Speak up – It Could Change your Life


Speak up – It Could Change your Life

I’m honored that we could devote an entire issue of parking today to veterans and promote stories about their experiences and how those experiences transfer to job skills here in the nonmilitary sector. 

In reading the articles I noted one theme that comes across time after time, that of teamwork. It’s easy to say that teamwork is important, but sometimes it’s difficult to take that knowledge and put it into action. I often hear “Why isn’t Charlie on the team?” or “What’s wrong with Charlie? – He’s not acting like he’s part of our team.” 

Frankly, you can’t ‘order’ Charlie to be a part of the team. You must involve him in the team and be sure he understands that he is a part of it. Be sure he is involved in every part of the teams work and be sure that he knows that his input is important and will be acted upon. 

Someone needs to take Charlie under his or her wing and show him the way. At least six of the articles talk about the importance of mentoring. Senior team members showing the newbies the way. 

I often give thanks for the experiences I had in the Army. I have never for a moment regretted the time spent.

That officer was looking for someone with my background and training and because of
a simple conversation,
I stood out from the crowd.

When Todd Tucker asked me to write about my experiences as a veteran, I reflected on my time in the military and how it relates to what small success I might enjoy today, I began to feel a bit concerned about how it would be perceived. I was in the Army during the Vietnam War. But I never served in Vietnam. And therein turns the tale.

I joined the army through the ROTC program at UCLA. That served a number of purposes. First, I would enter the service as an officer. Second, I would have some experience and training before I went in; and third, I would not be subject to the draft and could complete my college career before entering the service.

I never saw a cap and gown. I graduated in an Army second lieutenant’s uniform and headed out for training in Georgia. Like everyone else I knew, I was going to Vietnam and was prepared for the event. But it never happened.

One day about halfway through our training at Fort Benning, our class was called into a briefing by an officer from the Office of Personnel Operations (OPO). We were given our orders. I was assigned to 26 weeks of language training and then on to support a Vietnamese army unit in country. Yikes. Frankly, I was more afraid of the language training than the Viet Cong.

I had never done well at languages and barely passed the requirement for getting into and finishing college. Languages and JVH just don’t mix. When the meeting with OPO broke up, I went down to the officer who had been talking to us and told him about my language issue. I told him that I was fully prepared to serve in Vietnam but not at the Fort Bliss Language School. He smiled, made a note in his book, and then told me to get ready to ship out to Texas in a few weeks. 

Then, my orders were changed. I was assigned to work as a security officer with the National Security Agency (NSA) at an installation in Okinawa, Japan. The work was not complicated, but important. We were supporting the war effort in a major way. While the details are secret and confidential, trust me, the men and women working in this spooky place in Japan were in the thick of it, if a thousand or so miles away.

That incident at Fort Benning and a two-minute conversation with the personnel officer taught me that, even in regimented situations like the military, you can affect your future. I had no expectations that I would change the course of my life. However, that officer was looking for someone with my background and training and because of a simple conversation, I stood out from the crowd.

It may seem obvious, but it’s not. Most of us go with the flow. It’s easier. Why speak up, you might get into trouble. Gee, what if you are wrong? What if the person in charge doesn’t like you? What if, what if, what if?

My time in the service taught me that all organizations are made up of people. They all have jobs to do, some do them better than others. If you can do something to help others do their jobs better, it just might reflect back on you, sometimes in a big way. That officer in Georgia was looking for someone. I helped him find that person. 

You grow up very quickly in the military, particularly during wartime. You see things most will never see and experience things most will never experience. In a short period of time, two or three years, you receive a crash course in life. I feel a bit sorry for those who didn’t serve. In my day, many ended up in Canada. That’s OK. They made their decisions, I made mine. 

For those who never entered the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, I’m sure they will survive quite well. But it may have taken them a tad longer to learn about the importance of working with a team, while also having enough self-confidence to make the right (or any) decision when the time comes.

Whether you left the military as a PFC or a General, you took with you a better understanding of perseverance, mission, and the importance of each job in a larger enterprise. Does it make you a better person? Probably not. 

But it does give you a certain bearing, an indescribable feeling. Whether you end up running the laundry at a rehab center, or as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, my guess is that you will do your job just a little better due to those years in the service. 

John Van Horn is Founder and editor of Parking Today Magazine. He can be reached at jvh@parkingtoday.com.

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John Van Horn
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