We can all tell people, sometimes for hours, what we learned from our military service, how it helped us succeed, our funniest memories, and our saddest memories. But, if we had to narrow all of that down to one single item, what would we tell others about our military service? My lesson would be to always keep contributing.
Contribution is the proactive act of seeking out items to be improved and then performing them to a level that makes a difference with others and within the organization. This sounds simple and it is. However, the evaluating measure of contribution is actual improvement and not solely the effort of trying to improve something or someone. When we judge our efforts by ensuring that we always contribute and leads to a better outcome, it makes the act of contributing especially challenging. The challenge and the success of meeting the challenge delivers life altering positive experiences that you remember forever.
My contributions started when I was a brand new 2nd Lieutenant delivered in a clean, just off the shelf uniform to a hard-working mortar platoon that was a month into a four-month rotation along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The platoon was engaged in a massive effort to replace, refill, and improve the sandbags and other defensive material around our position along the DMZ. I was new. I knew little yet about the Army. But, I knew how to fill sandbags. So, I worked alongside every squad and every Private filling sandbags. This act of stepping outside the traditional expectations of my role and doing whatever I could do helped build trust and cohesion in our unit.
Contributions also must seek out ways to improve and new skills to create. Later, when I returned from Korea and was back in the United States, my Company Commander and I wanted to improve our night fighting skills. So, we scheduled a 10-day field training exercise in the peak of the summer in the southern United States. It was pure misery for the entire company. Cold rations the entire time, almost too hot to sleep during the day, the entire company had rashes from Poison Ivy, night air assaults followed by patrols through the swamp to shoot at a range with Night Vision Googles. (NVG). On the last day, we did a 12-mile road march into the Battalion area after being awake almost two days. As we closed in on our company area, the platoons cheered and shook hands – they had some of the best training in their time in the Army. Sometimes, contributions offer challenge, leadership, and foresight to take the organization to where they feel they cannot go.
When I was in Iraq, I was part of a planning team that created an enemy attack database to show Commander’s the intensity of enemy attack events based on time, location, and type of attack. I had a group of active duty and reservists that determined how to create this database and then use it to plan our own attacks on areas that the database showed us the enemy was focusing their efforts. My contributions to this effort was to believe in my team, help where I could, and then stay out of their way so they could do great things. Sometimes the best contributions we can deliver are to believe and enable the contributions of others.
Contributing to the success of the team and to the success of others was my greatest learning from the military. Contributions that made the unit, myself, and others better is something that I strive to do every day.
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About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 320 articles in over 170 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and www.CombatToCorporate.com.
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