A U.S. Army Captain
Home Country: USA
Previous Industry Profession: Military
Analysis: In this essay, the author ties together his experiences of leading soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan together with staff postings in Army Operations Logistics, to paint a portrait of a dedicated and people-oriented leader. By balancing the demands of his growing family, his professional obligations and taking setbacks and challenges in his stride, the author’s resilience is clearly on display. Having achieved his goals in the Military, he states his intent to transition into Consulting via HBS. This objective is further reinforced by his positive experience during the Military Prospective Student Day.
“This would have made a much better backdrop for my wedding than the DMV,” I thought, taking in the scenery as I stood atop my mountain outpost. I was thinking of my wife, (partner’s name), whom I’d married just three weeks earlier in a civil ceremony.
Now, in March of 2012, I was in the war torn northeast province of Kunar, a region filled with snow capped mountains and lush valleys. From the outpost, I could see the locations where the valorous actions of three Medal of Honor recipients took place.
Despite its dangers, Afghanistan was a beautiful country. Seven months before deployment, I was selected to rebuild the battalion reconnaissance platoon. I applied principles learned in (military branch program) to provide combat stress and leadership-focused training. We trained dirty, cold, wet and tired, often walking all night with 80-pound packs, then working for several days conducting reconnaissance missions. I thrived leading small, close-knit teams of professionals focused on achieving goals and overcoming challenges. Soon, our training would be put to the test.
At the end of our first Afghanistan mission, my platoon was hiking, sometimes sliding, down a treacherous mountain slope. We had been observed by the enemy and I received orders to leave in daylight. At the base of the peak, we found ourselves in a boulder-strewn creek bed with high ridgelines on either side. Immediately, I felt vulnerable, recognizing this was an ideal ambush location. My instincts would prove true.
I caught a broken radio transmission that a nearby unit was taking mortar rounds. “We’re about to get hit,” I thought. Suddenly, the silence was shattered with the clamor of small arms fire. It was close, maybe 200 meters. The next instant, the creek bed erupted around me as my Soldiers returned fire. My squad leaders were reacting as trained, giving me the ability to step back and assess the situation. I could not radio the command post, so there was no way to get artillery or helicopter support, let alone tell someone we were in contact. “We’re on our own,” I thought. The firefight seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. Ultimately, we suppressed the enemy and did not have any friendly casualties, save a twisted ankle. Although this firefight and other experiences like it were certainly transformative, they were nothing compared to the challenges that would come later.
In June of 2012, a fire sparked west of (city in Denver˝ threatening residential areas, including my home. The fire department scanner was broadcast over the Internet, and I listened helplessly from my plywood hut halfway around the world. As the flames encroached, my wife was ordered to evacuate. Though (partner’s name) was safe, we lost our home. I immediately returned to begin the process of starting over, while just weeks later we learned we were expecting our first son, (son’s name).
Shortly after his birth, we made two cross-country moves in six months before reaching (city in Texas). At (city in Texas), I took my first position as a (army) officer. I learned the technical side of Army logistics and determined how to divest over 70,000 pieces of equipment and shut down a brigade, an organization made up of over 4,000 Soldiers.
Nine months later, I transferred to a new unit where I was immediately assigned the toughest project company exercise evaluations. Such a project was typically planned by a major with over twelve years of experience, but I accepted the challenge as a junior captain with only five years in the Army. I adapted to the personality of a demanding boss, energized a team of managers and senior staff, and created a brigade-level exercise from scratch. After six months of work, I supervised as the whole brigade executed my plan. In the midst of this, my wife was pregnant and we welcomed our second son, (son’s name). While we shared the joy of our growing family at home, I was constantly challenged professionally during my two years in staff positions.
In September 2015, I was finally back on “the line” as a company commander, excited to lead and train my own piece of the Army and make an impact on the lives of 160 Soldiers. But I knew I would have a real leadership challenge. Due to the prolonged high pace of operations without recovery, standards of training and discipline had atrophied. Soldiers and families were exhausted, felt their leadership did not care about them, and were mentally or literally checking out of the Army. I was taking command of a worn-down company facing more of the same intense training schedule.
I focused on taking care of people through team building, fostering candid communication with my subordinate leaders, and giving time back to Soldiers and families whenever possible, while reinforcing a culture of doing the little things right. Progress came slowly, but 15 months and two training cycles later, I am proud that the company excelled in its missions with the tireless efforts of my subordinate leaders and Soldiers.
I believe each unique set of circumstances in the Army has given me similar insight that I have a passion to work with and lead teams to solve complex problems, persistence to overcome adversities, and the ability to produce results that make organizations, systems, and people better. I seek out mentors, peers, and subordinates to understand different perspectives when designing solutions. I enjoy leveraging competition to motivate and am committed to mission accomplishment.
I have achieved my professional goals in the Army and am excited to take the next step and pursue my goal of becoming a consultant at a major management consulting firm. A Harvard MBA would be the ultimate catalyst in this career change, strengthening different aspects of my leadership, providing a foundation in business, and allowing me to learn from the perspectives of an incredibly diverse student, faculty, and alumni network. I know this to be true because I had the privilege to visit campus for the Military Prospective Student Day. I was energized watching the Case Method in action as Professor (HBS Professor’s name) facilitated the “Threadless” case and students learned from each other through lively debate.
The amount of emphasis and time that the veteran community and the Business School put into making the day a fantastic experience demonstrated the extent to which veterans are valued there. I know Harvard Business School is the best place for me and my family, a global community in which I will contribute and thrive for a lifetime. If given the opportunity, as alumnus and CEO (name of HBS Alumni) advised in his message to prospective candidates, I am eager to take risks and try new things, invest in relationships, and “show up” fully committed to the experience of Harvard Business School.
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