Memorial Day 2014

I’ve  posted before both in my blog and on Facebook about how much I appreciate the men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces.  If you’re not willing to defend your freedom, then someone will take it from you.  This is a common theme throughout history and appears to be both part of the human condition and something that won’t change (certainly not any time soon).  This is why I support the military  since without them, we’d live in a very different world here in the United States.  Perhaps we’d all be speaking German, or maybe Russian or Japanese or some other language and the freedoms we take for granted would have been long since stripped away.  This country was paid for by the blood of those who stood up for it.  From the original patriots who gained our freedom from the British to the hundreds of thousands that were killed in WWII to the tens of thousands who have since given their lives in places like Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq.

I have very low tolerance for those who claim our engagements are all about protecting business interests like big oil.  South Korea is a very different place today because we drew a line and stood firm.  And while our engagements in the Middle East may in fact protect our interests in oil, it’s not about wasting people’s lives so Shell Oil or BP can keep producing.  If we had not remained deployed with bases throughout Europe, it would be a VERY different place than it is today and not likely one most people would enjoy.  So while lots of mistakes have been made in our foreign policies over the years, and there have been plenty of times the military leadership of our country as well as the  politicians have ‘blown it’, I’d prefer what we have warts and all, to what I believe the alternatives would be had America not stood up so many times and defended freedom for itself and countless others which in turn has slowed as well as eliminated other forms of government that were significantly oppressive to people.

Our military is awesome because the people who volunteer to serve do so largely by choice.  We are blessed to live in a world (and even more blessed to live in this country) where other fellow Americans love our freedoms so much that they are willing to lay down their lives to protect them.  I know that when they are in the battle they fight for each other, but they still are also fighting for us and to protect the freedoms we enjoy as well as to advance those freedoms to elsewhere in the world by helping democracies form and take root.

Memorial day is a time when we honor those who died while serving in the military.  This is not to be confused with Veterans day which honors our military veterans who may be alive today or at least came home from their war alive and have since passed.  This is a time to honor those who never made it home or when they came home it was in a coffin.  How blessed and fortunate the rest of us are that we are surrounded by men and women who value our freedom so much that they would sacrifice  their lives to ensure the freedom and safety of their generation and for future generations to come.

One of those people who died while serving their country is Medal Of Honor recipient Jared Monti.  I grew up with Jared’s mom Janet and dad Paul in my life as they were great friends of my older brother Bill and his then girlfriend and now wife Marcia.  I remember being in my early teens and becoming an uncle as Bill and Marcia had their children and around the same time frame Paul and Janet’s family was growing and before long they had a daughter Nicole and sons Jared and Tim.  While I never got to know them very well and my own young life took me off in other directions, I’d still bump into them at my brother’s place sometimes.  I always enjoyed hearing from one of my high school friends Jim Monti, another member of the Monti family, who would talk about Jared and how fast he was growing up.

So while I never got to know Jared well, I felt connected to him and his family.  Jared grew up to be a wonderful man who knew early that he wanted to serve.  He joined the delayed entry program as a junior in high school and pretty much went straight into active duty right after he graduated.  His original plan was perhaps to use his service as a way to get college educated, but he quickly grew to embrace and embody all the characteristics the military hold so dear.  Duty, honor, sacrifice, strength, service are just a few of the core beliefs that Jared lived and demonstrated most every day.  He served in Kosovo, Korea and Afghanistan and reenlisted without hesitation as he became the consummate NCO who watched out for his troops.  He had an infectious smile and a warmth about him and his troops wanted to serve him because he measured his success not by how his superiors felt about him but by how his soldiers felt about him.  He was a true leader that did not tell others what to do.  He showed them, taught them, and he would do those same things that he asked of others and because they knew that, they would follow him anywhere.

During one of his tours in Afghanistan,  on June 21st 2006 Staff Sargent Jared Monti and his 16 man patrol were attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters.  After calling in indirect fire support while being pinned behind a rock formation he engaged the enemy multiple times personally as they tried to flank his troops position.  Then, Monti discovered one of his men Pfc. Bradbury was severely wounded and unable to move and was laying in an open depression about 20 meters away.  Another soldier Staff Sargent Cunningham yelled over to Monti that he would go for Bradley.  Without hesitation Monti insisted that Bradley was his soldier, handed off his radio and moved out from behind cover to retrieve Bradbury.  Under machine gun fire moving low and fast Monti was twice forced back under small rock cover but managed to get within a few meters of Bradbury.  Not willing to give up, Monti attempted a 3rd time where he was mortally wounded by an RPG that exploded in his path.  Unable to move from the severity of his wounds Monti spoke to his unit and said he had made his peace with God, asked them to tell his parents that he loved them and then went silent.

Nothing I write here could do justice to the bravery and heroism of Monti and countless others who have gone before him (and after him) who have made similar sacrifice for their brothers in arms and for our freedoms.  But if you happen to read this and my writing was good enough to keep you interested to get this far, hopefully you now know a bit more about Jared and memorial day 2014 can be a little more personal and real as you connect with someone who embodied all that we value from our troops.

Thanks Jared.  You would not have remembered me but I won’t forget you.

In loving memory of Medal Of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is action.

It’s not just a word.  I was reminded of this during the homily that was given by my pastor Father Frank Schuster this Sunday.  As with any other good sermon it makes you think about where it applies to our lives.  One can see it in how most parents behave with their children or how people who love each other don’t hesitate to sacrifice something to help please the other.  Their actions speak louder than the word itself.

On a weekend that has me thinking a bit more about how awesome this country is and how much thanks we owe to the soldiers for their sacrifice I could not help but apply that same thought.  Love is action.  When I apply that thought to our military it really hits home for me.  While I know that there are a lot of reasons that you could chose to join the military aside from the love of your country (education, discipline, getting to play with cool toys that blow things up) I can’t see people signing up knowing that they could be placing themselves in danger and not having a love for their country.

I’ve read the rhetoric that would have people believe that the military is made up of under educated people or those with little choice.  However the statistics on recruitment don’t bear that out.  Median income for families whose children join the military is at par with the nation and education wise 98% of recruits have a high school education or higher.  Basically the makeup of our service men and women are very much along the lines of the makeup of the country and the idea that the military relies on people who are poor, undereducated or minorities for their personnel is a fallacy.

Even when there were drafts our armed forces did not behave like some other conscripted forces where there was little or no commitment to their country’s cause.  I’d like to think that for most of those who were drafted that while they may not have liked being forced to serve, they understood the need and loved their country enough to follow that through.  Which brings me back to love is an action not just a word.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  Our military is largely made up of awesome men and women who by their sacrifices allow us to live in the greatest nation in the world and enjoy so much freedoms that many others do not have.  I know war is stupid and horrible.  But until the rest of the world also “gets it” you have to be willing to fight for your way of life or you’ll be living someone else’s idea of what your way of life should be.

All our rights that we enjoy have been preserved by our military.  If you are ever angry about where we fight, save that for the politians since it’s not the military that chooses where to fight.  They simply serve the nation they love and for that I am eternally grateful.

Please say a prayer for those who served and never came home or came home in a coffin.  And while you are enjoying your Memorial Day, look for a vet and thank them for their service and for loving their country enough to stake their lives on it.

The Optimal Human Experience

I’m sorry for the gap in posting. I’m almost to the point of proving the statistics of most blogs being 6 or more months out of date…

In December 2008 I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Infosys customer forum called Confluence. I enjoyed the time interacting with others and got to meet some neat people who were facing similar challenges in outsourcing and share experiences. As much as I enjoyed it, I hadn’t given it much thought until recently. That’s because recently I started to remember what it’s like to be having a blast and to truly enjoy yourself at what you do. It’s a state many of us would like to be in all the time. However, it seems few of us actually achieve it frequently. As I start to settle into my new role at Amazon I have found that even in a short period of time I’m seeing all the right ingredients of what it is to have a great time and truly enjoy your work. This got me thinking about what makes for an optimal human experience in one’s life which brings me back to my time at the customer forum.

At Confluence, like any decent customer forum, they had speakers brought in to speak on the themes in the conference. One of those speakers was an engaging lady by the name of Jane McGonigal. Jane was there to talk about collaboration. As she reminded people, you need to collaborate or perish. While this in itself is great advice and pertinent to her area of expertise (Game Theory), it was not the gem that I took away from her talk. As she talked about collaboration she covered how gamers collaborate better in order to achieve a common goal. As part of this they frequently are having fun and that’s where she dove in to highlight why they were having a good time.

This is where it gets good. As a manager and someone who has been fortunate enough to experience this (and perhaps arrange for my teams to experience the same thing) it resonated a lot and had me jotting down the 4 key ingredients to the Optimal Human Experience . Jane was able to put into simple terms what makes us generally happy as human beings. As managers of people this is something worth remembering since if you can put these 4 ingredients into your team experience, I believe you will have a team that not only functions better, but is truly having a great time while doing so. If you can put these 4 ingredients into your career, I would probably argue that you’re not working but instead having a great time and getting paid while you are at it. I don’t know about you but these are the kinds of jobs I like (and look for).

So what makes an Optimal Human Experience?

Something to do

Or more specifically, “satisfying work”. Most people enjoy work that is satisfying and engaging. Work that allows you to engage and perhaps lose yourself in it. If the day is dragging on for you at work, I would argue it’s probably not very satisfying. If the day seems to fly by because you felt challenged and energized by the work, then you are experiencing what I would consider satisfying work.

The experience of being good at something

Most people get incredible personal satisfaction and joy at doing something they are good at. This may seem obvious, but I’m not always sure we take it into account when working with others or assigning work. When you know you’ve done well it makes you happy. If you are managing a team and can find a way to play to people’s strengths, you are providing more opportunity for them to experience being good at something. If you’ve done a job and know that you “nailed it” (and you’re not just a carpenter) then you get a great feeling from a job well done.

Time spent with people we like

If you’ve read my prior blog posts I cover a variant of this in “don’t be that guy”. It stands to reason if we don’t like being around negative people, we probably enjoy being around positive ones. We can like folks for more than just being positive, but regardless of why you like someone, if you like them, then you enjoy spending time with them. Are you surrounded by people you like? Are you building teams where people are likable? Or are you willing to put up with unpleasant people in order to get a job done? I would argue that if you want to enjoy yourself then you should be spending time with people you like. As an individual, if you feel surrounded by people you don’t like, then you should consider leaving because you will be miserable otherwise. If you are a manager and you are overlooking unlikable behavior just to get some hard to find expertise I would argue that what you are losing in team dynamics may outweigh the gain you get from keeping an arrogant expert.

The chance to be part of something bigger than yourself.

There’s an old adage of 3 masons who are working on the same site. When asked what they were doing, the first responded “I’m laying bricks”. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? The second responded “I’m building a wall”. Perhaps it was satisfying but was it a big deal? The third responded “I’m building a Cathedral”. Now THAT is exciting and certainly bigger than he was. That’s the type of opportunity we want to be a part of and that is the kind of opportunity you want to engage your teams in. Get them to see the bigger picture. Show them the hill, then go climb it with them and put a flag on it. When they look down with you at what they accomplished they’ll get incredible satisfaction. So will you. Go build something bigger than yourself.

In my new role, I’m finding I’m not very efficient yet. So I don’t yet feel like I’m truly “good at something”. However, I expect that will change with each week as I get more familiar with my surroundings and the resources at my disposal. I can already see that I have engaging and satisfying work. I’m surrounded by a lot of people I like, and I’m definitely part of something much bigger than me. If I could tell you in concrete terms the immensity of the AWS platform and just how cool it is it would blow your mind. Hmmm….  3 of 4 ingredients that make an optimal human experience and I can fix the 4th myself. How cool is that?

So as a manager if you want to build a legendary team be sure to keep those 4 ingredients in your mix. As an individual, if you want to have an awesome time, go find those 4 things and make them part of your life/career.

What optimal human experiences have you had? Did they have the same ingredients that I’ve listed above? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

– Yeti.

Precious Little

Memorial Day. May 25, 2009.

There’s a song by Eleanor McEvoy that came out about 13 years ago called “Precious Little”. The chorus repeats the phrase:

Precious little in your life
Is yours by right
And won without a fight

I’ve always loved this song because those words spoke right to me in their simplicity and truth. Rights that we have were given to us. We were not born with them. And while we all might agree that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are basic human rights that we think everyone should have, not everyone does. Why? Because there’s always someone out there who is willing to take them from you for their own gain. This is why freedom is not free.

So how did America become so free to the point that we think of our rights as “God given” or somehow irrefutable? Because people who came before us were willing to fight and give their lives in order to gain the rights we have and then again in order to keep them. Had we not been willing to do that as a people and a country, it’s fairly clear that someone would have been happy to come take them from us.

Today is Memorial day. It is a day that was designed for us to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women in our armed services who have won and then maintained our freedom. They believed so strongly in those rights that most of us take for granted that they were willing to fight to keep them. They started the fight here in the United States of America (before it was the United States) and won our rights. So many gave their lives just to create this country. Then, their ancestors as well as countless immigrants who made this country their own, continued that fight. They took the fight to distant shores and many never came home, countless others came home but in a box and others with pieces of their bodies missing or forever scared physically and/or emotionally.

These people understood how precious our rights are as well as how fragile our freedom really is.

Like countless other Americans today I will spend time with family and probably cook on the grill, horse around and enjoy the day. But as the day started I found myself praying for those who fought to keep freedom for us and those who still do. I can’t thank them enough and words fail me to adequately describe how grateful I am.

Freedom is not free. You’ve heard the words enough now that perhaps it’s sounding rather trite. But like the chorus of the song the words may be simple but the meaning is deep and truthful.

If you truly appreciate your freedom, then thank all the members of the armed forces for their sacrifice and don’t let memorial day just be another excuse for a BBQ. Have the BBQ. Enjoy the freedom. Thank a vet.

– Yeti.

P.S.

My dad was one of the ones who landed on Omaha beach. He lived to talk about it. Funny thing is, he never really talked about it. Thanks Dad, I miss you.