At U.S. Bank, we’re honored to employ and support those who have served our country. Today, we had the privilege of hosting Colonel Jenny Holbert to speak on our National Military Appreciation Month and Memorial Day call for our Proud to Serve and U.S. Bank Women business resource groups. Over 1,000 employees joined, including hundreds of our military veterans and active duty employees.

Colonel Holbert enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1978, was commissioned as an officer in 1979 and served 30 years before retiring in 2008. Since 2004, she was the Public Affairs Director at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Fallujah, Iraq, and Norfolk, Va. During this time, in her private capacity she helped create the Virginia is for Heroes conference series that grew into the statewide Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, which assists veterans and their families suffering from the life-long and family effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress. After her retirement, she served on the staff of the Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Service that studied and made recommendations to Congress on sexual abuse in the military.

“The National Military Appreciation Month and Memorial Day call is an opportunity to thank employees who have served our country, and to remember and honor those close to us who made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and freedom,” said Mike Ott, president of The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank and Air Force veteran. “Today we were honored to welcome Colonel Holbert, who is an inspiration to all of us – veterans and civilians alike.”  

Ott hosted the call alongside Andy Cecere, president and chief operating officer of U.S. Bancorp, Jennie Carlson, executive vice president of Human Resources, and Patrick Law, senior vice president of U.S. Bank’s Elan Financial Services and U.S. Army veteran.

On the call Holbert shared her perspective on diversity, leadership and more. She also took the time for a Q&A with us:

For background, what motivated you to enlist in the Marine Corps? Did you think you might go on to serve for 30 years?   

In December of 1977, I was hit with one of life’s crossroads. It was my senior year at Oregon State University studying Hotel and Restaurant Management, planning to graduate and work my way around the world with the Hyatt hotel chain. My goal was to travel and work with the finest hotel professionals in the world. But that month, I was looking at my first-ever “F.” I had never failed at anything and had even made the Dean’s list my freshman year at Luther College. I decided to quit school at that point because nothing was going right – I was homesick and was so far away from my family in Iowa. I found more value in the paltry little paycheck I got as a catering waiter on campus than holding on just a few more months for that diploma. 

I figured that either I start my civilian career and maybe in a couple of years, take a break to try the military; or first, do one hitch in the military then get on with my civilian career. It made no sense to start-stop-start a civilian career so I decided to try the military first – but just that one hitch of three years. My dad had been a Marine in World War II and I had always been curious and drawn to the mystique of the Marine Corps. The Corps was legendary as the finest military service in the world, and maybe I’d get a chance to travel around the world. Underlying everything was the big IF I could make it in the Corps.

Originally, there was no intent to stick around for a career in the Marine Corps because I didn’t know if I would like it. I figured three years in the Corps would at least be time well spent. I also learned way back in 3rd grade from my best friend’s dad, who had returned back to Waukon, Iowa, after a 20-plus-year career in the Air Force, that his military service opened up tremendous, life-long possibilities for their whole family. I was fascinated with their expanded experiences and knowledge from living throughout the U.S. and Japan. Each person in the family exuded a quiet confidence and dignity that I attribute to their military experience. I also learned that a military retirement offered profound benefits that cannot be found with a civilian retirement. All these experiences helped me decide a few months after boot camp to apply for a commission as an officer and focus on a career.

Why do veterans make good employees? And on the flipside, what advice do you give veterans entering the civilian workforce?

Veterans bring a tremendous, unique and diverse experience to the workforce that is very good for business. They are loyal, responsible, accountable, trusted and results-driven people, well-suited for the corporate world. Many have transferrable skills and experiences beyond their years and are used to learning new skills. Veterans understand tight deadlines and limited resources to get the job done well, and have an innate understanding of the “team” and “mission.” Many veterans are current with technology and are very comfortable and flexible around constant change.

For veterans entering the civilian workforce, perhaps my experience is common. When I retired from the military, I started at a position with significantly less authority, autonomy and responsibility because I found I needed to catch up on specific skill sets to be an effective leader within that particular company. I adapted to a different work style than what I was accustomed to, like the day-to-day workflow and language – even humor in the office! Challenges included learning the process to advance in the company; understanding how to navigate in a new, corporate hierarchy; and how to interact with both my seniors and co-workers as it was a new way to share information with its own, unique set of rules that were both formal and unwritten. In one position, I had to figure out when initiative was invited and when it was discouraged. I reached out to other veterans in the organization to learn the office culture of how to develop relationships with co-workers, and worked with my supervisor to find training opportunities and create a path for advancement.

Why did you get involved in the Department of Defense survey on sexual assault in the military services?

When I was offered the position to work as the communications director for the sexual assault task force, I knew the work would be a difficult experience because this is such a heinous problem in the military. It was not going to be a light assignment but it was interesting and important to participate when given the opportunity. I wanted to learn more about the current state of sexual assault programs in the Services and do my part in the report to Congress and the public about where the military stands with sexual assault of both women and men. The task force surveyed and interviewed military members and civilian employees of all ranks and assignment, both male and female, throughout the world at large and small bases. It was gratifying to play a part in understanding the ground truth about programs and procedures about assault investigations; the medical and legal process; and training for first responders, victim advocates, leadership and service members. At the same time, it was disturbing to learn about negative trends that come and go, meaning that the problem of sexual assault will not go away and will always require continual attention and vigilance at all levels of command.

We’re living in an increasingly interconnected world. How has digital and social media changed the communications landscape over the years?

Since 1993, I served as a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps. When I first began training members of the military about working with the media, one critical learning objective was to maintain operational security (OPSEC). We call it ‘security at the source.’ This means that each individual is responsible for what you say to a reporter, or friends and family about information like troop size, capability, location and movement, timing of unit deployments, or even what you are doing from day to day. Give nothing away to the enemy as it may cause harm. 

Looking back, maintaining OPSEC was easy compared to today. Mail back then could be censored, telephone communications were extremely limited, and Facebook was still 11 years away. Segue to 2004 when we trained Marines before they deployed to Iraq. Our training focused on OPSEC violations in emails and photos getting to friends and family in near-real time. Still, GoPro cameras did not exist on helmets, although we talked about the ‘what if’s’ of helmet-cams with a live feed. We could do an electronic blackout if needed to prevent any transmission. Then, in Iraq, we faced the bad guys with their information campaign. It was easy for the bad guys to push out anything they wanted into the global information domain but in the military, we were slowed down by the mandate to only publish factual information and strictly abide by the rules of the Geneva Conventions. It was extremely difficult to beat the enemy in the information battle when they had the edge of time when there is no news ‘cycle’ anymore. Yet, we had the burden of truth and the mandate to respect those who have died in battle, and protect the rights of prisoners and non-combatants in a war zone.

Real-time transmission of visual and printed information throughout the globe by any individual is now a tremendous threat to local and national security, and it has made it extremely difficult for the average citizen to clearly understand the difference between factual information and deceit. Our military personnel are very well trained but it only takes one person to create an OPSEC disaster with lives on the line.

Lastly, what does Memorial Day mean to you?

Memorial Day is very personal. The day is meant to remember those who died on active duty and I grieve for one of my Marines, Major Megan McClung, who died by an IED attack in Iraq in 2006; and also ‘my’ Marines and Sailors of I Marine Expeditionary Force who died in the 2nd Battle of Fallujah in 2004. These Marines were just the finest, most intense, red-blooded, funny, strong, gifted, moral gunfighters who were family, and had family. They were in Iraq to help make things right, to prove their mettle, to take care of their buddies to their left and right that day but who sacrificed everything, most probably for their buddies to their left and right that day.

I also think about my dad, the Marine corporal, when he fought in the Pacific Islands in World War II; and those Marines and soldiers I served with in Fallujah, Iraq, who made it ‘back to the world’ but who were, and are, still fighting every day for their mental healing from Post-Traumatic Stress. So many came back physically fine but they suffer from brain ‘scars’ that are the most complex to heal. Their injury may be a part of them and their families for the rest of their lives. PTS is not forgiving; it is debilitating and continues to destroy if our wounded don’t get healed.

Memorial Day for me is a reminder to stay focused, stay in the fight, to help our Walking Wounded and their families for the rest of our lives.

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Pat Swanson is a Kansas City-based editor of ‘Common Cents’ and a member of U.S. Bank’s corporate communications team.

Earlier this year Military Times named U.S. Bank to the No. 15 spot on its ‘Best for Vets: Employers 2016’ list. Visit U.S. Bank’s Proud to Serve website to learn more about how the bank supports veterans.

Posted: May 27, 2016