Panel of Peers: Veterans Inclusion


– All right, good morning, everybody. Welcome to the 38th Panel of Peers. Today’s topic is going to
be on veteran inclusion, and thank you for taking
time out of your day here to come sit with us. I’m Drew Freinberg. I’m a Major in the Army. I’ll just turn it over to you
guys for a brief introduction, who are you, rank, and then
we’ll get into the questions. – Sure, my name’s Nathan Taylor, former captain in the U.S. Army. I got out about a month, excuse me, a year and four months ago. I was a pilot, so I flew
BlackHawks for a bit and then got a transition
to fixed wing aircraft. Worked in military intelligence
and now I work for Merck. (audience laughs) – Hi, everyone, my name’s Renee. Are we using this? Hello, my name’s Renee Greene. I served for six years in the army. I got out of active duty in 2016, and out of the reserves last year. I was a sergeant, so I was enlisted, and I was a Korean cryptologic linguist, so I worked on signals intelligence within military intelligence, both in South Korea and in California. I currently work at Goldman-Sachs. – Hi, everybody, my name’s Mark Kroger. I’m a former major in
the Army Special Forces, spent about nine years active
duty, two years reserve. Got out about three years ago, and I’ve been working in technology and in the entrepreneurial
space since then. – Awesome, yeah, thanks, guys. So, Mark, we’re going
to start off with you. What prompted you to serve? Was there a moment in
time where you thought, it like was a switch, where you were like, this
is what I’ve got to do? – Uh, yeah, so, like
many of us, post 9-11, I was a junior in high school in Indiana. You see the horrific events taking place, or unfolding on TV. I also, so yeah, I felt
a calling to serve. I also kind of wanted to get
out of Indiana, to be honest, (audience laughs) and the military seemed like
a pretty safe place to do that without bothering my parents too much. So did that, because of 9/11, and I felt a real calling, and I think I fulfilled my service. And once I felt like I
had checked that box, and I was ready to move
on and do something else. – We’re both, I think, the class of 9/11, where that happened, and then you immediately
went into service. So I think you and I have that in common. – Yeah, cool, yeah. – Renee, how about you? – It was 9/11, also. I was also a junior in high
school, which was recent, it’s not too long ago. And yeah, I just wanted,
I’m very patriotic anyway, and then, that day, I
remember where I was, and I remember that I
wanted to do something, just didn’t lead me into
the military right away. So I was in college, I
was considering the ROTC, but wasn’t necessary a morning person, so I was like, I don’t know about that, (laughs) to be very honest. And then when I got out, realized
some of the opportunities within the military which I could leverage the skills back in business,
which was my ultimate plan, so I could fulfill that sense of duty and then go back into business. – Awesome, awesome. Nate, what about you? – Yeah, so I have a very
similar story to Mark, and must be something about the Midwest, and wanting to get out and
see what else is out there. So I have some family history. I had a great-grandfather
who was in one of the first classes of
pilots in World War I, and so I always kind of
have that back of mind. But I wanted to see what else
was beyond the corn patch, being from Iowa, and the
prospect of adventure and service kind of all rolled
into one with education, really attracted me to
the Military Academy, and then being a pilot after that. – Awesome, for me, it was
really my grandfather, Norman, who was on my dad’s side, was a captain behind Patton’s
Third Army in World War II. He actually had the first case of using a cadaver’s hip bone to
reconstruct a guy’s jaw, and so he built this guy’s jaw back. The guy got in a bar
fight, got his jaw broke, and the guy, of course,
came back to my grandfather and said, “You know,
I know you fixed this. “Can you do it again?” And instead of being
upset, my grandfather, which to me is something I’ve tried to keep my whole life, is perspective. Instead of being upset he’d
spent all this time crafting and shaving this bone into your jaw, he said, “Well, it looks like it worked.” I just thought that was incredibly patient to think about it that way. So, Renee, what was your
most rewarding experience in the service or in a uniform? – I’d probably say when
I was in South Korea, I was eight miles from the DMZ, and I was on alert constantly. It was a very intense assignment, and it was very physically demanding, but I think being able to work there in two different languages, working with international forces, and just do things that I didn’t think that I would be able to do before. It was more personal. There’s nothing I can really tell you, that like, this is the moment, but for me, I got a sense of satisfaction looking back at how I had changed. – How long were you at the DMZ? – I was stationed there for a year, and when I was in California,
I went back to Korea four or five times on
short-term assignments. I probably should say learning Korean was an achievement, I thought that. (audience laughs)
– That’s tough. – Yeah, I didn’t know Korean
before I went in the army. So that was a 64-week course. I think that was, I had a sense
of satisfaction from that, and then being able to
leverage it in Korea. That would be the bridge. – And there’s multiple levels, right? There’s like level one, two, three. – Yes, so there are three
levels of proficiency, and I achieved the highest
level of proficiency, and so it’s like a high
working proficiency. And Rachel’s brother, I just
found out it’s her brother, worked with me, and he
was on the extended scale, so he is, there’s, you can
also score above three, so you can get four or five, and that’s like, literally,
native proficiency. Which is her brother. – Can’t distinguish, right? – Yeah, so you take a test every year in listening, reading, speaking, so I have Korean clients now. I’m able to, I type to them in Korean, speak to them in Korean. I can text in Korean. I have both keyboards on
my phone and my computer, so being able to still use
it now and remember it, I think that’s also rewarding. – Yeah, it’s a great
skill that the military helped you get, for sure. Nate, what about you, man? – So I have one kind of rewarding, and then one just kind of cool experience. So I was stationed in the
Sahel region of Africa in a pretty remote area, and there was another kind of sister unit that was a few countries over, and one of the junior enlisted
soldiers in that unit, his father passed away back in the U.S. And there were no commercial flights to get him out to go to the funeral, and so I volunteered. I said, “You know, we
can take our plane down “and grab him up and then take him back “to a place where he can get
a commercial flight out.” So we did that in bad
weather, I made that call. It was kind of scary. I wasn’t sure if it was the
right one until we landed, and he was able to get back and
attend his father’s funeral. So that was a pretty meaningful to me. And then just kind of a cool story. It’s a really rewarding
experience to be able to promote and then re-enlist your
soldiers who you work with. As a commander, that’s
one of the really cool things you get to do, and so one of my
higher-performing soldiers, he’s from Chicago, and
asked if he could hop on a training flight on a weekend to go back to Chicago to re-enlist at Wrigley Field. So we did, early Saturday
morning, we got up, we flew from Savannah on a
training flight to Chicago, and we got to the front. At the gates, there was
a game about to start, and so one of the managers invited us in down to the dugout, and the
Cubs were down in the dugout warming up before the game. And so we got to re-enlist this guy in the locker room while the Cubs were getting geared up for the game, and some of ’em stood around and watched, and that was a pretty cool experience. They had just won the
World Series that year. – Awesome. So, tell me about a failure, what were your take-aways from a failure. Any of you guys can jump in on this one. These are tough, these are tough. – Yeah, well, as anybody
in my class knows, I’m no stranger to failure. But yeah, that’s one of the beauties of being in the military is
that you’re allowed to fail. You’re promoted faster than you
really feel comfortable with and you’re put into positions
in foreign countries where you’ve never been before. In my case, I was right
out of the special forces qualification course, which is
nearly two years in duration. Then I go to a team. The team’s been around
since the Vietnam era. It’s a family. It has a legacy. And then now I’m the guy in charge, and I have to tell somebody
who’s 10 years my senior what to do, and at that point, we were transitioning
from combat operations to partnership operations,
so more diplomatic scenarios. And I took my team to a couple countries in the Middle East, and my right hand man, for lack of a better term, was still very much programmed for combat. And we’re trying to make friends. He never–
– Couldn’t pivot. – He’d never adjust, and it
was catastrophic to relations, and I ended up having to relieve him, and sleep right next to him
in a Jordanian compound. It was really tough. And I felt like I failed
the team, I failed Dave. Yeah, like, anything, it
comes up to the human level. That’s what is going to be most
rewarding and most challenging. – So I was, my big failure was, we failed this big inspection that grounded my aviation
unit for two weeks. It was really embarrassing. Imagine like big army,
they have an inspector, like an inspector general
team that comes down and digs through all
of your training files. They give you tests, oral exams, flight checks for all of your pilots. And if you don’t, if you don’t
score near a hundred percent on that stuff, you fail the inspection. There’s some pretty big
consequences to that. So I had just come back from
deployment in South America, and I was very operationally focused. I thought this was, you know, we should be caring more
about what’s going on overseas than back home and so I didn’t allocate my time and energy, my resources, to preparing for this inspection. It really bit me in the butt, because it stopped all of our training. And so I couldn’t replace
those guys that were down-range for an additional two weeks. So I had to tell people’s families that, sorry, your husband, your
wife, has to stay in Africa or South America for another two weeks, because we failed this training program, and I can’t replace ’em in time. That was really tough. So, my take-away from that was to really see the big picture, walk through the second
and third-order effects of that decision, and
how that might affect the people that I care most about and that I’m charged with making sure they return home safe and on-time. – My big one, I was teaching Korean at the Defense Language Institute
in Monterey, California, and I had two students who
were on the verge of failing out of the school, and at the time, during the administration, if you failed in a training school, you’d
get kicked out of the military, so their career would’ve
been done at that point. And I realized that I hadn’t, I was supervising civilian
instructors from South Korea, and I really wasn’t paying
attention to the fact that they were allowing,
they weren’t paying a lot of attention to these students, ’cause they weren’t the
best at Korean naturally. And I did not do
everything I could’ve done to help them initially, and I just, there’s a lot of things I
could’ve done differently, extra classes, and whatnot,
so I kind of reassessed, and then we started meeting in the morning and in the afternoon. The military mantra,
especially in the army, is just, you know, when you’re out there, not leaving somebody behind just because they’re not naturally gifted. And that was a big takeaway
for me in the military, which I try to translate
in the civilian world, is just because somebody
doesn’t come out of the gate being the best, in a couple years, with some focus, they
may be the best person. So we got together as a team and kind of reassessed how
we’re treating students that don’t come in super stellar, and they subsequently did pass the exam, but it was with a lot
of effort at the end, and I felt that was a
failure as a supervisor of the department to not have noticed these interventions earlier. – Yeah, it’s tough, the responsibility, you feel like you never can do enough. You never do enough. – When you realize that
it’s somebody’s life that’s going to be, some
people go into the military, and that’s their only option, and they’re providing
income for their family. It got very personal, so it was beyond, like, hey,
they’re going to fail this class. It was like this might be the livelihood for their family, and it’s
not even that lucrative in the first place, so I really was like, I need to do something, this is a problem. – Yeah, so within the same
theme of leadership challenges, a lot of us are asked, as Mark alluded to, a lot of us are asked to take charge, maybe before we really feel ready. I was a first lieutenant. I got command of a logistics company, and basically got sent to
Afghanistan to lead them in one of the worst areas of Afghanistan as a brand new first
lieutenant, basically. It was a different, so we all have, Renee and I have our branch pins on here, so I have the engineer castle. He’s got the aviation wings. If Mark had his, he would
be the crossed arrows. Yours is–
– I have the American flag. (laughter) – You guys might know that. – She’s patriotic. – But, so I took charge of a unit that was completely outside my skill set. And I didn’t really know. And I never had, so you
usually start as an officer, in the military, at least, you usually start as a platoon leader. So you have about 30 or so soldiers, 30 to 40 soldiers, special
operations a little different, but 30 to 40 soldiers,
somewhere between five to 20 million dollars worth of equipment, and you’re either building something, like we do in the engineers, or you’re leading some kind of
chalk or something like that. – Maybe not. – Maybe not, yeah, different worlds. But nonetheless, tell
me about a time, Nate, where you were kind of
thrust into that role where you were like I
don’t feel ready for this, but the army says, yeah,
you’re ready, do it. – Sure, um, gosh, there are
a lot to think about here. One of the really challenging things was I also, my first job
was actually company command coming out of flight school, and it was because, it
was the rear detachment. Half the unit was forward in Afghanistan, and half were back in the U.S. So my boss, the actually
company commander, she was forward in Afghanistan, and so I had a responsibility
for maintaining peace and order in
training back in the rear. This was in Ft. Hood, Texas. And the first week I got on the job, I had to deal with a spousal abuse case, I had to deal with a 23-year-old kid who was getting his
children taken away from him and got his car repo’ed from the lot. So these are, being a
family crisis mediator is not something–
– And how old were you? How old were you at this time? – I was 23 myself, 24. (audience laughs) So not at all ready to prepare for these types of challenges. I was thinking, okay, I’m
going to go fly an airplane and go deploy, and do my mission. And I got the completely opposite
and unexpected experience, so that was something I struggled with. And I just tried to put on the face, and you know, do what I saw
people on TV do, the media. (audience laughs) Be really serious, and try to life coach this kid who’s my same age,
or older in some cases. But that has a very
rapidly maturing effect if you do that long enough, many times. I think that’s something
that a lot of military people who have led in the service have is that kind of rapid maturation through events like that,
that you don’t expect but have to deal with. – If you were to sum
that up in a word or two, would you say maturation,
or would you say something, what word would you use? – Like the process of that? – Just, your, this is the role. Hey, you’re going to be a new
company commander of this. And getting comfortable with that. What is the– – Man, I don’t know if
there’s a single word, but just being out of your comfort zone. You’re just falling forward, and you try to get back
up whenever you stumble. And yeah, I think, maturation is probably a good way to put that. – Awesome. – Do you have a similar experience? – Yeah, in the Virgin Islands, so I actually did 90 days of active duty with the New York District,
the Army Corps of Engineers, so that I could get my full
veterans benefits to come here. It turned out to be, my,
one of my most rewarding experiences in a uniform by far. We showed up to the island,
and there’s a ton of NGOs, and governmental organizations, of course, there’s FEMA, there’s Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency, there’s the Department of Education, there’s Department of Energy, there’s all these huge stakeholders there. I showed up and I
reported to the commander of this forward,
basically recovery office. And I got there, and he said, “Drew, I’m going to be out
of the office tomorrow. “I need you to go to
this meeting with FEMA “and be the Army Corps of
Engineers representative, “and give me the notes after the meeting, “and we’ll figure out a plan.” So I went to the meeting, and basically, the governor’s number one priority for the Virgin Islands
is, after the hurricanes, Marie and Irma, in 2017, was to get education back up, scale schools back up and running. So kids back in school
means parents go to work means people can start working on houses, which has all these other second-order and third-order effects. So we had this meeting. Here’s the governor’s priority. Who’s going to do it? And everybody looked around the room, and they looked at the Army
Corps of Engineers, me. I had just gotten there. And so, you know, I
was, I hardly even knew there were three U.S. Virgin Islands, let alone, you know. (audience laughs) It was baptism by fire, and you know, after two weeks or so, we got all the schools back, and thousands of children and
hundreds of teachers and stuff got back in and it was really,
really rewarding experience, but definitely wasn’t
ready when I got there. But you know, there’s a
truth to, you’re ready. Someone looks at you and
says, “you’re ready,” you need to trust them and deliver. Anyone else want to add? – Yeah, when I was in South Korea, I was in a tactical signals
intelligence platoon, which that requires is
that you have to carry a rucksack on your back
that’s about 80 to 90 pounds up mountains, and then
do the mission outside. And I was the only female in the platoon, which is like, we had 30
people in the platoon or so. So I, and then we also
had a platoon sergeant who was in the Army band reserves and then sent to Korea, so that was, needless to say, he was in shock. Nice guy, but he was not
prepared for the mission, and I was a specialist, so lower enlisted. It’d be like, just a very new per, I don’t even know how to equate it to like an analyst at work. Like somebody just got out of college a couple years before, like that junior. So I was slotted to be
the platoon sergeant. They made me a corporal. So I was a fake non-commissioned
officer at the time, and I started going to the gym and putting weighted vests on and running and doing
pull-ups and what not to get myself stronger, and just to get respect from the guys. Like, when we go on ruck marches, I’d put my bowling ball
and stuff in the back just to make my bag heavier, so I was always carrying extra weight, so when I would do the
mission, it felt lighter. So that was a challenge, but you know, by not saying a lot, that’s what it taught me, by not saying a lot,
but through my actions, I got a lot more respect
from the guys in the platoon, and it turned out to be, it
was an awesome assignment. – Awesome, we have a
bunch of questions here I want to get through, so I’m
just going to kind of fire ’em off at you guys, and let me know. – That’s not how we prepared. (audience laughs) – One of you guys describe
a high op tempo environment, a high operational tempo environment. Mark, would you mind doing this one? What’s high op tempo, what does that mean? – I mean, it’s really hard to describe, because my memory’s kind of blurry, but from what I remembered, it was, all right, so we’re
going to this country. Get everything ready. Get all of the trucks ready. Let’s load some pallets out here. We’ll be flying out of here in two weeks. And then all of a sudden
that mission’s canceled, and then we’re like, all right,
let’s go to sniper school. It was very, like–
– Go, go, go, go, all the time. – It’s hard to describe
what high op tempo was, but it changed every day, and you don’t have time to think about what you just missed, you
just got to look forward. And that’s the beauty of the team is there’s not a whole lot of, that mentality, within the
special operations community, there’s not a whole lot of, you’re not doing an autopsy. You’re really just moving forward. Everybody’s professional. You tell ’em what they need to do. Actually, they’re going to tell me what they need to do, because they’re the experts, and I’m the guy with the
signature, that’s it. So high op tempo changed
day to day, and that’s– – So for me, high op
tempo, in a lot of ways, means high stress in some essences. So how do you guys, I’ll
just go down the line, how do you guys deal with
high op tempo, high stress? What are your ways to come down from that? – Um, so my highest stress,
highest op tempo environment was at that same spot in Africa, around the Lake Chad
basin, so we were doing some kind of Boko Haram,
Isis, West Africa work, supporting the special forces guys on the ground there. And we were shorter staffed, didn’t have enough pilots, so I had to fly every day in addition to all my admin and leadership duties, so you know, I was putting in
16, 18 hour days every day. But I always made sure
that I got to the gym for at least an hour. What’s, and I tried to do it
with a new person on my team to kind of build that camaraderie. But if you do that long enough it kind of becomes a hygienic event, like brushing your teeth,
combing your hair, shaving, like, you get up and you have to do it. Your body craves it, and it’s a great way to reduce the stress
hormones in your body, and just really keeps you centered and focused to be able
to execute your duties to the best of your ability. So exercise for me was
key, non-negotiable, had to do it every day. – Yeah, Renee. – Exercise, like interval training, keep it very exciting. And then I like to do things that are just very fun, like exciting, but you know, counters the
stress at the same kind of level. So maybe take a crazy trip, or do something that’s just a lot of fun. I like to travel, hop on a plane, or do something different like that. That just kind of keeps the balance for me so you release all that stress, but you’re also increasing enjoyment. Like instead of just sitting
there and watching TV or just feeling kind of like a gump, so. – Yeah, two things, I
think one was keeping a light sense of humor. You can imagine that
with a team of 12 people, we did that, pretty regularly. But the other thing is it’s a family, so you have to nurture the relationships. Took Dave out to a few steak dinners. Make sure we had that
conversation, one to one. It wasn’t always cold and extremely, like too professional,
you have to humanize it. I think that was how we managed. – Yeah, the humor is definitely, military humor is something else. I know you’ve got some
veterans in the room. It’s a little weird at
times, but yeah, definitely. – I want to add something to that, too, so you know, for me, I’m a big introvert, so I need that time kind of to
myself at the end of the day. And so when I’m interacting with people, flying, I’m talking,
we’re doing a mission, having to go to the
embassy to brief people, it really wears you down
at the end of the day. And so I really needed the
last 30 minutes of the day to not think about work, so I developed a reading habit. I really tried to read
something that had nothing to do with war or history or geography. – Steamy romance novels. (audience laughs) Secret’s out. – Thanks, that was the
end of the briefing. It was my non-Google fact. – He was working out a lot, so he wanted to make the cover
of the steamy romance novel. – Goals. (laughs) – So going from high op tempo
back to family, friends, civilian job, in some
cases, for us reservists, how did you make that transition to, like, all right, I’m back home. I need to come down. Besides working out, besides
humor and that kind of thing, what were, were there any thing
that you looked forward to that helped you adjust back
to that different speed? – I was trying to make
my life more normal, ’cause I realized that I was a little too amped up all the time. Like in Korea, we would
get alerted in the middle of the night, like, we were
constantly on missions, we were out in the field. So you don’t realize that you’re wound up, like when you’re asked–

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