This article is part of Everyday Warrior seriesFeaturing tips, key interviews, and tips for living a life full of impact, growth and continuous learning.
In 2014, she redeployed to Afghanistan, this time as an operations sergeant in the Special Forces Company. In the world of special forces, company operations control an area of operations, or AO, and six SF teams within it. We basically manage assets, coordinate operations, and provide material and logistical support to the Green Berets fighting in the war. The company’s operations are referred to as Bravo’s Special Operations Detachment, or Team B for short. Let me be frank here, Team B is with experienced operators who would rather be on ODA (Operational Class Alpha), which is where the battle is.
Why don’t they? If done correctly, Team B leverages the expertise of these large operators to make sure Team A is looked after. It is expected that the large operators will be able to anticipate what ODA needs and be proactive in pushing assets rather than responding to requests. The hard truth is that the operations sergeant—me, during this deployment—spends a lot of time arguing about these guys to stay where they need to be. Team B operators feel their job is to find any possible way out in processes – any processes, every process!
In addition to the Green Berets group always hungry to leave the wires, SF runs all the support staff: SF’s unqualified soldiers who take care of everything from vehicle maintenance, supply and always the chow-hole job. Soldiers need to eat!
I am sure that when you started this article you were hoping to read about our nation’s elite warriors who carry out operations against the enemy flawlessly. Sorry, we’re going a different route. I’m going to tell you a great story about an army chef who had a lasting impact on 88 battle-hardened Green Berets. I would have kept reading if I were you, it is well worth your time.
The “hero” of our story is a young sergeant named Brian. SGT Brian wasn’t an imposing soldier: a bit on the short side, a little on the skinny side, calm and polite. What SGT Brian lacked in the typical physical traits of our expectations of a war story main character, he made up for in a big time in his impact.
I started publishing with SGT Brian Cooking for my B Team. We had the largest population, nearly 100 people, working around the clock and SGT Brian had the most experience. Of all the advantages of being in the Special Forces—better training, great equipment, more control over our operations—the better food while deployed to Afghanistan was unfortunately not one of them. But SGT Brian was an expert in the kitchen and could work magic. What I learned next has stayed with me ever since.
SGT Brian knew his responsibilities and found every possible way to increase his influence in his role. I was a little moved when he asked if he could start attending the daily operations briefing. I was excited as he fiddled with his schedule to find ways to prepare hot food as the units were leaving and when they came back. I was impressed when he found ways to instruct subordinate soldiers, in other camps, to do the same wherever they were. SGT Brian has always looked for ways to make an impact. He prioritized his direct responsibilities, then improved every aspect of his role. He learned the schedules of everyone in the camp and found ways to give everyone access to good, hot meals when they needed them, not just at traditional meal times. SGT Brian built relationships, made friends, improved the lives of those he served, and made part of my job and my life a little bit nicer looking at where I was.
Then my boss sent him away. what the hell?
I knew it was the right thing to do, I didn’t want it to happen. We’ve all seen how SGT Brian’s impact has improved our situation. The pressures of constant combat operations began to affect the first divisions in combat, and sending a Morale Officer to help was exactly the right thing to do. SGT Brian moved from one location to another in a four-week rotation and each time he made an impact.
When it came time to take turns, the teams made every excuse in the book for why he had to stay and tried to manipulate the processes to support their efforts to keep it. I was impressed with their creativity, but sent SGT Brian to the next camp anyway.
It’s safe to say that most soldiers want to test their abilities in combat, cooks don’t often get that chance. It’s also true that space on a combat patrol is limited, and commanders are very selective about who they can and what they take. The real testament to SGT Brian’s impact was when teams began asking if they could take him on patrol to help him earn the Combat Action Badge, an award that soldiers receive when they take direct action against an enemy. I’m not sure how many chefs in the military have earned a CAB, but my SS teams made sure he got a chance to earn it. In our world, there is no better way to honor someone than to be willing to join them in the fight.
I learned a lot from SGT Brian in this post. He set an example for everyone around him and did so in a humble way. He could manage his dining hall like any other, but he chose to be better. He’s lost a lot of sleep by working odd schedules to make sure those around him are taken care of. He sacrificed his personal comfort and never asked for anything other than ways in which he could help. SGT Brian was the best example of servant leadership I’ve ever seen.
SGT Brian taught me three lessons that I will share with anyone who will listen.
- You can be an influencer from any position or role.
- Give priority to those around you.
- Find ways to be better.
Be an influencer from any position
When we think of leaders, we are usually drawn to images of historical leaders who are changing the world from positions of great power. When I think of being an influence, I think of Mother Teresa working tirelessly to help those who have nothing. Through small acts of kindness and endless effort, I have found ways to be influential. She could have taken her notoriety and gone anywhere but she chose to stay, under modest circumstances, and continue her work. We can all make an impact wherever we are. How many of us remember a teacher or coach who influenced our lives? Influential people look for ways to inspire others. They find ways to give to those around them.
Giving priority to those around you
What do you have to give? Everything, but the most impactful is your time. Take the time to lend a helping hand to someone. Take your time to be a listening ear. Take your time to help someone who is late. Take your time to get to know someone. When you prioritize those around you, you make a difference. Sometimes the effects are big but often they are small effects that accumulate over time until people see an impact in their lives. Look for ways you can give, in your work, with your friends and family, in your community. There are always opportunities for you to prioritize others. My father-in-law ended up on his local news for bringing trash cans to people from the street. Nobody asked him for it, he just saw a need and made time. Children need sports coaches. You don’t even have to be an athlete, just be willing to give your time. If you’re looking for ways to prioritize others, you’ll find more ways to be an influencer.
Find ways to be better
SGT Brian has not announced that he intends to make such an impact. I don’t think he knew he would. He just looked for ways he could be better at achieving his goal of taking care of others. The first thing he did during the deployment process was clean and reorganize his kitchen into a workplace he was comfortable with. He started small and just looked for the next thing he could do. I remember when he asked if he could attend the operations briefing. I asked him why and, shrugging his shoulders, he simply said, “I want to see where I can help.” It takes time, but getting better is a twofold endeavor. The more you work, the better you are; The more chances you get, the greater your impact. When we combine our attempts to be more efficient with better ways to be useful, our impact increases.
During my work in 2014, many amazing things happened, and my acts of bravery, courage and fortitude shed light on the efforts of my team. I have had the honor to write several awards for courage for the well-deserved Green Berets. The award I was proud to write was the SGT Brian Award, and when the award was presented, his impact was evident through the volume of cheers and applause.
I have told this story in every organization I have been with. The story of a young chef in the US Army who just wanted to help, and in doing so left a lasting impact.
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