A New Year Begins
Last year was a busy year with the South Carolina State Guard. The end of the year always gives me time to reflect on what we accomplished over the course of the last 12 months. As we spend time with family over Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year holidays, we usually have some type of break from training and missions.
This year, however, we still had some units in the field over the holidays working on Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts. I am very proud of the troops who serve our State.
A lot of people love to take the holidays at the end of the year to travel home to spend time with their families. But our dedicated troops continued to serve selflessly. I was asked by our Engineers to come to Nichols, South Carolina the week of Thanksgiving to help their unit. While there, I was able to use my civilian work skills for the benefit of the South Carolina State Guard.
What amazes me most is how dedicated State Defense Force troops are. The troops with whom I spent time that week were motivated to get their mission accomplished. I’m sure they were all thinking of family back home, but they were serving because of a greater sense of duty to their state. There would be many families in South Carolina that would not be able to celebrate the holidays at home. Their homes were not habitable because of Hurricane Matthew. The streets I walked through were for the most part empty of people. There were a few homes that didn’t suffer damage that were still being lived in, but for the most part it was a ghost town. The smell of mold was very prevalent walking down the streets. If you looked in the windows of the homes, you could see mold on the walls and stains where the water level peaked. The streets were piled with ruined furniture, television sets, wet sheet rock, wet insulation, building materials and other debris.
The South Carolina State Guard Engineering Command asked for help from other units during the holidays. Our Chaplains and Medical Detachment were a huge asset to our Engineers. Chaplains or our Medical troops would accompany our Engineers to inspect houses and buildings. The victims of Hurricane Matthew needed someone to talk to.
Our Medical Troops and Chaplains could talk to the residents while our Engineers and Architects completed their inspections of the homes and buildings. I did not realize how important it was to have someone with you to talk and mostly listen to the residents until I was in the field working in the disaster zone.
I was getting elevations on the finish floor levels of homes and buildings and spoke to several residents who were trying to clean up. I talked to one gentleman for 45 minutes. He just needed someone to listen to him. He was an automotive mechanic and lived in an apartment on the side of his automotive garage. All of his diagnostic equipment was destroyed. His personal vehicles and some clients’ vehicles were flooded and destroyed. There was a fertilizer plant up the street from him. The fertilizer was washed away in the flood waters and you could see the stain of fertilizer on the walls of his shop. He had a chain link fence around the side and rear of his property where he kept the vehicles locked up. Some of the fence was pushed down from the rush of the flood waters, but the fence that could have been saved was already rusting from the fertilizer that had been in the flood waters. This gentleman was just trying to figure out how to proceed with life. He told me he was in his sixties and he really didn’t want to go in debt to replace his tools and equipment so close to retirement.
I enjoyed being able to listen and give support to this man who had his life turned upside down by Hurricane Matthew, but there were many more with similar stories that just needed to be heard. That was when I realized our opportunity to use troops with different skill sets aside from engineering in such a circumstance. The importance of having other troops who could serve by listening while I continued making progress with my work became very evident.
Listening is an important skill at all levels. We in leadership roles can make our units better if we stay attuned to the needs of our subordinates. We need to listen to the troops who are in the field. They know what they need to complete their missions.
I feel like one of the most important parts of my State Guard job is listening to the troops for whom I am responsible. I really do enjoy speaking to the enlisted troops one on one. Sometimes all they need is for someone to give them an ear. I try to make it a point during activation periods to visit our units wherever they are. Often I will visit an armory where they are sleeping and I will sit down on a cot beside someone and just ask, “is there anything I can do for you?”
We just completed another example of listening. As we started our new year with the South Carolina State Guard, The staff and I listened to briefings from our Brigades and other units on training, missions, recruiting and other items. The briefers then listened to MG Mullikin as he gave suggestions and direction to the briefers. Listening is a two-way street that must be used in leadership.
As we start this New Year, take time to reflect on where you have been in the previous years, but focus on where you want to go. Set goals and milestones for 2017. Write those goals down so you can look at them several time through the year. Remember why you serve the State Defense forces. Your service may be invaluable to someone who can’t be home for the holidays and just needs you there to listen.
CSM Mark Freeman showing LTC Marguerite McClam, Commander of the Engineering Command, elevation data for use in rebuilding above the flood zone from a robotic total station. You can see the flood level on the house in the background.
Photo by MAJ Jeff Jackson, SCSG