Thursday, September 17, 2009

reflections on opportunities past

There are a lot of things I miss about being in the service (military) and besides the people, one of the things I miss most was the knowledge that no matter how good or how bad your current assignment was you knew it was going to change.  

The military thrives on leadership and to cultivate this its members are regularly reassigned in order to broaden their experiences and afford them opportunities for increased responsibility.  And there were so many choices of places you could go and things you could do.

My first experience with this was what they call "service selection night" at the Naval Academy.  It's actually an entire day and they start very early in the morning as it takes a while to get through 1000 people.  They make announcements over the PA system and summon people in groups, according to their ranking in the graduating class, down to the selection office.  The purpose of this event is for first class midshipmen (seniors or "firsties" as we were affectionately called) to choose what they were going to do after they graduated.

So, you hear your number called and you head down to the selection office.  You walk in the room and on the walls are listings of all the possible assignments that a young ensign or 2nd lieutenant could have.  There was Naval Aviation (Navy Air), Marine Air, Navy SEALs, Marine Infantry, artillery, Navy surface, or subs (submarines) or nuclear power, or whatever.  You could even pick the exact ship you were going to be assigned to and thus your home port.  It was really very exciting.  

For me, I knew I wanted to be a Marine and flying sounded exciting too so I thought I would give it a shot and become a pilot.  So that's what I chose - Marine Air.

And that's kinda how it was during my time in the service - there were always new opportunities and always choices and there was always something new to look forward to while you were busy enjoying where you currently were and the people you were with.  

After flight school I got to choose what aircraft I would get to fly and where I would be stationed.  At the end of my first tour where I flew CH-46 helicopters out of Southern California things got a little more interesting.  As you move up you start talking to your 'monitor' (aka career counselor - someone back at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, DC) who is another officer temporarily assigned on his way up the ladder to work with a certain group of people and fill the openings left by others moving on to new assignments.  Again - choices, but now there was some negotiation and you had someone who had a bigger picture than you who could help guide you to the next assignment that would set you up for the one after that, and so on.  

In my dozen years of post-military life I really haven't seen that - at least not at the places where I've worked.  I think there may have been something remotely similar to that at General Motors.  I mean, they did send me to leadership development courses and they did say they "had big plans for me" when I informed them I was leaving.  But, although I enjoyed my time there, I did not stay long enough to find out.   

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