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Christopher Michel: GI Bill Primer
Christopher Michel: On the Shoulders of Giants
The Importance of Celebrating Our Naval Heritage

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    February 2005

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    Cartoon by Jeff Bacon.

    Recently while dining at the venerable Occidental Grill in Washington, I noticed a worn picture of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz adorning the wall. You've probably seen the same photo -- a head shot of the Admiral, and the cover art for E.B. Potter's eponymous Nimitz biography. I immediately felt the pride that comes from a personal association to something worthwhile -- a bit like eyeing the picture of a distant, but famous, family relative. Although I have never met Admiral Nimitz (we're of slightly different year groups), I felt somehow connected to him -- purely by virtue of shared service in the United States Navy. It crystallized for me something I'd been tangentially considering for the last few years: our lifelong connection to the fraternity of Naval Service might very well be the most prized gift from of our time in uniform.

    As professionals, we often articulate the rewards of military service in terms of pay, benefits, and, perhaps, mission -- often undervaluing or ignoring (until much later in life) the less tangible attributes like camaraderie, pride in uniform, and place in history. There is a lesson to be learned by our colleagues in the Marine Corps: celebrating our traditions, patriotic duty, and heritage while on active-duty is good business…and it directly enhances recruiting, retention, and reinforces our core values.


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    One of the most enduring themes of military service is the sense that through our service we are part of something greater than ourselves. That we are part of a continuum of service -- somehow tied directly to one another and to those who have come before us. In some way, we are part of the legacy of the Sea Services that goes back to October 13th, 1775 and the founding of our Navy -- perhaps even as far back as the 2500BC to the seafaring Phoenicians. It's easy eschew these notional concepts as sentimental or contrived, but I don't believe they are -- in fact, they take on incremental meaning as one gets older. To see this phenomenon firsthand, you might consider spending an afternoon at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. Navy Veterans come from throughout the country to enroll in the ship's log -- adding their picture and personal history to the hundreds of thousands of shipmates who have come before them. Veterans of every conflict, these Sailors want to send a simple message, "I served, too." For many of them, their time in the Navy was the highlight of their lives -- and they would give anything to go back. You'll likely come to the same conclusion as me -- how lucky we were to have served!

    It's important that we take time to celebrate and communicate these traditions to our Sailors. Many of these young professionals want to have the importance of their service reinforced -- to understand their place in history. DoD studies regularly indicate that one of the more important drivers of military enlistment and retention is the appeal of "being part of something greater than yourself." The Navy can't compete with the civilian sector on traditional civilian career metrics of lifestyle and financial reward... However, we are the hands-down winner in term of mission, duty, pride, and camaraderie. For many people, these intangible qualities are the most some of the most enduring rewards in life. It's clear that leaders who can adeptly communicate and foster these attributes in their commands reap the rewards of enhanced morale and high retention -- and, perhaps in hindsight, the feeling they contributed to building a great team.

    The Sea Services should also do more to capture, preserve and communicate our Naval heritage. Oral history and ship preservation programs are woefully underfunded and understaffed. Today, many of our decommissioned museum ships, like the USS Hornet in Oakland, rely on the donations and sweat-equity of World War II veterans to support them…who will be the next generation of caretakers? In addition, we do very little at the command level to preserve and celebrate unit histories. The Air Force, on the other hand, actually funds historian billets at many of their major commands. During this era of perpetual budget constraints, it's understandable that we'd be predisposed to deprioritize these "nice-to-have" but not essential programs. It may be, however, that a more robust historical preservation and education program would increase retention and the appeal of military service -- easily funding the small incremental cost of these programs.

    Recently, the Navy made the wise decision to provide every new Sailor a copy of the Thomas Cutller's Sailor's History of the U.S.Navy. A fantastic book that tells the story of the Navy through the enormous contributions of the enlisted community -- providing new recruits context, community and connection to their new heritage….an important first step in weaving each of them into the fabric of our Navy's history.

    The next time you see Admiral Nimitz's picture, take stock of how it makes you feel. We're truly standing on the shoulders of giants -- and we owe it to the profession to honor and celebrate our heritage.

    © 2005 Christopher Michel. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

    About the Author

    Chris Michel is Founder and President of Military Advantage, the nation's largest military membership organization. Through Military.com, the company connects over 4 million members to the lifelong benefits of military service and provides public and private sector clients efficient access to the military market. Members trust Military.com for career, education and financial services. Founded in 1999, Military Advantage has raised over $30 million from leading investors and strategic partners, including A&E Television Networks. In 2004, Military Advantage was acquired by Monster Worldwide (Nasdaq: MNST).

    Prior to founding Military Advantage, Chris was a strategy consultant assisting companies in the airline, entertainment, and financial services industries.

    Chris also served as a Naval Flight Officer in the United States Navy. While on active duty, Chris flew as a P-3 Navigator, Tactical Coordinator and Mission Commander in support of maritime interdiction operations in the Red Sea, NATO enforcement operations in the Adriatic, and counter-narcotics missions in Central America. Following his operational tour, Chris worked in the Pentagon as Aide to the Chief of the Naval Reserve.

    An advocate for servicemembers and veterans, Chris is a frequent speaker and has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, Financial Times, and others. He is also a regular guest on CNN and other national radio and TV programs. In addition, he writes the monthly "Charting your Course" column for U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine and is working on his first book to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. He also serves as a Director of the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation and a Trustee of the U.S. Naval Institute Foundation.

    Chris earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.



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