The U.S. Army developed me to be a leader domestic and abroad; I also learned to lead in my home.
By Eric Williams for YourTango
Serving in the U.S. Army may not be for everyone. I remember 12-mile road marches with gear totaling 40 pounds, sleeping in the woods (with and without shelter), working for over 24 hours in one day, and jumping from a perfectly good airplane in pitch black darkness. HOOAH!
I also remember superiors and various experiences that fostered my professional development. I have been responsible for millions of dollars, countless Soldiers, and became proficient with an M-16 assault rifle. I have also provided humanitarian aid, served in a foreign country, and learned to be ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours. HOOAH! HOOAH!
1. Work smarter not harder. If you spend more than a day in the Army, you will hear this often. It ultimately means to be efficient in what you do.
As a husband, I have learned to paraphrase this into “love smarter not harder.” For example, since a white chocolate mocha with soy no whip from Starbucks and sleeping in on Saturdays are favorites for my wife, I don’t buy her whey protein and creatine shakes and wake her up for a morning work out on Saturdays just because I like these. Loving her the way she wants to be loved is efficient and smart.
2. You are a Soldier 24/7/365. Not only will you hear this often in the Army, you will experience this. Your haircut, place of residence, military ID card that you must carry at all times, etc. are all constant reminders that not only are you a Soldier every day, but you must behave in a way that is conducive to being a professional Soldier on and “off duty.”
Similarly, I am a husband 24/7/365. My wedding band, which serves as my “marital ID card,” is the constant reminder of my obligation to be a husband at all times. Whether I am out with the guys, my wife and I are “at war” with each other, or my job relocates me somewhere without my family, I am still obligated to behave like a husband.
This also holds true as a father. No matter what may be happening in my children’s lives (i.e. school, medical appointments, behavioral issues, illnesses, etc.), I am always responsible for their welfare whether I am home or away. And I must behave in a way that will ensure that relationship stays intact and their needs are met.
3. Being a paratrooper. Being a paratrooper is one of the “HOOAH-est” (I made that word up) things a Soldier can become. When a Soldier decides to jump out of an aircraft, he/she accepts two main things: military life requires some substantial life or death sacrifices and fear is not an option – trust your training, trust your chute, and trust your God.
As a husband and father, I have sacrificed money, career, and friends for the greater good of family life. While I thought these sacrifices were life threatening initially, my disregard for fear and trust in a better family life allowed me to become a more effective leader of a family that includes twins on the autism spectrum. Just saying…after risking my life to jump out of an airplane, how can I fear anything about being a husband or father?
4. After Action Review (AAR). As a Soldier, most training activities were concluded with an after-action review that answered what went well, what could have been improved upon, and what plan of action needed to be taken in any subsequent training activities. Essentially, it was a more formalized constructive criticism process for the trainer.
As a husband and father, I have made some good decisions and some not-so-good decisions. But what has kept me from continuously making the same not-so-good decisions has been my receptiveness to feedback from my family. Additionally, I ask myself if my actions went as planned, what I could have done differently, and then I informally plan what I will do differently next time.
Once, when my twins were infants, I was rocking one of them to sleep at about 1am sitting on the edge of the bed. Unfortunately, I rocked me to sleep instead, and he fell to the floor. Really…who does that? An angry wife and the AAR process helped me develop a completely different way of rocking him to sleep after she trusted me again.
5. Lead by example. If you are in leadership in the military, this is your personal mantra. If you want your Soldiers to follow, then you have to provide quality leadership. It is common to hear the phrase, “Your Soldiers are a reflection of you.” And when your Soldiers get promoted to leadership, you must be the example they strive to emulate.
As a family man, I will not ask or expect of my wife to do anything I will not also expect of myself. This does not meant that I expect her to be able to do everything I can; however. For instance, I don’t expect her to be able to fix broken appliances because that just isn’t what she does. But when kids wake up at night, or get sick and stay home from school, have medical appointments, grocery shopping, laundry, etc., I am fully involved. How I communicate with my wife and children and invest in my health are other examples. I continuously strive to lead from the front to include apologizing and forgiving.
6. “Attention to details, teamwork is key!” In basic training, we would have to yell this phrase during corrective training. But one way this applicable to me is how “attention to details…” speaks to the marriage. Through attention to details, I know when my wife has had a rough day with the kids because of her tone at times and how the house may look when I get home. And without saying a word, I know when she is “too tired” which is code for “not tonight” signaling me to just get some sleep that night as well.
7. All commands come from the tower. When attending the weapons qualification range, we were always reminded to take all commands from the tower. This is the tower on the range where a superior would be housed and would ensure the safety of Soldiers and manage the operation of qualifying everyone with their weapon. This person could be best thought of as the “Jesus” of the range. Everyone could trust they would be safe if they all followed his instructions.
In my marriage, God eventually became the tower in which I trusted instead of myself. This took some time, but resulted in both my wife and I following the commands from the same “tower.” This is not always easy because I think I may have a better idea than God sometimes. But I recognize this is an ongoing and life-long process.
I was also able to view parenting in a similar way. As parents, my wife and I are the “tower” for the twins. We have to ensure their safety and preparedness for life as an adult. It is important that we practice the same standard of parenting for their overall well-being.
I am not perfect at these seven, but I can see the impact of employing them as often as I do. Also, I know that my family definitely experiences a significantly better version of me now than the version of me prior to my military service.
These are only a few of the many ways the Army has helped develop me into a better leader at home. And while there are other life experiences and relatives that have also shaped my family leadership, I commend the U.S. Army here to show how they are producing leaders professionally and within my own family.
One does not have to join the military to obtain these values; however, should someone join the U.S. Army, they can expect to receive the values I learned from these seven whether or not they are married. I challenge all military members, veterans, and dependents regardless of branch to consider the military values and experiences they’ve had that have had a positive impact on their family life.
Because if we can embrace those for our country, can’t we do it for our families too? And if these values and experiences help develop the greatest army in the world, why not use them to develop the greatest families in the world?
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