29 Days a Soldier

Dear Readers,

Sorry for the hiatus. I committed my time to the Army.

Thank you for hanging on,

Carlo

FT. KNOX, KY; July 2014 — I was inside a small room with several soldiers. Our drill sergeants ignited a can of tear gas in the middle of the chamber. I felt this “lovely” burning sensation in my eyes. My breathing tubes shrunk to the size of a drinking straw, and my skin felt like fire. IT SUCKED. It was painful. But, oddly enough, I kinda would do it again. I still don’t understand why.

So how was your year?

Third Platoon, Alpha Company - Ft. Knox 2014

Third Platoon, Alpha Company – Ft. Knox 2014

Not many people experience a right of passage such as a military training program. For U.S. troops, that number cuts down to less than 1% of America. I’ve always asked myself: is joining the military worth it? I wasn’t sure if I could handle a work environment so seemingly volatile, but I want to share what I have learned while I was in Kentucky.

There is no “I” or “me.”

I think about how individualism is embodied in American culture. I was given the opportunity to graduate college and to work for a subsidiary owned by a Fortune 500 company. These were achievements that I was told that I can achieve if I worked hard for myself. However, I meditate on people of other nations that have a different perception in human interaction: The collectivist culture. It can be a profound concept for people in America. I look at the Japanese, a people who put the needs of many ahead of their own. I observed such a mindset while I was training with my platoon.

Every morning, at four in the morning, we had to line up outside our barracks for what is called a “first formation.” The purpose of this is to ensure that all soldiers are alive and aren’t missing. If someone is late, the entire platoon is up to do “extra physical training.” As a result of constantly being late, we become stronger physically. I got to formation at 3:50 AM. But I was still considered late, courtesy of Mr. Drill Sergeant. If one of us is late, everybody is late. 

Have you ever showed up to a restaurant and the hostess denied you a reservation because someone is missing? Try not to be that person!

You won’t like everybody.

Even the kindest people in the world will encounter somebody who “grinds their gears.” I’ve met them in grade school. I’ve met them in college. I’ve met them in the professional world. The Army is certainly included in that list.

Unlike meeting jerks at a bar or enduring a bad date, one can’t simply badmouth about their peers in the military. My training program required me to work with and respect people who I was assigned with. It sometimes irked me to the point where I was grinding my teeth in frustration. It can be very hard to take a deep breath and just endure it. But keeping calm worked out for me in the end. I was able to earn high scores and received high grades for “interpersonal skills” and “sound judgment” for being able to perform well under pressure. Ultimately, what was more important than group harmony is accomplishing a mission or goal.

I found out that famous businessmen have struggled with this issue. In the realm of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs was considered the biggest jerk. However, he still managed to celebrate success by being fair and doing whatever it took to win in the world of innovation technology. Always place the mission first.

Trust is hard to gain and hard to offer.

The most valued belief in any relationship is trust. In a work team, distrust can lead to failure. In marriage, distrust can lead to divorce. Trust is hard to earn and difficult to give. The hardest part of being a leader is earning trust. The struggle with offering trust exists in many everyday situation, such as:

  • Choosing a restaurant that may or may not result in food poisoning (It happened to me.)
  • Entering a loving relationship with someone who may or may not hurt you in the end (It happened to me.)
  • Donating money to an organization that may or may not violate your charity intentions (It happened to me.)

Trust must be earned. For restaurants: health inspection certificates and good online reviews could help gain trust. For relationships: selfless acts of kindness and keeping promises could help. For charities: reviews and media are among many factors that can be considered for obtaining trust. But how about being a military leader? It requires certain characteristics. Among them are leading by example, preparing oneself, and keeping integrity always.

Conclusion

I can write an entire manifesto on what I’ve learned in terms of leadership, but I am limiting it to what was on my mind consistently during my time at Fort Knox. Leadership is a hard theory to measure, but anyone can make use of what’s written above. It’s a good start for my military career, and the beauty of it is that my future bosses won’t mind if I did my very best to put others first, be a team-player, and earn my keep. ♣

Screen shot 2014-11-27 at 10.57.31 AM

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