The Amount of Work

I had someone try to tell me thank you for my work on a project recently.  I had earned the compliment, but felt awkward accepting it. I didn’t do all the work. I was just part of a good a good team.

I needed a good response and despite how witty I might appear on this blog I’m not always quick witted. This is one of those exceptions. I actually thought of something good to say.

I told him that the amount of work I did compared to the amount of work the team did was really small and that I was grateful to be counted as a member of that team.

ACP: Thank You

The way the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) executed by Department of Labor which is responsible for training those leaving the military is not without it’s criticisms.   I found my experience to be extraordinary oriented towards the sort of job hunting that is generally proven to be the most difficult i.e. blindly submit your resume to companies and hope they call you back.  It did very little to help you understand the language of corporate America or teach you about leveraging networking opportunities.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the class didn’t consistently try to sell itself as being more than it actually is.  It’s a one week course (with some additional follow-on training) in how to make sure you apply for your government benefits and practice the blindly applying job hunting formula.  During my experience the instructor repeatedly stated (at least 7 times an hour) that this “was a congressionally mandated training that you must participate in in order to separate from the service.”  As one of my buddies put it, “I don’t know any congressman who’s going to care if I miss a few hours.”  Reminding me that I being forced to be there didn’t exactly make me want to be there.

I was also a bit unique in the audience.  Most of them were separating after 4-6 years.  I was finishing out 20.  In general a job for them would be a fine place to land after service.  I needed to start my next career.  I wasn’t a good fit for the class, and it wasn’t a good fit for my needs.  It has a lot of potential, but the top-down nature of the program limits the instructor’s ability to make the program better from the ground up.

There is no measurement to track its effectiveness that I’m aware of. Like many things in the government, it just merely exists.

And I don’t bring this up as a rant, but without understanding the environment by some brief description it will be difficult to understand how grateful I am for the American Corporate Partners (ACP) program.

ACP is this wonderful partnering and mentoring program that allows qualified transitioning service members to be able to pair up with a mentor usually from a Fortune 500 company.  It requires a brief application that can be done in a couple of hours (if you’re starting from zero–much faster if you’ve got a resume ready) and it gives you access to someone who is already working in the career field you want to be working in.

In my case I wanted to do IT Project Management and I was partnered with a work-from-home IT Project Manager from Wells Fargo.  His name was Gore and he and I would talk about every two weeks from the time I started the program until I transistioned.

During our conversations we’d discuss what his work day looked like.  We’d talk about projects we were proud of.  He and I spent several sessions having me be a ‘junior PM’ on a fictitious project at Wells so I could get the feel for how to work a project through that organization.  Gore was such a good representative of his company that I applied for several positions at Wells Fargo.

I learned a lot of the little things you can’t learn any other way.  During our chats Gore would say something that would open a window to how projects work in his environment, at that scale, and with those types of stakeholders that I didn’t even think to consider.  We discussed things like balancing between policy requirements and stakeholder demands, necessary skills for success, and approaches for difficult circumstances.

When the mentorship window officially ended I was in the midst of applying for jobs.  I didn’t have anything I could concretely say at the time about how much the program helped me transition–because I hadn’t found where I was transitioning to yet.  A few weeks later I landed the best job I could have asked for.  I wanted to write and tell ACP and Gore how much it meant, but I jumped into long days and didn’t have the perspective to know if I was going to be successful long-term.  Now I do.

We’re just about to wrap up Wave 1 of a very large project.  I was put on the most difficult track and managed it and the stakeholders well enough that I’ve been asked to conduct training on my techniques and best practices.  I also got personally invited to help manage Wave 2 and I’ve had a few supervisors send my boss extremely positive feedback about my performance.

Now that I have the perspective to know how valuable this program is, I want to take the time to say thank you. Thank you Bernard for matching me with Gore.  Thank you Gore for helping me how things work, and to the unnamed people who created this program in the first place.  Thank you for filling the gap to help veterans.  Thank you for making your program nimble to our needs.

Lastly, if you’re transitioning TAP class will tell you it’s mandatory to do various things (they have a checklist).  Talking ACP isn’t mandatory, but it’s one of the smartest things you could do as you’re preparing to leave the service.

Thank you!

An Open Letter to Tony & The Time Team

Dear Tony,

When people make a difference in my life I try to take the time to tell them thank you.  Now it’s your turn.  Thank you for nerding out for twenty years in producing Time Team.  Had the program not been posted on youtube, I never would have known it existed.  As an American and as a Soldier I haven’t been too many places where watching television on a regular schedule (especially BBC) hasn’t been an option.

In your last season you participated in a dig at Barrow Clump coordinated by an Afghan war vet who was participating in Operation Nightingale.  During the program you presented how much the veteran used the show as a way to reduce stress.  The show did give ample time to the subject, but for me it didn’t adequately answer the question of how your program has helped.  I believe I have the answer, or at least I have my answer.

For me it’s really easy to relate to the experiences on time team even though I’ve never done a single dig.  The show presents a small team with close relationships working regardless of the weather in the dirt.  I’ve had to dig in the dirt for different reasons over the years, and the weather was never allowed to be an obstacle to the mission.  In some shots on the show you can even see the same tents we use being used to protect sites or set up a mobile headquarters.

The Time Team shows are full of vibrant characters.  So are the teams I’ve worked on over the years.  Both the characters on the show and the ones I’ve worked with seem to treat everything as an adventure.  They have a positive attitude even when things get hard.  Both archaeologists and Soldiers get excited about the smallest things.  It’s neat to watch how the excitement over a shard of pottery brings back memories of the excitement over a pack of skittles.  The subject may be different but the emotions are very similar.

Archaeology can be a powerful tool for those living with a past with uncomfortable memories.  Steve is one of the best friends I have in the service.  He’s also dealing with more than anyone else I’ve ever known.  Every weekend he had off he’d take off to the woods with his metal detector.  Being out in nature and hunting for the past has given him something to look forward to when days get rough.  It’s where he feels at peace, and peace is something he’s paid dearly for over the years.

Mick’s passing must have been sad for the whole team, and I’m sure words were spoken about his efforts as a professional living past his time in mortality.  I’m proof those words were very, very true.  Thanks to today’s technology every episode is living on and making a difference.  Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for me.

I don’t have an honorary doctorate or a seat on some boar to offer, but I do have a seat at my kitchen table with my family who is grateful that every week I’m becoming a little more of myself than I was a few months ago.  Thank you.

Please forward this to Phil, John, Carenza, Francis, Stewart, and each of the wonderful folks you’re in touch with from the amazing 20 year breadth of the show.  Every one of them would be welcome at my kitchen table for dinner, and if they all showed up at the same time, I’ll go buy a bigger table.

-Jacob Roecker
Boise, ID

The Impact of Gratitude

OIF one was the first deployment for most of us and most of the memories we carry from those days are from the firsts of that experience.  At one point in the deployment I ended up in charge of a 5’10” former entrepreneur and Rutgers Hockey player named Jenny.  Her responsiveness as a Soldier inspired me to be a better leader.  Jenny helped me work through the problems of that deployment and I was grateful to have someone of such great character working for me.

One of the firsts for this deployment was taking the time as a leader to contact one of my Soldier’s parents and thank them for the time with the child they raised.  The first letter I ever wrote home to say thank you was to Neil Smith, Jenny’s dad.

Even though we were communicators, the world was considerably less connected in 2003/2004 than it is now.  We still relied heavily on snail mail to get and send news from home.  I grabbed a sheet of lined yellow paper on shift one day and wrote Neil to say thank you.  I don’t remember how long the letter was, or what the exact were I used, but I do remember hearing later that Neil had framed it.

How did I find out?  After we got back Neil came to visit.  When he did he made a particular point to meet with me.  When we talked he made me feel like his trip was less about seeing his daughter and more about saying thank you for the words I had written.  We’ve kept in touch ever since.

The daughter he raised continued to mature in uniform.  Her character and competence has allowed her to move up from Specialist to First Sergeant.  Neil and I have used every moment of success to stay in touch and thank each other for the time when our lives have crossed paths.  He’s been quick to comment when I needed a friend online.

I woke up this morning to find that this man who towered over me in stature had moved on from this life.  The world has been a brighter place because he lived in it.  Being religiously minded, I full well believe that Neil is now making the place we go after death a little brighter for those around him.

Neil’s legacy in my life isn’t just a wonderful relationship with Jenny.  Because of his positive response I have been known to contact Soldier’s parents from time to time to say thank you.  It’s one of the best privileges of being a leader in the Army.

The last one was the mother of Larry  who wouldn’t quite let me finish saying thank you without interrupting.  “Oh, no!” she said.  “Thank YOU!  Larry was in a bad place with no direction and the Army’s helped him be successful.  If it weren’t for leaders like you I don’t think my son would be doing anything positive.”  After hearing Larry’s story she did end up listening to me say thank you and the conversation ended cordially.  Larry beamed the next time I saw him.  He’d obviously talked to his mom and she told him I called and that she was proud of him.  That conversation made a larger impact than any award on his chest.

Larry’s story is one of many.  There are quite a few parents out there who got a personal insight to their children’s lives in uniform because of the overwhelmingly positive experience from writing Neil.  Our lives on earth intersect for a very short time but they help us change the direction we take.  Neil was the sort of person who helped every life he intersected with change for the better.  Thank you for teaching me how important it is to express gratitude.

Over the next few days there will be many better words composed about this man’s time on earth.  I would be remiss for not contributing mine.  If this were 12 years ago I probably would have written it on a sheet of yellow lined paper, but now I wouldn’t know who to send it to.