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USAA Tips: Military skills are invaluable for mastering workplace change

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

The business and global news today is both inspiring, to discover how companies are creating vast new opportunities, and grim, when the list of re-organizations and drastic workforce changes are announced. For those of us in middle management or on the workplace floor, how do we best adapt to the changes in the business world and successfully lead those around us? The answer lies in employing military leadership skills.

Here are 5 military leadership skills you can use for work place change:

1. Leading by Example During Change. How do you represent yourself during a time of change? Do you set the example? Give 100% to solve problems? Always look for a way to find a solution? Or do you gossip? Find ways to look busy and not fully embrace the required changes? Leadership by example means setting the example in all things and doing it consistently every day even when none of your superiors are watching. Leadership by example during times of change is essential because fellow employees are inspired when they see others set the example.

2. Communicating a Common Vision and Progress Achieved. During times of change, fear can reign. Don’t let it. One of the best ways to reassure people is to communicate a common vision and then show how your team is helping the company’s progress towards its goals. This progress meeting should be a 1-2 times a month meeting that should include as many people as possible and it should be a consistent agenda. In the meeting, show how your team’s vision, mission, and activities support the company and then also show firm metrics of customer satisfaction, cost savings, or other significant measures of what your team has done in the last few weeks to support the company. Keep this meeting short, 30 minutes or less, and make sure everyone leaving the meeting knows what is important and what they need to do to keep change and progress happening.

3. Exercising Initiative to Find and Solve Problems. During times of change, people often “freeze up” and decide the best action is to take no action — the wait and see approach. By communicating a common vision and progress, you set the stage for your team and fellow employees to take more, not less, action so they find and take their own steps to solve company problems. You may be the best business leader ever, but your impact will be minimal unless you can inspire others to find problems that hurt the company's change efforts and then be the leaders in developing and implementing solutions to those problems.

4. Training and Sharing Best Practices within Your Organization. Sharing best practices is a great way to highlight your team’s actions during times of change. If your company is finding ways to reduce costs and maintain current service levels, share a method that your team discovered to reduce energy costs off hours. Have you found an old piece of technology that no one uses anymore? What are those cost savings? Sharing with the entire organization allows the entire organization to benefit. Use initiative to find, test, and implement those great ideas and then share them with others.

5. Being Able to Admit and Communicate a Mistake. Changing times and business conditions are difficult for both leaders and fellow employees. Mistakes will happen. What matters are how leaders react and show strength when they highlight and admit a mistake to the entire team. Remember, your fellow employees and team members already know if you made a mistake. What matters is when you admit that mistake and show how you are going to correct it. Additionally, showing team members what you learned from your mistakes goes to extraordinary lengths to train and develop new team members.


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New Legion documents online

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Given the events of the past year, and the fact that The American Legion has begun its second century of service, it was time to update some of the bedrock documents of the organization. Delegates to the 101st American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis in August completed that process by voting to change the constitution and bylaws, and the new version is now available to download at legion.org/publications.

Most of the changes involve reflecting the passage of the LEGION Act, and the ensuing eligibility changes to the Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary (also including the Auxiliary’s own eligibility change), as well as adoption of the singular “they” style, more utilitarian than “he or she.”

Read the resolution approving the changes – which includes a marked-up version of the old constitution and bylaws – here.


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2020 Overseas Graves Decoration fund opens Nov. 1

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The 2020 American Legion Overseas Graves Decoration Trust Fund will open to requests on Nov. 1.

The fund was established in the 1920s, and provides all U.S. flags – from Emblem Sales, made in the USA – flown at cemeteries and burial sites in foreign countries where American troops are buried or otherwise memorialized. The first fundraising for the decoration of overseas graves took place in 1921-1922, and its current organizational plan has been in force since 1935.

Trustees use the income of the trust fund to honor, preserve and decorate the graves of those who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict and the period of the Vietnam hostilities who lie overseas. The fund also financially aids departments and posts outside the continental United States of America to honor and decorate the individual graves of veterans laid to rest outside of American Battle Monument Commission-controlled facilities.

Fund requests should be sent to the American Legion national adjutant at National Headquarters in Indianapolis. The following information is required for each request:

1. The name of the veteran.

2. The cemetery name and location (city and country) where the veteran is at rest.

3. A quote in writing (not to exceed $50) from a local florist, for flowers to decorate the grave.

4. A mailing address for Emblem Sales to mail a flag for the grave.

5. A mailing address for the American Legion national treasurer to mail the department or post the requested funds to.

6. After the graveside ceremony in May, a picture with caption must be forwarded to the FODPAL secretary.

Funds are dispensed on a first-come, first-served basis until the income is depleted.


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New Jersey legislature honors Legion’s 100th anniversary

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On Aug. 5, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver – serving as acting governor for Gov. Phil Murphy – signed joint New Jersey Assembly/Senate Bill SJR86, honoring The American Legion on the 100th anniversary of its founding.

Several Department of New Jersey officers attended, including commander Robert Newell, National Executive Committeeman (NEC) Chuck Robbins, alternate NECman Berley Hanna Jr., historian Ben Auletta, and sergeant-at-arms Alfred Wilson.

Oliver discussed the bill and the work of the Legion in a signing ceremony; see a clip here. Newell commented, “The American Legion is the nation’s largest veterans service organization with 295 American Legion posts in New Jersey. Since 1919, we have supported America’s servicemembers and veterans, their families and the communities we live in. We thank Acting Governor Oliver and the New Jersey legislature for their leadership and commitment of service to those who have served, those currently serving and the communities of this great state.”

Robbins added, “It was good to see that the State of New Jersey recognizes all The American Legion has not only done in service to veterans of the Garden State on the occasion of our 100th anniversary, but how we have through our many great programs enriched the lives of so many of our citizens (especially our youth) in all of our communities.

“The state has also promised to continue working with the Legion in our next 100 years and hopes we continue that honorable service we do now. You sometimes think all that our organization does goes unnoticed or unappreciated, but it’s quite obvious The American Legion here in New Jersey is strong.”

Read the text of the bill on the State of New Jersey's website.


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Veterans of different eras share same appreciation for GI Bill

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One veteran was a translator for the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. Another was a staff sergeant in military intelligence who was stationed in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., soon after Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination there. An active-duty U.S. Coast Guard chief warrant officer second class and a former Army corporal who fought in Afghanistan were the other two. The four veterans – whose war eras are separated by decades – discussed the importance of one common thread among them, the GI Bill, during an event Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Morton Museum of Collierville History near Memphis.

The event was scheduled to build public awareness of The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill, a traveling exhibit from the Legion’s 100th Anniversary Observance Committee.

Mike Ellicott, president of the Friends of the Morton Museum, had seen the exhibit when it was on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2017 and arranged to have it installed in Collierville. The museum there makes a point to curate stories of military history and local veterans. It also has an active program working with area Scout units.

Ellicott explained to the audience Saturday that the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, written and pushed to passage by The American Legion, was a breakthrough in the way America treated veterans after discharge from service. He told of Civil War veteran pensions that nearly broke the U.S. Treasury, the near dismissal of World War I veterans after their service and the bonus march of 1932 in Washington, D.C. He also explained that the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 faced challenges and criticisms at the time, particularly about the long-term cost, as the nation was fighting a two-front world war.

“Despite the many gloom-and-doom projections of high cost and fraud abuse, the GI Bill rates as one of the most successful pieces of legislation of any kind,” Ellicott said. “The GI Bill did accomplish its goal of transitioning World War II veterans back into the economy, into a peacetime society. The returning veterans were not, as originally feared, a drag on the economy. In fact, they became the catalyst for conversion from wartime to peacetime economy and a catalyst for multi-year economic growth in the United States… The model continues today.”

Vietnam War Specialist 4th Class Roberson, a 17-year member of The American Legion, observed that his parents were both World War II veterans who, like many who grew up in the Depression, did not finish high school. “They had to get out and work,” Roberson said.

Soon into his Army service, as he was learning Vietnamese in language school, he knew he wanted to make the most of the opportunity for a higher education. He started taking night classes while on active duty and after his tour – helping to decipher enemy codes and assisting in interactions with the South Vietnamese – he was passionate to keep studying, on his way to becoming a police officer with a degree in criminal science and later a Church of Christ minister.

“When I got out of the service, I started using the GI Bill to get a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree,” he said. “It didn’t pay for all of it, but I doubt I would have been able to do what I did without the GI Bill.”

His fellow Vietnam War veteran on the panel, Lynn Wheeler of Collierville, explained that he has had an unlikely story. He had started going to college on a deferment at the height of the Vietnam War. As a sophomore, he explained, “I squandered the opportunity.” Immaturity and bad behavior had cut his education short. “My story is the story of the good Lord protecting a foolish young man, and the GI Bill benefits are a part of that story,” he told the crowd.

He joined the U.S. Army in January 1968 after a recruiter who interviewed him thought he showed aptitude for military intelligence. After basic training, he went to counter-intelligence school and trained alongside soldiers who had already completed their degrees, including some with master’s degrees. But he loved the duty – learning interrogation techniques, automobile surveillance, information gathering and more.

Less than six months after Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, Wheeler was stationed there as a plain-clothes Army investigator whose work during that time, he said, had to be destroyed later due to a court ruling prohibiting military investigations and file keeping on civilians. Later, he did background checks for Army personnel who needed security clearances to handle classified information. During his service, he got married and began using tuition assistance and, later, the GI Bill to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

“I can testify it was very helpful,” Wheeler told the group. “Completing my education without it would likely have taken much longer. Patsy and I didn’t have much money, and I was reluctant to ask my family for help since I squandered their resources before. This is my story… and I thank God for protecting this foolish young man.”

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Mikel Zachmann said the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been vital to her pursuit of a master’s degree, which she says she would like to put to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Like Wheeler, her first stab at college was short-lived. She dropped out at age 18 during her second semester and ultimately found her way to California where she enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard shortly after 9/11.

She said “it was very hard, the first few months.” She said she barely knew what a cutter was when she under way on one, heading toward the Bering Sea. One of just seven women onboard, she said she worked hard to learn personnel administration and policy and soon rose through the ranks. She got married and had a son, but the marriage did not last, and she was a single parent in 2012 looking at her options. She used Coast Guard tuition assistance and her own money to complete a bachelor’s degree in sociology two years ago. Now, as she works toward a master’s degree in health psychology, she uses a combination of Coast Guard tuition assistance and her Post 9/11 GI Bill, “which is fantastic,” she told the audience. “As a single parent, I don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on my degree. Hopefully, I can continue on for a second master’s. I want to work for VA when I get out.”

Former U.S. Army Cpl. Josh Kline told the crowd his story of service, which included a 2016 tour to Kabul, Afghanistan, and how one particular incident helped bring a future in criminology into focus for him. He was the lead gunner in a security mission when a small child appeared in the road and “started putting fire on me.” Kline was unsure at first what to do, but then he went through the steps of his training. He showed his weapon, pointed it at the child, surveyed the situation and decided not to shoot. “I did not have a clear backdrop,” he said.

Civilians could have been hit had he fired on the child, who dropped his weapon and scurried away. That night, his company commander awakened Kline to explain what had happened after the confrontation. The child was videotaped running to a room about a mile away and going inside. At about 10 that night a Special Forces team entered the room. “They didn’t just find the kid. They found other Taliban. They found IEDs. They found RPGs. They found grenades. They found uniforms. Huge win for us.”

By not shooting, Kline had contributed to a discovery that, if left unfound, could have led to many American lives lost, his commander said. He ordered Kline to explain that story to others in his unit the following morning. “This,” he said, “is why we train.” After leaving active-duty service, Kline joined the National Guard in Tennessee and trained other soldiers. Today a full-time student in criminology using his GI Bill benefits, Kline hopes to combine his military training and college education for a career in law enforcement, preferably the FBI.

“I use the Post 9/11 GI Bill,” he explained. “It’s been great, and I can’t wait to see where God takes me next.”

Ellicott wrapped up the session with a statement reminiscent of the spirit behind the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944: “Having heard those four stories, you can see why the United States continues to invest in its veterans.”

The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill is on display at the Morton Museum of Collierville History now through Oct. 26.


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Did you know?

The issuance or replacement of military service medals, awards and decorations must be requested in writing.

Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov