaucracy and petty political in-fighting and personal empire building that I observed across the breadth of my career.

In short:

  • The organization lacks a clearly defined, articulated and disseminated strategic plan and vision.
  • “Leaders” spend much of their time refining and shaping organizational charts – not to build efficiency and effectiveness but to solidify personal empires.
  • Instead of making many new hires of fresh thinking, eager people with unique skills, the School has populated its upper tiers with people that just walked over from other ineffective entities on Fort Gordon. Some of them came with real baggage and in some ways, it is the island of misfit toys.
  • Senior Civilians on Fort Gordon, in general, exert too much control over the future – as a result of efforts at empire building mentioned above. Senior officers have always been and continue to be either blind to this or afraid to rock the boat.
  • The NCO Corps in the Signal Corps is, at the senior levels, perhaps the worst in the Army. Everyone that wants to become a Sergent Major becomes a Mason and that club exerts undue influence in how the NCOs act and perform and where their loyalty resides. (this became painfully apparent to me a few years ago when I conducted a 15-6 on allegations against a BN CSM and found an entire platoon of Sergeants Major willing to lie for him despite proof contrary to their statements I uncovered later on)
  • Too many Colonels with no other place to go and no real prospect of decent employment after the Army migrate and roost at Fort Gordon, occupying positions that could make a difference, if only…
  • The union at Fort Gordon exerts entirely too much influence on operations. Supervisors are afraid to supervise for fear of a complaint.
  • Too many ordinary civilian GS employees that perhaps could make a difference have simply given up. They come in each morning, put their heads down, do mundane tasks and go home.
  • The Signal Corps was perhaps the originator of the insane concept of the “top 5” or whatever number you want to designate. The notion that you have to have a senior civilian, warrant officer, NCO and other spuriously designated folks to make a “command team” is ridiculous but it is alive and well at the Signal School. This in effect “excuses” every little GO that cycles through there from making hard decisions.
  • Overall the Signal School is like 11 men on a football field, all running around, some trying to secure little plots of land for themselves, others hoping they just get to stay on the field and get paid a little longer and others dancing in the endzone to be seen – yet the ball sits at the 20 and never moves forward.

A friend of mine laughs at me often when I make statements akin to those above saying “man, Barry, you say some stuff”. He is not disagreeing with me, he is stating in his own way that people do not state the truth about the state of the Signal Corps in the way that I do. I realize that making such raw statements sets me up as a straw-man, my assertions are easy to dismiss as rantings. I might even agree, if I were disgruntle or felt slighted in some way but I do not. It took me years to arrive at the conclusions above, years of observing a Signal Corps that was divorced from the real needs of the warfighter. I came back to be a GS employee because I heard there was hope. I am not disgruntle. I am disappointed and perhaps a little angry that such ineptitude has gone unchecked for so long.

It is said often that one should not raise a problem without presenting a solution. I have often found that to be a lazy way for bosses to tell subordinates not to complain. However, there are solutions to all of this. Some big and some small, some painful and radical and some mundane and easy. It is not the point of this post to articulate those. I have rallied for many of those points numerous times in the past to no avail. In my current position I advocate for some of the smallest of fixes – yet nothing changes. If someone with power reads this, does not get personally offended and dismiss it and wants to see real change, contact me, I will join your team and help.

Barring that…

I will soon transition out of my GS position and focus solely other pursuits that interest me. I have done my best during my time in uniform, as a contractor and as a civilian employee to effect change or at least find a team with a leader that wanted to really move the ball. Life is too short, there are too many other interesting things to do.

I have taken numerous oaths over the years, and take the idea of doing one’s duty seriously – I have, yet nothing has changed.

Not Small Differences

I joined the Army (the Army Reserve actually) during my junior year of high-school.  I had to gain the permission of my parents and I looked a little silly returning my senior year with my basic training haircut.  This began a journey that ended this year in an active duty retirement and many exciting and fulfilling years in between.   I knew from the time I was a small child that I wanted a career in the military but in 1983 a speech by Ronald Reagan gave me cause to join as soon as I turned 17 two years later.

On the night of this “blue wave” election night I am reminded of that Evil Empire speech and what it meant to me then and what it should mean to our nation.  Watch it if you have forgotten Reagan’s words concerning Godless communism – the very sort on the ballot tonight.

In my adult life, I cannot recall a single good president, not one since Reagan.   Some were clowns, others disgusting fools, or slick snake oil salesmen but none have been statesmen and none have led us toward the ideal of traditional Americanism in the way Reagan did.

Congress and the Senate have certainly been no better, in point of fact much worse.  In terms of general trends, we have moved much closer to socialism and away from the traditional American values of family, self-reliance, work and Christianity.  Democrats, particularly the loudest of them, the ones that like to shout down anyone that disagrees with them, may not admit they have been winning but the facts are fairly self-evident to support this truth. Regulation has increased in the aggregate, personal freedom has decreased., the size of government has increased and traditional Christian values have been eradicated from public life – communism, err progressivism,  has been winning.

In our system, we generally perceive mid-term elections as a way to alleviate buyer’s regret from the proceeding presidential election.  This is generally why the party of sitting presidents lose control of the House of Representatives during mid-term elections.

To utilize a millennial term, this year feels different.

Donald Trump is different.  He is the physical manifestation of a lot of frustration that has built up in conservative-minded Americans since 1988.   Bush I was a company man.  Bush II was overwhelmed and unprepared for the circumstances he found himself in – he did more damage than good.   Conservatives have suffered for years under inept Republican presidents and two Democrats that did irreparable damage to the nation.   A man, Trump,  that spoke in ways that are common and to the point was the result.

Many of the Democratic offerings in this election are the left equivalent of a Donald Trump.  If Democrats believe Trump to be despicable they have responded by selecting outright socialist and proto-communist.  Spin it as you will, call it progressive, “compassionate” open-minded or any other euphemism many of these folks believe in tenets of Marxism.

We have perhaps crossed the Rubicon of civility, respect and cooperation and it is likely undeniable that there is a great gulf in what the far right and far left believe America is supposed to be.

If a mid-term election is supposed to be a safety-valve, something that allows the electorate to blow off steam, how does this continue to work when the poles are so far separated.   The ideologies and philosophy that now separates us are not small differences.

Will the most radical of the left be satiated with a blue wave, what about a blue ripple?   What happens if there is no blue wave at all and outright radical socialist like Abrams and Gillum lose, what with the most radicalized of the left do?   What if the Democrats fail to even gain the House?  Will the most radical of the left stop protesting in the streets of the Pacific Northwest and go get jobs like the rest of us or will the blue wave morph into something else?

Only time will tell.

Book: The Annotated Secessionist Papers, 2nd ed.

Annotated Secessionist Papers

Barry Lee ClarkBrian McCandlissMichael PeirceWalter E. BlockThomas E. Woods Jr.Kevin L. ClausonKirkpatrick SaleForrest McDonaldGene H. Kizer Jr.Thomas J. DilorenzoDonald W. Livingston: The Calhoun Institute, Jun 21, 2018 – Political Science – 254 pages

A collection of essays, articles and papers, in the tradition of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, that discuss secession from a legal, constitutional and historical perspective.

Amazon Best Seller

Find it on: Amazon and Google

Initial Impressions – GS Service with the Signal Corps

One full month as a government employee working for the US Army Signal Corps is perhaps not enough time to provide a fully informed opinion.  Granted I came into this gig with over 30 years of experience in the military where I formed a very definite opinion about what is wrong with hiring, promotion, retention and utilization of the civilian workforce.  It would be fair to say I am biased, but I believe my bias is based on reflective observations.  I could be wrong but I have come to believe I know what I know – right or wrong.

I recently wrote about my tempered optimism for what the Signal Corps might become in this time of transition.   In the last week, I made a realization that another of my own biases might reinforce this optimism.

In 1993 I was stationed at FT Riley Kansas as a young Soldier.  I escaped The Citadel in 1990 and the South Carolina National Guard sent me to OCS but I still felt there was more I needed to learn and do before I was ready to lead troops as an officer.  I deferred the commision and enlisted in the Regular Army, Fort Riley was my first duty station and as such, it was formative in the way I came to see much about the Army.

Back then we went to NTC every year, prior to that we spent many weeks in the field training for that big event.  We conducted real training on Thursdays for SGT’s time.   Mondays and Tuesdays were always spent in the motor pool with the equipment.  PT was rigorous.   In my mind, that place and that time have always been what the regular Army is supposed to be about.  Training was not easy, there was an expectation that you could do your job and everything was focused on the warfighter.

I remember the company commander,  John Smith.  He did not seem to have much of a sense of humor.  I interacted with him daily, I was his training NCO.  He was prior enlisted, previously Infantry and just the sort of solemn, fair but hard guy I thought I company commander should be.  In 1993 there were I think two computers in the company.  I had one as the training guy and there was one in the motor pool.  When the platoon sergeants would send the Joes out to perform tasks they would huddle in the back office to “work on counseling”, after all, it would not be proper to hover over the junior NCOs as they supervised work.   The same was true for the young lieutenants.  They certainly would look silly sitting in the motor pool all day.  Back then, it was proper for leaders to disappear for a bit to let the junior guys figure stuff out.

I suppose in some companies the CO would tell the LTs to go elsewhere for a bit during the day.  Not so it seems was the inclination of CPT John Smith.  During the afternoons I would take in training schedules for signature, his office was always dark except for the light from the windows.   He had a large couch on one wall and that is where he stored his LTs when they were not out and about being seen and leading.  Every day, every afternoon, two LTs would be reclined in various positions of half-sleep on his couch as he reviewed paperwork.  He was just that stern.

To the uninitiated, the picture above seems ridiculous.   I could belabor all of the reasons why the scenario made sense but for the sake of argument just accept that it was proper.

One of those LTs, asleep on then CPT John Smith’s couch was the current commandant of the Signal Corps, BG Christopher Eubank.   I do not tell the story above to disparage him. Twenty-five years later after having been an LT and having led many of them, I think the exact right spot for LT Eubank and his partner was parked on that couch (when not out and about doing LT work).

I only realized last week that I actually knew the general from all that time ago.  The Army is a small organization really.

My renewed optimism for the future of the Signal Corps is perhaps just a personal one.  I know what I took from that time at Fort Riley, I wonder and perhaps hope LT Eubank took away the same lessons. If so, the Signal Corps is in the right hands.

This is not to say there are not challenges.  I have already observed the mind-numbing ineptitude of some of the civilian bureaucracy that surrounds him.  The problems I observed at NTC a decade ago may or may not be present at the top but they certainly exist in the middle!

A Blessed Life

I am continually struck by one inescapable fact, that being that I am blessed far beyond anything I have ever done to deserve or earn such a bounty.   I look around at my life, past and present, and I can only arrive at the conclusion that I have been given more than I could ever repay.  There is no logical, physical or spiritual explanation for all the goodness I have now and have enjoyed throughout my life.

It has not always been apparent to me that I was blessed.  Certainly, there were hard times in my life, there were failures and failings, disappointments, let downs, anger and sadness.  There was even a moment around 2009 when I was depressed and wanted to end it all, I wanted to walk into the desert and never return.   I, just like so many of other Soldiers and veterans almost succumbed to the darkness and depression of deployments, failing marriages and a sense that perhaps we were the failures.

In my particular case, my walk in the desert was a direct challenge to God himself.    I prayed before setting out on what I intended as my last journey with an angry prayer. I challenged my Creator to find a way to lead me out of that dark place and show me I had a purpose, else I was not coming back.   Three days later, somewhere along the Mojave trail, out of water and exhausted, an Army helicopter found me.  My first thought was to escape and evade, to hide and run.  A mere second later it dawned on me.  Despite all the precautions I had taken not to be found and no matter how large the desert was the fact remained there was a helicopter filled with folks looking for me.

I realized at that moment that my prayer had been answered.  There was no good reason they should have found me, but they did.  I assumed at the time that I must have been saved for my children, perhaps I was supposed to live to ensure they got through college.   My fear that my marriage would not improve and would eventually end proved true but I came away from that event believing that I had one more mission.

I was blessed last month to run into my old boss from that time.  Back in 2009, once I was recovered and brought back in (and after the San Bernadino County sheriff deputies determined I was not a crazed armed madman) my boss was there to hug me and tell me it was all going to be ok.  They had looked for me to save me.  It was good to see him again, we hugged more, he smiled big and I expressed the love and thanks I have for him and what he and the Army did for me in my dark time.

Much has happened in the last nine years.  There were other deployments, I finished out a military career and retired.  At times and in some positions after that event, while I was still in the Army, I found an inner freedom to do and say what I thought was right without fear, after all, what was left to be afraid of?  I had been to the abyss and looked down upon it already.

Later, I got divorced and then met a girl that needs and loves me as much as I need and love her.  My children are in college, my son is about to graduate.  That event changed me, it freed me to see things differently and it put life, troubles and difficulties in perspective and it made me cognizant of how precious the gift of life is.

Slowly, I have come to realize there must be more to why I was found and saved.  Much of the way I treat people that I encounter and work with stems from my perspective formed on that hot desert trail.  Life is too short for drama – kindness to others, a smile, a good word and showing love to others has meaning and importance.

My relationship with my Creator has improved since that moment.  Perhaps not miraculously and not overnight.  I am and remain a sinner saved by grace, an imperfect man.  However, I have a constant awareness and understanding that there are things bigger than me that are unseen.  I talk to God freely now, give thanks and understand that I do not know everything and do not understand everything.  I am certainly not perfect and I do not always outwardly show what is in my heart, but I am changed.

In retirement, I have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue three different career options.  I am thankful to Augusta University for the chance to work there as a project manager.  To be certain we were never going to mesh culturally and I realized this long before they did that but they were kind and welcoming to me. It was, in retrospect, a good experience.  I am likewise thankful for the opportunity to perform defense contracting work, to see what that world is all about.   The money was nice, the salary I was offered to stay was flattering and the chance to go back to the desert and do real work was exhilarating. I am also thankful for people within the Department of Defense that called me one day whilst I was at Lowes trying to be a retired guy to offer me a GS position.  It is rewarding to know people think well of you and want you on their team and it will be an interesting journey to see what the civilian side of government service is all about.

I have a beautiful home, I love it so much I do not really like to leave and vacation has something of a diminished flavor to it.  My wife is my best friend and partner. I have all of the material things I could ever need.   My retirement check is more than sufficient to pay the bills and extra money is just that, extra.  I am healthy and happy.

I have done nothing to deserve this.   I am blessed.

At times, when I feel particularly blessed and thankful I wonder how I will ever live a life that justifies my bounty.  I am still working to figure that out.

What I will say, is that in the world right now it seems we need to collectively and individually find a way to connect and reconnect with our Creator and with real and permanent things.  If I could do one thing for my profession it would be to articulate that ethics must be tied to true morality and true morality can only come from the writer of Natural Law,  I made a feeble attempt to state that argument a couple of years ago in a paper called “The Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession” . In reality, the same principles apply to our culture in general, I wrote about that in “Manifesto of Old Men and Simple Preachers“.

Those, however, are just my meager words.  If you are struggling through life, seeking purpose and wondering why you are here and what it all means I challenge you to read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity“.  Lewis does fabulous work of demonstrating in an almost inarguable fashion how connected we are to an obvious Creator.  If you lack and are seeking purpose, Lewis is a good first step toward finding answers.

The New and Improved US Army Signal Corps

I have been associated with the US Army Signal Corps since 1985, yes sir, that is over 33 years.  For the majority of that time, I have been disappointed with the leadership, direction and culture of the branch.  I tried at various times to divorce myself from the branch, once when offered a menu of options I choose to accept a cash payment in lieu of a transfer and I regretted that decision often.  My views, more or less have always been consistent with the observations I made recently in a post called “Three questions that defined the US Army Signal Corps“. It has been my considered opinion that the branch produced some of the worst officers in the Army.   In my estimation, we have been led over the years by generals that simply did not get it.   The branch, historically, has been burdened by an entrenched bureaucracy at Fort Gordon that was generally out of touch with what the warfighter really needed and often incapable of innovative thought.

I recently discussed my observations out at the National Training Center (NTC) and my assessment is that the Signal Corps continues to fail to provide the types of mobile, agile, secure systems the warfighter wants and needs.  Worse, tactical skills and acumen among Signal Soldiers are, in my considered opinion, at their lowest point in the 33+ years I have been around.  However, upon returning from the desert I saw a reason to hope for a better future.

I contend and will continue to assert, that it was wasteful and stupid to create the Cyber branch.  The roles and functions of that branch are not unique or different enough from what the Signal and Military Intelligence branches were capable of doing.  Creating a new branch just added waste, bureaucracy and desynchronization.  However, it is a fiat accompli, it is done.  With this change, I think the Signal Corps has the opportunity to divorce itself from the computer geek image and culture and become relevant teammates, partners and supporters of the warfighter.

The contract I was working came up for renewal last Friday.  I was offered the opportunity to stay on with the new company, with a significant raise.  However, something interesting happened last Thursday.  I received the offer letter from the new company but I also received an offer for a GS position with the Signal School.  The GS position was for much less money, it is not the ideal role and I probably will not have much of a voice unless I find a way to work myself out of the dungeon.  The thing is, I sense something new is going on in the Office of the Chief of Signal and the Signal School.  I wanted to be part of that.

The contract position was with Capabilities Development Directorate (CDID).  That organization is filled with old bird Colonels that should retire, old GS employees that have been on the job too long (most that have been promoted far beyond their capabilities).  CDID is a dead, old, slow, cumbersome beast that has produced bad doctrine and poor materiel solutions.  The money was nice but CDID, as it stands, is the past, a boat anchor!

Fortunately, the future looks good.   Pieces and parts of what is now CDID will soon have to vet their ideas and products through the Signal Branch, instead of developing doctrine and solutions in a vacuum of old tired heads.

Training is moving out from behind computer monitors into the field.  Soldiers are being trained, for the first time in a long time to be warrior technicians instead of geeks.  Additionally, the model of training is giving way to education, a point me and others have screamed for over the years.   If you educate a young man in the fundamentals he can, over a career, master many skills as opposed to trying to train him in a short period on things that quickly become irrelevant.  These are good changes.

I cannot say with certainty if these changes will hold. It is impossible to know if the vanguard of old heads occupying desks and cubicles will coalesce to inject stupid into this progress.  I also cannot know if I myself will be around as a GS employee long enough to see any of this come to fruition.  As I said, my current role is certainly not intellectually compelling.   However, I do, for the first time in 33 years have great hope for the Signal Corps and I am very happy that at this point in my life and career I have the opportunity to be part of the change.

Signal Corps Soldier

Contractor Life

I just returned from almost 30 days at the National Training Center (NTC) observing Cyber, EW and Signal guys do their respective things.   You may ask why on earth would one voluntarily spend time there.  I can only say – it was a lot of fun.  Driving an air-conditioned Jeep Wrangler around the desert, wearing comfortable clothes and sleeping each night at the Landmark Inn sure beats the O/C life (I enjoyed that too when I had that job by the way).

If you are interested in my observations and have Intelink access take a look here.

I was painfully reminded that not much has changed since I was assigned there, observing brigades month after month. Take a look at Three Questions that Defined the US Army Signal Corps to see what I am talking about.

Overall, I am glad I took the contract.  The contract is ending and up for renewal at the end of this month so it was really a no-brainer in terms of long-term commitment.  I may stay with a new offer and keep on observing or not, I will wait to decide.  It was, however, enlightening to get back around military folks and do what I know.  It was and is such a different experience that my foray into project management at the University where I worked during terminal leave and the first few months of retirement.  The money is a lot better in contracting also – the University paid a fair wage but there is so much more to be made working as a contractor.

There is something simple and comfortable about working in your wheelhouse, with a culture you understand and appreciate.  Add to that the fact that as a contractor you have such freedom, freedom to speak your mind and do what you think is right.   Having your finances in order before retirement makes that so much smoother and more comfortable. There are many things to consider when looking at post-military retirement work, but my experience thus far with contracting has been rewarding.

The bottom line is, I am actually having fun going to work.  I like the people I am around, I like the work and I love the freedom.

I did not enjoy missing the wife and the dogs and all of my stuff.   I certainly cannot see myself doing this long-term.  Right now, however, it is a heck of a lot of fun!

Post-Retirement 7-Month Azimuth Check

I officially retired 01 APR 2018, however, I went on terminal leave in JAN and took a position as a Project Manager at a small university (perhaps I should have read my own article I wrote much later).  I plan to write a much more detailed article about project management and how it does and does not fit with military veterans and retirees.  There are many articles that suggest this as a natural course, after all, many of us are accustomed to synchronizing efforts, setting and following timelines and basically getting things done.  These are key skills that translate well into project management – with a caveat – at the right place, in the right role and in the right culture.

Any company, anywhere, that seeks a person that thinks on their feet, can understand and follow “doctrine” and best-practices but is agile enough to adjust on the fly and has a proven record of getting things done in adverse, chaotic and challenging environments would do well to hire many veterans for a project management role.  I can think back to the faces and names of dozens of aggressive staff officers and see them making a real impact in a company that knows how to ride the various horses it adds to its stable.

I have been a member of PMI (the Project Management Institute) for about a year and a half.  Through various venues, I have met a lot of PMP’s and discussed how they do things at their company.  I have read various articles and probably just like you I have previous experiences with PMPs that worked for contractors as part of contracts I either managed or worked with.  I certainly do not know all there is about the “profession” but I have made some observations.

First, the term “project manager” is used in job advertisements to describe everything from vacuum cleaner salesmen to administrative assistants to engineers managing massive capital construction projects.  Despite PMI’s efforts to say it is a profession,  and their test, anybody can, and is called a project manager.

Second, not every organization that employees project managers, in the sense that PMI perhaps intends, operates in the same way.  On one end of the scale are organizations that look for PMs that can be that aggressive staff/action officer, taking broad guidance and intent and shaping plans, timelines and actions to get the task and mission accomplished.  On the other far end are organizations that see project management as a set of constraints, rigid left and right boundaries, and project managers as nothing more than applicators of those constraints and mere administrative staff to collect and report data.

I did not know it for sure when I accepted my position, but I  joined the later type of organization, one that sees project management as a set of hard-wired rules that could be applied in almost all situations.

From this I took my first lesson-learned: LL#1 Don’t fear not getting a job in the interview, have a real conversation and get a clear understanding.

I made this realization pretty quickly into the position but I determined that I would stay at least a year, perhaps eventually show them there were other ways and learn to embrace some of their controls.

An early red-flag, one that continually popped up weekly, if not daily, was this organization’s experience with another veteran.  This fellow held my position previous to me.  He was younger than I, he left the Army as a Captain, I did not and do not know him personally but I knew something about him.  My wife also works at this university, she had been familiar with him and some of his projects.   I was initially informed that his departure was amicable and mutual but over time I began to sense much angst toward him and perhaps even the mention of his name.  We will call him Tom for this narrative.

Almost weekly, when I would come across a problem or a roadblock in a project and I would envision possible courses of action to get around it I would hear words like “Tom did that and so and so did not like it, we cannot do that”.   No matter how illogical the conclusion was that had become part of the law.   I began more and more to ask myself why am I seeing the same type of solutions to the same type of problems, better solutions than the ones I am being dictated?   Tom is human, as a human he is fallible, I do not know a lot about him other than the things he did are the things I would have expected of him as a young staff officer, these were the same type solutions I was coming up with.

I realized the organization simply had not known how to utilize Tom and they were unwilling to learn from him.  My second realization was that I would likely be no different.

And this taught me my second lesson-learned: LL#2 Make sure you go to work for a company that hires you to do what you know.

I very likely would have resolved to stay for the year I had committed to in my mind if it had not been for one additional factor.   The week after I began they moved a person from another department in as a project manager.  I found this person’s character and personality revolting.  I dreaded going to meetings to hear their opinion of proper project management and even Oxford commas.  They fancied themselves and expert on the military (because their father was a cook), the English language and government relations.  They even schooled me one day on how the government works because they are enrolled in a public administration course at night. I suppose I never learned that much dealing with so many government agencies myself.

In our business in the military, where we can say real words, this person and I would have come to terms, one way or another.  In the world of “nice” words and no ability to perhaps call them out for combatives you are left with few options when faced with an obstinate fool.

My third lesson-learned from this experience; LL#3 Life too short to associate with people you do not want to.

I would have powered on through #1 and #2 but when combined with #3 I was done.   I turned in my notice in mid-April.  I made it four months.  I had become that statistic I had sworn not to be, I was a veteran that left their first full-time job in the first year.  I offered to work part-time for a few months to finish out a project, they accepted and I have been doing that since.  That project is wrapping up now and I look back to wonder what all went wrong.   The three months as part-time were great.  I did not attend meetings with the loud-mouth.  I did not ask permission to do what is right to move my project along.  I came in, I did my work, I pushed things that needed to be pushed and I submitted reports.   Ultimately, that is just the sort of job I was looking for, if the last three months were the reality I would still be employed full-time, and happy.

I do not regret taking the position.  I turned down others before and since, some that paid much more.  However, money was never the main objective.  I wanted a position where I could use my skills, do what I know, make a difference and enjoy the people around me.  None of that materialized sufficiently to make me stay.  I learned a lot (about myself and people), I got to ride to work with my wife and have lunch with her for a time and that was nice but in the final equation, things did not balance.

How could this have worked better?   I take all the blame.

The organization simply did not know what they had in Tom and they did not know what they had in me.  I am certain during the interview process I could have and should have spoken up, been more candid, asked questions during the time the red-flag popped up.  They may not have hired me, people in the civilian world turn interviews on small things, but if that were the case it was not a loss and still the right thing to do.  At the time I thought I was clear about me, who I am and what I want but perhaps not.

I should have set the conditions for our relationship in a stronger way earlier.  I do not need to be managed, I will not ask permission to do what is right and I do not need to be retrained on everything I know.   If I were a youngster, without a pension, perhaps I would need to accept that I have to change most of who I am.   They hired a  guy that spent 30 years in the Army doing things.  Obviously, I have much to learn, change and adjust – but my core – that is simply who they hired.  I failed to establish the proper parameters early on.  We could have done great things together, not teaching them how to utilize me was my failure.

Finally, we certainly did not like everyone we served with in the military.  However, our promotion system over time would rid the system of people like the individual from LL#3.  If they had ever been commissioned in the first place they would have been sent home as a lieutenant.  I would not have worked with this person as a “peer” at this juncture of my life.   However, I take responsibility for this.   I should have taken charge of the situation earlier.  Perhaps announced my disdain for dealing with them and given the organization an opportunity to make an adjustment one way or another.

I take the blame because I control me.  Companies that want to leverage and tap into the skills and experience that veterans bring to the table could learn by applying the converse of the above.

My free-time since May while I worked just part-time has been great.  I have worked on tasks I thought I would never get to.  One of my hobbies is reading and writing about the philosophy of John C. Calhoun, another is genealogy.  As much as those subjects may interest me they do not make for solid general social conversation, most people glaze their eyes over

It has been a great life – but there has been a subtle burning desire.  I want to do a few more things.  Pile up some extra money and maybe have one more adventure.


Moving forward – I have decided to do something that I almost swore I would not do – Defense Contracting.  A young fellow with a small subcontractor reached out to me twice about an O/C-T position, I rebuffed him the first time.   The second time I told him I would consider it and within 5 days they sent me an offer letter.  My how different the process is compared to civilian jobs.   No formal interview – just a conversation about the task to see if you are the real deal.   No references – your record and the people that know you speak to that.  No long process – they have a contract with an empty spot and they need your skill-set.

I am excited to see what the next few months bring.  I had the most enjoyable three years of my career out at Fort Irwin as an O/C and now I get to go back – this time with an air-conditioned Jeep! This will NOT be forever, it is not my full purpose,  and that flight back and forth between rotations will get tiresome but I get back to the desert, in boots, training troops.  What is not to love about that, if just for a short time.

Pro-Tip – Install MS Outlook for the Retired Guys

Lets’ face it, no matter how hooah, oorah, hooyah, squared-away, ship-shape, high-speed, low-drag (and whatever Air Force people say about themselves) you are, at some point in your career you began to spend more time at your desk than out eating snakes, shooting things, getting dirty and generally having fun.   Invariably, your days were controlled more or less by what your Outlook calendar told you that you should be doing.    In some positions, you probably even had someone that filled up your days and sometimes nights with meetings, tasks, phone calls and appointments for you.

Then magic happens.   You sign out on terminal leave to begin your retirement, thinking you are free of that tireless master and its dammed tasks.  Your pace slowed, there was still much work to do but you had a to-do list and appointments written down – no worries.

It is all fun and games until you realize you are a little lost without the safety of a calendar, that thing you grew to hate but also that thing that added structure to your day.

Here is the most critical lesson I learned after freeing myself from the beast of Outlook.   Paper lists and a calendar on Gmail just do not cut it.  Sometimes you just have to accept who you are, or rather who you have become.   You are comfortable with a calendar in Outlook, it puts order to chaos and provides a visual reference to your schedule.   There are many things to free yourself from, but this is not one.

If, for some reason you do not already have a Gmail account – something other than “snakeeater1970” or perhaps tragically worse “colonel.nolife” – go to Google and sign up for one, it is easy and free.   Set up a simple email with just a variation of your name.   Avoid like the plague numbers and dates if you can, it makes you look like an old guy. Then purchase MS Office if you do not already have it if you do it while still on active duty it cost something like $10 on each service’s knowledge portal.  You need a professional email for many purposes so if your personal email does not meet the standard now is the time to hit two birds with the proverbial one stone.

I will say again, use Gmail, not Yahoo and certainly not your cable provider – those too make you look old and out of touch.  Besides, Gmail has a workable interface that connects to Outlook easily.

A simple Google search of “how to connect Gmail to Outlook” will return many sites that instruct you on the next steps, here is a useful one.  Use IMAP, not POP – you will not regret it.

Office has a free option to install apps on your smartphone so that you carry that calendar with you – just like the old days except for the most part YOU are really in charge now.

Do this one thing, for yourself.   There is no point in trying to reinvent the wheel and no purpose in cutting the chord on something that has been such a big part of your life.   Perhaps you will not forget a VA appointment written on a piece of paper like I did if you follow this advice – heed my words.

One word of caution – give your spouse write access to your calendar at your peril!  Sure, you thought you were cleaning out your building tomorrow but when a new “appointment” shows up you might come to regret the entire “calendar on your phone thing”.

Read about my mission here at Finding Purpose.