Life Lesson: The Power of Connecting
Author Eden Coelho is a Battalion Commander in the National Guard who's also served as an Army Reservist and on Active Duty... quite a unique path. She talks about that unique path and how leaders and mentors helped along the way.
My Army career has been non-linear, unique, and quite an adventure. It consists of three different Army Components, multiple personnel systems, and a variety of component-specific acronyms. Despite the differences, a commonality that I found at each stop along the way was the people. People I connected with, people I shared experiences with, people I learned from, and people who forever changed my outlook on Army leadership.
The Active Component Years (aka The Beginning)
My first duty station after graduation from the Officer Basic Course (OBC) was the Vilseck Army Health Clinic in Vilseck, Germany. Vilseck Germany was beautiful, picturesque, and had a large population of cows. Upon arrival in Vilseck, I met my first-ever Army sponsor, Captain Emily Stehr, and her husband Matt. I referred to them as the Army dream team. Both were high-speed, low-drag, physical therapists who that bridged the gap in care between two Army communities: Grafenwhoer and Vilseck. CPT Stehr was an amazing friend and sounding board during my initial tour. She offered me guidance on a variety of topics ranging from my Army career to fun MWR trips. During one of our many conversations, I remember her telling me to focus on just listening versus listening to solve. This sage advice has stuck with me throughout my Army career, and I often reflect on whether I am listening to solve or truly listening to hear.
My Commander was a seasoned Colonel, COL Pollyanne Marcieski. She was known throughout the community as a down-to-earth Clinic Commander with a vast knowledge in TRICARE, medical coding, and billing. COL Marcieski provided this young LT with 45-60 minutes of guidance daily. She took the time to counsel me on the many duties and responsibilities that I inherited as the Clinic Executive Officer (XO), always filling my rucksack with more tasks as I matured in the position. During one of our counseling session’s reference staff interactions, she provided me with a vital piece of advice, “You do not always have to win.” Connecting with the staff required empathy, and leading the staff required both empathy and humility. As the XO, I needed to exercise both to win over the staff. COL Marcieski’s advice reinforced the importance of connecting with people.
COL Marcieski and CPT Stehr took the time to connect to a junior leader, with their actions. They showed me Army leadership, and with their guidance, they taught me leader development.
The Army Reserve Years (Somewhere in the middle)
I entered the Army Reserves after five years on Active Duty as a young Captain, very green in the ways of the Reserves. Serving as a Troop Program Unit (TPU) Reservist challenges Citizen-Soldiers to find a balance between civilian career, military career, family and occasionally professional military education. I knew I needed to surround myself with a variety of mentors who were successful in creating that balance. Change is the one word that describes my experience as I shifted from an Active Duty Soldier to an Army Reservist. Cultural change, personnel database change, and lifestyle change, were key changes that came with my transfer off Active Duty and into the Army Reserves. One thing that did not change was the people. Leaders throughout the organizations that I served in took the time to share their experiences, and offer guidance on how to successfully serve and navigate an Army Reserve career. They emphasized the importance of connecting with Soldiers that I would serve alongside and for. Lifelong Army Reservists are the very definition of a multitasker, meshing two worlds (civilian and military) seamlessly. In addition, they impressed upon me the importance of understanding and working with numerous Chains of Command, yet never failing to understand that true mastery stems from connecting with the Soldiers they serve.
The National Guard Years (Not the End)
Transitioning into the National Guard as an Army Major, to serve as a dual-status employee connected my military and civilian career. I wore my military uniform daily to supervise a unique team of contractors, Government Service employees, Active Guard Reservists, and Active Duty for Operational Support members. My team was responsible for the state's medical readiness program, a vast array of essential Soldier services that required internal resources and external agencies to be effective. As my military and civilian career intertwined, it allowed me to grow simultaneously in both areas of concentration. Quickly, I learned how important it was to connect with my team spread throughout the state to provide support, direction, and leadership. Building trust and teamwork required an approachable leader and open lines of communication. Maintaining approachable, receptive, and accessible were critical to removing the geographic constraints and connecting to the team. Through this connection and deepened trust, we were able to offer more than just metrics as a means to measure effective Soldier care. Moving beyond metrics, allowed the team to implement a holistic approach to Soldier programs and care. The core of my team’s mission required connection, not only to the Soldier but also to one another.
The Present (The now now)
As my family and I prepare for another permanent change of station to the Sunshine State, I am reminded of the numerous people that have crossed my path throughout my career. Their leadership was inspirational, their compassion was heartfelt and because of their connection, I remained committed to my teammates, my family, and myself. Army strong!