Yesterday I did something that has been nearly 21 years in the making; I finished my last working day in the Army. While I still have 2 weeks of out processing to complete, my time has come to an end. I will be the first to admit that this is a day I never thought I would see. When I joined the Army in July 1999, the world was a completely different. Bill Clinton was the president, the country had been in a relative peace since the end of the Cold War a decade earlier, and “digital” for the tactical units meant a packet switch network which made my old AOL dial-up connection look screaming fast.
When I arrived at Fort Knox, KY for basic training, I freaked. I quickly discovered my “error” and did everything I could think of to get out it. Fortunately, my best efforts failed, and I completed training and was eventually stationed in South Korea. My intent was to complete my four-year contract and get out.
Twenty years later, I have reenlisted twice, PCSed seven times, deployed twice and done some amazing things. I can honestly say that making the change to warrant officer was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has given me opportunities and allowed my to do things that I never thought possible.
I want to thank my wife, Liz, for following me across the map for the last 15 years. For anyone that is married, and in the military, you know just how much of a role your spouse plays in your career. Liz will be the first to point out that she wasn’t the one that deployed. While that is true, she made much of what I have accomplished possible.
A few thoughts (in no real order)
Take time for the family
I haven’t always been the best at this. Yes, there are times when family may not be the thing at the top of our mind, but don’t let it drop off, and make sure it goes back to the top as much as possible. There will always be more work to do, something new to learn, etc. The difference between going home at 5 vs 10 is less time with the family, not less work to do the next morning. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE WORK THE NEXT MORNING. Yes, there are occasions where we must stay late to get something done that has to get done, but I honestly think those are the exception and not the rule.
Never Stop Learning
What you learned yesterday may well not apply today, especially in the communications and cyber communities. Technology changes every second and it’s your job as a warrant to always expand your knowledge. Even if something has absolutely nothing to do with your job, I’ve been truly surprised how some obscure thing I learned years before was actually useful to me in a completely unexpected way. I absolutely cringe and want to rip the rank off of a warrant’s chest when they say, “Well they never taught me in class”. That is a bullshit excuse that I expect to hear from a Private, not from an NCO and sure as hell not from a warrant. As someone whose last PME that they completed was WOBC (yes, sad but true) I can speak with certainty that the schoolhouse taught me a small fraction of what I needed to know to be a successful Net Tech, and I was a Net Tech for a very small part of my career. I didn’t teach me how to fly satellites, it didn’t teach me how to defend networks, it didn’t teach me how to attack other guys networks, it didn’t teach me how train hundreds of people….all things that I have done as a warrant and I think been pretty damn successful at.
WOPA Is Why We Are Successful
The Warrant Officer Protection Agency (WOPA) is what separates Warrants from everyone else. Every other warrant that has been, or is in the Army, is your phone a friend….use them. You may remember the old “game” Seven Degrees from Kevin Bacon where you could link Kevin Bacon to pretty much anyone on earth through a chain of no more than 7 people. The Warrant officer CORPS is a pretty damn small community (never mind Signal/Cyber). I would hazard to guess that I can link myself to any other warrant officer in the Army through a single person. That is a very tight network with a huge reach. Use it. If you’re having a problem, someone else has also had it. Put the call out for help (after you do what you can do) and find out who has the answer because someone does. Signal-Chief started out as my attempt to make that call for help a little bit more accessible to everyone. ROs measure their success on how well they did. I measure the success of my career in two ways. 1. The success of my boss and 2 the success of my fellow warrants. I encourage you to do the same.
Don’t Fear Risk/Don’t Underestimate Risk
My current position deals extensively with risk and has allowed me to accept/reject to levels that I never imagined I could. But looking back, I’ve been able to choose to accept/reject risk from the very start. Every time I had an idea to do something new, I was incurring risk. Every time I chose not to change something, I incurred risk. Often it can be unclear if our actions (or lack thereof) incurs or reduces risk. Truth be told, its often both. If I stick with the configs that have been working for months, I am accepting the risk that I accepted a long time ago, but as my mission changes, I may be incurring risk because I haven’t optimized the network to meet the new requirements. The point is risk is not inherently good or bad. It is a fact of life that we must acknowledge will always be around. Instead, manage risk. Use it to your advantage whenever possible. Accept it when prudent to allow you and the mission to excel. Reject and mitigate it when it becomes to high and the reward becomes to low. Eventually, you’re going to lose that risk calculus (miss an opportunity or make a decision that proved incorrect) but even those bad decisions can be minimally impactful with appropriate management.
Take Care of Yourself
Between the points I put before this, it can be to easy to neglect yourself. Take care of yourself. Have fun. I’m fortunate that I have truly loved just about every position that I have had over the years and so it was easy to have fun. That is not always the case. Either way, you need joy in your life, no matter how you get that joy. Likewise, as I pointed out a long time ago, the Army needs you until it doesn’t. My career was nearly cut short because of an APFT. Soon it will be the ACFT, but it may also be an injury or a variety of other things. The bottom line is that you need to watch out for yourself.
As I said before this is a journey I never thought would come this far (and sure as hell never expected it to end in a time like this). I am nervous but confident in the future. I want to say thank you to a few people who have made a lasting impression over the years. Cheryl Gainer and Heidi Mickelson are the two women are responsible for getting me to join. Heidi was a recruiter who woke me up unexpectedly the first morning of summer between my junior and senior years of high school and with in a week or two got me signing papers. She eventually PCSed and was replaced by Cheryl who saw me through the remainder of my Delayed Entry and into basic training. They were both open and completely honest with me about the military.
CW5 Andrew Llanos and CW3 (Ret) Harry McInnis were my primary instructors in WOBC who played an instrumental part in shaping me to warrant that I am today. They both made it clear that warrant officers are no-bullshit crusty fuckers who I saw as growing up as a Soldier that the Commander calls when mission can’t fail. Thank you. CSM (Ret) Roderick Johnson who brought me in to be his driver and eventually brought me to the NCO academy and placed the development of a completely new course in my hands which was directly responsible for making the move to Warrant.
CW4 (Ret) Ken Jenkins who was one of PV2 Ward’s very first NCO’s (he was a SGT) that I lost track of for a very long time until about 5 years ago when we reconnected. Ken as a civilian has taught me so much as I prepare for this move. A number of my peers who have been true battle buddies over the years like CW3 (Ret) Shane Walradt, CW3(Ret) Josh Frazee, CW4 (almost Ret) Kirk Bond, CW4 (Ret) Jimmy Strand, CW5 (needs to retire) John O’Rielly, and CW2 Justin Helphenstine among many others. You guys have all played an important role in my career. I’d like to thank the (thankfully) small number of individuals (who I won’t name) I’ve met over the years who showed me exactly what a leader should NOT be.
Last but certainly not least my mother and father who put up with a lot of bullshit from me growing up, but gave me a good work ethic, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. And finally, once again, my wife Liz and my kids Luke and EM. They have followed me across the map (a couple of times) and dealt with deployments, TDYs, and 3.5 years at NTC. They have been nothing but supportive, encouraging, and given me a kick in the ass when I needed it. Thank you.
I’ve been asked before what will happen to Signal Chief. The answer is nothing at all. I will still use it to post pretty much whatever I want to. I would still LOVE to have guest authors who are out there fighting the fight. It’s been a long time since I’ve been tactical signal and I know things have changed a lot. So, if you want to write, email me PLEASE.
For me, I’ve got a position lined up that will be starting in just a few short weeks (will post about that once I actually start) along with a couple of back-ups (just in case given the circumstances). Until then, I plan on replacing a deck and completing a few other projects I have put off for a while and enjoy some time with my wife and family while we all have very little else going on.