Carrying water

def. Carry water for (someone) 1. To serve, assist, or perform menial or difficult tasks for some person, group, or organization.

Ten years ago, as a retired Navy Senior Chief, the first thing I had to adapt to was my immediate loss of seniority and status. The tradition and status acquired over twenty-five years meant little to the non- military working public. As in most professions, a job in the commercial technical sector is judged only on your performance. Meeting the required output of widgets particularly at the fiscal end of the Quarter when the resources, software, or parts needed to meet the quota finally become available. Packing up an expensive piece of equipment and hustling it to FEDEX, or renting a delivery truck and driving it a hundred miles to another facility, is somewhat like carrying water for my boss.

Unless you have been working in the manufacturing world for a number of years, as an older technician, it seems that adapting to rapid changes – in technology, in workforce culture, and in tasks each employee is asked to perform, is more difficult. In engineering, procedures often lag product development. Cross-training peers is often as much how much they observe as giving them polished instructions. For some, it is jarring to be hindered by processes or lack of information, or age, or when she has been willing to “come out of retirement”, but is feeling her contribution is wasted.

Additional study, asking specific questions, and bringing one’s strengths to the job is necessary. Willing to do whatever is required, despite not being in a “job description”, helps the overall mission of the company. Working with a curmudgeon is difficult.

I have found that courtesy, whether toward peers, couriers, janitors, IT support, or supply clerks is repaid in kind. With more than a quarter-century of military service, working initially with folks cleaning toilets, and later reporting to Admirals and senior Government executives, character and a dedication to excellence count toward career success.

Ask the Chief

“veteran” is gender-neutral

Some of my closest shipmates, friends, and mentors are female Sailors, officer and enlisted. Many, like me, are no longer on Drilling Reserve nor on Active Duty. Some have retired after long and distinguished military careers. Some have continued to support fellow veterans with active engagement with organizations such as Honor Flight. Some I served with are successful attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Some are corporate executives, software engineers, and human resource managers. Relatives who formerly served in the Marine Corps and others beginning careers serving in submarines.

Many of my peers in the years since the Gulf War served in war zones. Thirty-seven thousand female military served in the Gulf War, where many served in roles that exposed them to Scud attack and IEDs. Five female soldiers were killed in enemy action and two were taken prisoner. Since then, nearly a thousand female military members have been injured (843) or killed by hostile action from the USS COLE bombing in Yemen, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [At the time of this writing, a female Chief Cryptologist, a linguist, was killed along with two other military members and one DOD civilian in a terrorist bombing in a Syrian town.] Women actually have been in combat, have come under fire, been injured and have been killed serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War. History documents that women disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolution, in the Civil War, and until physical exams were instituted in the early 1900s. Nurses were recruited before the First World War.

Beginning in 1979, women graduated from the military academies. In 1994, female midshipmen augmented the male crew of a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS PETERSON, several summers while I was aboard. Since 9/11 I have known females serving year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing intelligence, communications, logistics, and medical support. However, beginning in 1993, women began serving as combat pilots and flying sorties over Iraq. In 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. The impact of female veterans serving in increasing numbers and in more front-line occupations will increase the need for physical and mental health services, more VA female providers as well as gender-specific services. One statistic indicated that the number of female service members has quadrupled in the forty years since 1973. By the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, female veterans grew to 10 percent of the veteran population.

But the bureaucracy is slow to react. As recently as 2016, veterans seeking care at VA facilities reported being mistaken for caregivers, spouses, or questioned their veteran status. Additionally, in contrast with employer-provided health plans, the VFW survey reports respondents found the VA required co-pays for preventative-care prescriptions including contraceptives.

veterans helping veterans

In a recent program, “Returning the Favor”, Mike Rowe whom many may recognize from “Dirty Jobs” fame, featured a male Iraq War veteran who runs a gym in Austin Texas, and through Make a Vet Sweat helps fellow veterans overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through exercise. It was in the course of the show, one of the female veterans served discussed her career-ending injury resulting in her own PTSD. Since the Gulf War time, I have known that female servicemembers have been in combat, risking death and injury, from hostile fire, IEDs, and terrorist attacks just as their male servicemembers have. The availability of creative therapies for working through mental health issues helps each sufferer, whether it is animals, exercise, or outreach. And may help many veterans avoid prescription drug addictions.

veteran suicide has no gender

According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, of veterans who attempt suicide, the numbers of female veterans were increasing from 14 per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 population by 2014. This may be due the increasing number of female service members since 2001. Studies report that suicide rate decreased between 2001 and 2014 for female veterans receiving mental health services. While in the overall population, male suicide is three times greater than female, men more often use firearms while females tend to poison or overdose. In a VA fact sheet published in August 2017, female veterans who reported military sexual trauma or harassment were more likely to commit suicide than other female veterans. And overall, female veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.

marriage and divorce

Compared to civilian women, female veterans were more likely to be married while in the service, and at younger ages than their counterparts. Thirty percent of female military members were likely to be married between ages of 17 and 24, while eight percent of civilian women were. And the same veteran age group was more likely to be divorced compared to civilian women. In 2015, a study found that female veterans of all ages were more likely to be divorced than civilians, but civilians were more likely to have been divorced more than once.

healthcare and homelessness

The VFW has considerable resources and political clout engaged in support of female veterans. They commissioned a survey, from December 2015 to January 2016, with 2000 validated Active Duty, Reservist, retiree and vet respondents, on issues and challenges for women veterans. The survey found that the Veterans Administration needs to hire female healthcare providers to treat female veterans unique concerns. Lacking the personnel, the majority of the female veterans reported they were not given an option to request the gender of their VA healthcare provider.

The survey also sought information on female veteran homelessness. Four percent (72) of the respondents reported being homeless, and of these, 46 percent reported living in another person’s home (‘couch surfing’). Seventy percent of the homeless veterans had children; a third of them reported having children impacted their ability to receive care at a VA facility.

education and employment

Since the end of the Second World War, female veterans, who made up less than 9 percent of all veterans, like their civilian counterparts, who had worked in the defense industries during the war, were less likely than male veterans to use the GI Bill, or did not pursue college education due to social pressure (women in the home instead of the workplace). Studies in 2015 on the educational level and employment of female veterans indicates that they obtain a Bachelors or higher degree later in life than civilian women, are more likely to work in management, professional and technical occupations (49 versus 41 percent), and more work for local, state or federal agencies than their civilian counterparts. Twenty-nine percent of veterans work in sales or office occupations compared to thirty percent of non-veteran women. [statistics from: report, National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, February, 2017, see va.gov/vetdata]

veteran groups

To inform veterans of their benefits, aid them with specific needs affecting them, provide networking for employment and business opportunities, and lobby on their behalf with lawmakers, service-providers, and the public, there are several organizations. One of the largest organizations specifically focused on women veterans is the Women’s Veteran Alliance. This national organization holds regional employment workshops, networking ‘mix and mingles’, conferences, and opportunities for businesses looking to hire veterans. See their link for female veteran “allies” (referrals and local organizations) More information is available on their Facebook page.

Since 1970, the National Veterans Foundation, its founder “Shad” Meshad, a Vietnam veteran, has been meeting the needs of veterans with mental health counseling, with three hundred offices across the country. Staffed by veterans of all periods – Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, they provide counseling and referral. All of these are located away from VA hospitals. (The reputation of VA hospitals in the last couple decades particularly among Vietnam veterans has suffered negative exposure, “new management” and political promises to fix internal problems). NVF’s counseling programs particularly with Post Traumatic Stress, according to their information webpage, were called upon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York after September 11, 2001.

States each have their own Department of Veteran Affairs. In California, CALVET has a resource page for female veterans, from housing assistance, advocacy to employment and health. CALVET also provides resources for groups and agencies to provide support to the veteran.

The Veterans Administration has a directory of female-veteran service organizations here

FB make a vet sweat

Ask the Chief: dress for success

In the manner of dressing for work,  the corporate world I entered in 2000,  was a lot like the corporate world where my father worked.  That is,  suits, or sport coats with button-down shirts and ties,  nice slacks and polished leather shoes.  With the corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the CEO and founder a product of the late 1950s, we dressed up even when we never left the office.  But employment in San Diego in the new Millennium was being influenced more by Silicon Valley than Wall Street or Foggy Bottom in D.C.

Not surprisingly, the client of my employers in that first decade of the Twenty-First Century were the Naval officers and senior civilian staff (SPAWAR) who oversaw technical development in ships, electronic systems and aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps. Since the military has prescribed uniforms for daily wear, and standardized grooming,  these military officers had a certain expectation for civilians who supported their efforts.

In published articles in the Wall Street Journal and Scientific American , studies have shown also that dressing well, whether in button-down shirt and tie,  or  “business casual”,  in the years since my father’s generation retired,  has positive benefits on worker advancement, attitude and productivity.  When I first interviewed at my company eleven years ago, I was still a member or the Navy Reserve and a Chief Petty Officer, so I arrived fit, clean-shaven, with shined shoes, and in a tailored suit.  When the offer of employment was accepted,  I was told that the dress code, when our clients were not on site, was more casual.  California in general and San Diego, in particular,  is a center of technical businesses, Integrated Circuits, Biotech, software companies and avionics.  But with several universities in the area,  interns and later their graduates were recruited and accommodated with casual dress options, flexible working hours and amenities from gyms to coffee houses to volleyball courts.  Of course, the industrial standard requirements for manufacturing areas are as uniform in required dress as the military.

While senior management of the major divisions were often more formal due frequent meetings with senior-level clients, it was still an office environment where a staff meeting occurred at 10 AM to allow for surfing or gym workouts.   In the last ten years however, the growth of the company has changed the culture slightly.  From acquisitions, becoming a publicly-traded company, and increasing leadership roles in major technical boards, advisory groups and other businesses, business casual, including button-down shirts, nice tailored polos (with the corporate logo) and slacks and leather shoes is increasingly seen in the middle and senior division-management and those groomed for their next level.  New hires, and casual employees who make a significant contribution to a project  (read “brain trust”) are often the ones who are more casually attired year-round.

What does all this mean for the transitioning military member who has the education or the skills to enter the corporate world?  It means having to adjust their “uniform” for the workday.   While it may seem refreshing to wear baggy shorts and sandals,  or hair that recalls more of the college dorm life than a corporate environment,  one’s work ethic and contribution to a project, may be hindered.  During meetings with military or senior government clients,  a sharp appearance can foster more productive outcome.    And the more ambitious a former military member becomes, there is value in a certain standout appearance.

This also seems to motivate employees to maintain or enhance a certain fitness and healthier lifestyle.  Not only because the workplace may subsidize health insurance for workers more generously for fitness, but also it reflects better on the employee’s advancement opportunities.  (Of course,  this does not imply that any of the equal opportunity standards that govern employment are overlooked.)  A sharper appearance and a healthier overall person is more often a better candidate when looking at similar qualifications.

Ask the Chief: interview skills

 The world’s third oldest profession*.

When I was a younger Sailor,  traveling from foreign port to foreign port,  I encountered a lot of outgoing people engaged as vendors, tour guides, shopkeepers and restaurant owners.   Often their families were the wait staff that ran these places or made the things that provided their living.  When your livelihood depends on people, there is an advantage in being a “people person”.

When I was a kid,  I was actually an introvert.  A gangling kid with poor eyesight,  I was not the best athlete nor a glib talker and jokester.  From several moves, a lot of activities that caught my interest,  studying people, and experience in several professions from ranching to construction,  furniture sales and auto parts counter work, I got to talking with and taking an interest in people.  I worked as a bartender and waiter before I went into the military.   One of my dreams, long before I became a technical worker in the telecommunications industry, was opening a bar or restaurant based on what I visited in foreign places.    A kind of dive that had “atmosphere”.   With all that experience of these exotic places and tourists from every part of the world I thought it would be fun.   I had been working in bars and restaurants prior to my military service so it was somewhat familiar.   I learned to speak, or at least communicate in  three foreign languages, Spanish, French and Russian.

The service industry depends on people-skills as well as a strong work ethic.  Marketing.  Being a good listener as well as an observant and diligent service provider.  And have a good memory for people’s names, their likes, and so on.   In France in he early 1990s I saw the “smash sandwich” vendors – paninis as America now knows them – and thought it was a novel idea to bring to these shores.  With the buxom women staffing these kiosks, the Toulon vendors served a lot of sandwiches.   In Turkey, shoeshine boys mobbed visitors, appearing at the dock where our ship’s water taxis deposited them. These  kids knew how to say “shoe shine” and  make small talk about sports, whether you were an American sailor, a Brit, an Arab or perhaps even Chinese tourist.  Even sailors wearing sneakers were not overlooked by boys with pats of shoe polish.    In the markets, almost every vendor spoke some foreign tongue.

Interviewing, like selling,  takes skill and people-smarts

Just as there are people who do not understand the difference between “selling” and “buying”,   there are people who do not understand that the interview is a skill that one perfects.   Preparation,  listening, knowing what and how, to answer a question is part of the interview.   Confidence, balanced with humility,  and understanding the requirements of the job being sought as well as knowing something of you prospective employer, can win the interview.

Technical professionals I have coached have earned an offer of employment, not only from their preparation, but knowing how to “answer the question being asked” with sufficient detail, but not enough to get bogged down.   It is a marketing opportunity to show that you will be an asset to those doing the hiring, but not telling them as much.  And to win their trust, through your personality and likeability.

I know others who are successful gardeners,  pool men, insurance agents and financial counselors.  Some are musicians.  Others are artists and writers.   And still others with a love for and enough experience in hunting, fishing, camping or motor sports, they made professions as guides and teachers.  And they connect with their clients and employers, with the same people-smarts.

Commitment and self-improvement

Practicing interviews, such as the “elevator talk” or meeting people in social settings, is valuable.  Listening to people’s names and observing details about those you converse with, not only makes the other person feel valued, but aids in your ability to connect with your message.

Books I have read recently and recommend to everyone,  engineer, actor, or military member in transition,   include  How to Start A Conversation and Make Friends, by Don Gabor (Simon & Shuster),  and the classic,   How to Win Friends and Influence People , by Dale Carnegie.   Another great read and short,  is The One Minute Sales Person, by Spencer Johnson, MD, and Larry Wilson (Harper Collins).  There are also many good books and websites on personal development, the interviewing process in the social media age as well.

Selling “you”

In a job interview,  a prepared and confident person builds a relationship and earns trust with the interviewer and the employer.  Beyond the hiring process,  as an employee or consultant, you continue being a student of the company, the people you meet, and learning by asking the right questions.  There is also the times and places you can market yourself for new opportunities in the company, and by demonstrating value – increasing the bottom line,  can use the same interviewing skills to ask for raises as well.

As a manager, you are still engaged in the sales profession.  Whether as team leader, morale booster,  mentor,  recruiter or  discipline agent, you still show the “customer” the value of the company and role that person fills,  which provides their needs and their relationship to the team.

People do not want to be “sold” but they do want to “buy”

Just as someone who shops for a new vehicle, kitchen appliance, or bringing on a new team member,  the skill is in recognizing what motivates, interests or is valued by the customer.   A customer looking for the security of business insurance is not going to respond to the agent’s ‘hot buttons’.  And an employer is not going to be encouraged by a prospective employee’s focus on pay rate, vacation earned  or working hours.

Interviewing requires diligent effort and practice.   But the military member also has what many other applicants lack.   Focus.  Endurance.  Attention to detail. And maturity.  As well as experience working under stressful situations and deadlines.  So take charge and carry out your mission.  Interview, interview, interview.  And I have benefited from fifty years of practice.  I am no longer gangling, nor introverted.  I have been a recruiter and meet people everywhere I go.  Though my best friends will tell me I am still not “glib”.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.     – Senior Chief (Ret.)

* Wikipedia repeats the quote attributed to Ronald Reagan that a politician is the second-oldest profession.  Prostitution is frequently quipped as the “oldest” profession.

Military, Active, Reserve or Retired:

  • If you live in, or are moving to,  the San Diego area,  

  • In the market for a new home, or refinancing an existing one?

Contact Doug Diemer:

image001

Consider this a personal testimonial as he made my VA Refinance a very smooth transaction in 2016.   I receive no compensation for any referral.