Larry Mathews, Former First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and Institute for Population Health CFO, shares how Article I of the United States Military’s Code of Conduct continues to inform his decision-making process in Corporate America.
Author’s Note: Take a minute and listen to Admiral McRaven’s Commencement Speech to the University of Texas and the 10 life lessons he learned based on his Navy Seal’s training. This speech has had more than 2 million hits.
When you look at Article I of the Code of Conduct that applies to all military personnel, it states: “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard our country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” This code speaks to our duty to support U.S. interest. It is based on the faith, loyalty and love we have for our country. It commits the soldier to the mission and the team. What stronger attributes can a company ask for than a person who has lived by this code and thus commitment to mission, loyalty and the team?
A Military Mission
We began this mission at 0100 hours (1:00 am). It was now 0400 hours (4:00 am) on a very rainy night. It was extremely dark, which made it difficult to navigate the deep brush and woods. It also made it difficult to see the enemy. This was very concerning.
I was leading my platoon of 20 men. Our mission was to rendezvous with our brother platoon at a specific point by 0500 hours. We would then coordinate our attack on the target. I had deployed my point and flanking men. We navigated using our compasses. We relied on each other to do the jobs we had been trained for, and mine was to lead.
Suddenly, machine gun fire opened up in front and on our right side. It became evident that the enemy had taken out my point and right flank men. We dropped and began returning fire. We fired at the weapon flashes. The fight did not last long, no more than 20 minutes, but the damage was done. My entire platoon was wiped out or captured. What happened?
This was just one of the many training missions with realistic scenarios that we were put through. Unlike other missions, this one included live ammunition from various points along the way. It also included live air cover and ground support from tanks using live rounds. After the firefight, we were ordered to proceed to our rendezvous point. We were critiqued by veteran officers who had experienced the real thing in combat. In this scenario, our training captain, known as the TAC officer, advised us that this really was a no-win scenario and that a platoon really did lose their lives on this type of mission. It inspired us to think.
Welcome to the U.S. Army Combat Engineer Officers Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, approximately 30 miles from Washington, D.C. After West Point, OCS is the most rigorous training and preparation our country puts an Army soldier through to see if that person has the metal to lead others in combat. OCS is a six-month program in which you learn: military strategy, leadership, teamwork, how to use all types of weapons, hand-to-hand combat and survival tactics.
To qualify for OCS, you must be a college graduate, complete Basic and Advanced Infantry Training in excellent status, and then be accepted into OCS. In OCS, your body is honed to a finely tuned machine, both physically and mentally. It is tough. We began with 120 soldiers in our class, and ended up with 42 graduates. I was the only African-American out of 10 to survive the training. I graduated number eight in my class and was named a Distinguished Military Graduate.
From Veteran to Corporate America
I am extremely blessed. After I completed my three years stateside as a Second and then First Lieutenant, I was scheduled to spend my fourth year, in Viet Nam, as a Captain. When my orders came, to my surprise, I was given an early out and allowed to come home. I ended up serving three years active and three years in the reserves for a total commitment of six years. I still wonder, to this day, how I would have performed in combat.
I returned home to a job that was waiting for me with the CPA firm of Arthur Young and Co. The transition to corporate America was very easy for me. Fortunately, I met two wonderful men who befriended me at Arthur Young. The teamwork that I had learned in the military allowed me to realize that I was part of another team with a specific mission to accomplish. The only difference was that lives did not depend on the outcome.
This is not to say that there were not challenges to face in corporate America. There always seems to be one difficult person to deal with or some corporate policy that does not seem to make sense. However, the military prepares you to cope with all types of situations. We learn to adapt swiftly to our surroundings, knowing that this is required to survive. We rely on our teams, our new associates, to help us through these challenging times.
It is important to remember that our country has spent millions of dollars to train military personnel in skills that are used in corporate America daily. Now we bring all that talent to our companies.
Made a True Leader
I have stated so many times before, “Leaders are not born, they are made.” Something happens along life’s way that had a significant impact on you and moves you to the front of the class—some discovery, your hard work solving a problem, your family status.
It was the military for me. Going through OCS made me a true leader. It taught me skills that I use to this day in corporate America, especially leading a very diverse team and adapting to change. For other veterans, just being a part of the military gives the training needed to lead. In the service, we were all put in some type of leadership position, especially in Basic and Advanced Infantry training. The military wants to see if you have the potential to lead.
In my professional world, serving as the Chief Financial Officer and partner for various companies and as a senior executive in government, I was able to transfer my leadership skills to these environments. When you consider that our country had spent millions of dollars to prepare me to lead Americans into battle, leading a team in corporate America is the same—minus the bullets.
I Go Out of My Way to Hire a Veteran
I seek out veterans to join my team, if they have the skill set that we seek. I do this because I know the type of training that they have been put through; I also evaluate them as the person that we interview. If the hiring team feels that there is a fit, we hire the person. All I have done is given him or her a chance, and that is all that the veteran asks.
I have hired an Air Force Lt. Col. as my Finance Manager. He was in charge of procurement for Selfridge Air Base and the Aide to a General. I thought that qualified him to work for me. He has hired an Army Sergeant as his Financial Assistant. Each has made a significant contribution to the organization.
My Salute to All Veterans on Veterans Day
Let me conclude by saluting all veterans on Veterans Day, especially those who have served in foreign wars, those who have been wounded, and the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. Continue to stand tall and serve.
Larry Mathews, former First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, served as Chief Financial Officer of the Institute for Population Health. He has been selected to join the incoming County of Wayne, Michigan (the 11th largest county in the nation), Chief Executive Officer team to chair two committees as a member of his transition team. He was featured in Issue No. 8 of Forefront magazine.
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