Most veterans and military personnel remember their first military training experience with pride and dread. Pride in successfully completing their first military experience and dread from being so new and unknowledgeable when they got to their first unit. However, by only remembering the negative consequences of being a “boot,” we forget what being a boot really did for us to make our military career successful.
I remember when I got to my first unit in Korea as a brand new 2nd lieutenant or “Butter Bar.” I was fresh from Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course and Ranger school at Fort Benning in Georgia and knew enough to realize that I didn’t know anything. When I got to my first platoon, a 4.2-inch mechanized heavy mortar platoon, my training really started when the privates, specialists and NCOs in my unit began training me on all the equipment, weapons and tactics. They taught me how to fire all the weapons assigned to the platoon, licensed me on all the vehicles, and made sure I passed the mortar gunnery exam. For every new unit I went to, I repeated this process with the enlisted and noncommissioned officers who provided me the knowledge that ultimately made me successful in that position. When I look back at my military career, what made me a good officer in infantry and special operations units was this foundation that I received as a boot. Indeed, I think a large part of my success in combat operations was due to the fact that I knew intimately what teams on the ground could and could not do.
Having a successful business career and a successful transition means many times going back to become and succeed as a boot again. Before I started my current job in the railroad industry, I led and coordinated a 30-plus multinational, multi-service special operations planning team in Iraq. When I started with my current company, I was in charge of…me. I was a boot again. So what did I do? I learned the entire range of positions, what each did, how it operated, and how each position achieved success. After that, I was promoted to lead a small team and I repeated the process I learned as a boot in the military. Today, much of my success comes from those early days as a boot where I learned and perfected the basics.
When we look through post-military career job listings, many of us jump straight to senior manager or director positions and miss those entry-level management positions that will make us extraordinarily successful in our future career. Next time, before you apply or interview for a position, check out the CEO, CFO, and COO biographies on the corporate web site. Without a doubt, you will see they started in entry-level positions, learned and perfected the basics, and then moved up.
Success in both military and civilian careers can come from being a boot where you learn the skills, culture, and leadership style to be successful. Bottom line: engage and become a boot again in your new career pursuit. Military skills and leadership style combined with a great attitude and a willingness to learn is what defines success from the bottom up and will immeasurably propel your career.