Don’t be afraid to work hard. No long story here but the experience of being in the most grueling conditions on several continents during my career. Some situations didn’t require a special credential or technology. Some situations just require the ability to put in the work.
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Larry Parker.
Dr. Larry Parker serves as the Department Chair, Supply, Contraction, and Acquisition within the Dr. Wallace Boston School of Business at American Public University System (APUS), which offers over 200 online degree and certificate programs through American Military University (AMU), the #1 provider of higher education to the U.S. military and veterans, and American Public University (APU). Dr. Parker has served as a business doctoral chair and adjunct educator facilitating courses for universities around the world and spent 24 years as a Marine Corps Officer, recently retiring as Lieutenant Colonel. He is also the CEO of P42 Consulting, LLC, which offers consultation, training, and motivational speaking services.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Not to be cliché to claim it as Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities but my southern Texas childhood was split between Temple, Texas and Rockdale, Texas. I was born in Rockdale, which at last census had approximately 5,800 people. It was very country living. Temple, on the other hand, was considered the big city of opportunity, with a population of roughly 70,000 people.
So, the story of my childhood is broken into two parts: first, my life with my mother and stepfather in the city and then second, in Rockdale during the summers learning from my uncle and playing with my friends in the country.
As I grew up in Temple, I returned to Rockdale every summer to learn “man lessons” from my uncle. My uncle Leroy would teach me about work ethic, building things with my hands, what it meant to be a good father, husband and being active in the community.
He had a number of cattle and large gardens. My uncle was a cattle man, farmer, U.S. Army veteran and a retiree from the U.S. Postal Service. My days with him were filled with waking up at the crack of dawn to go feed the cattle. At a young age, I would grab bales of hay that seemed larger than I was at the time, cut up each bale and then feed the cows. I would round the day out with fixing something on the property, and then usually go see my friends.
There were dirt roads in all directions, so it was difficult to ride a bike to a friend’s home. It was not uncommon to see kids going to play in someone’s field with some kids walking, and one or two riding a pony.
I grew to appreciate the importance of physical hard work and the value of taking care of things.
My mom, Molly Perry (Molden), who was the youngest of eight children herself, decided to move to Temple, Tx. for more opportunity and “city” life. The schools and jobs were more plentiful. She became a licensed practical nurse.
She raised me as a single parent for six years. We lived where she could afford it. First, in a converted garage apartment of a nice family, later “project” apartments called Wayman Manor (government-assisted living), and later on, in a single-family home. All of these locations were important to teach me the lesson of appreciation and had a significant influence on my work ethic. There was an irony that all of the homes were within three blocks of each other and gave a different perspective on life.
My mother promoted education the best way she could. She ensured I was enrolled in a pre-school that taught us lessons and was not just a daycare. I enjoyed school and ruined many of my childhood books by pretending to do homework and writing in them to complete my imaginary homework.
My mother did her best but could not afford babysitters, so I learned to help and take care of myself early on. I was a “latch-key” kid that was taught to walk home from elementary school and lock the door until my mom returned home. It was the isolation that likely caused me to be very talkative when I went to school. This also likely fostered the situation that launched the greatest opportunity in my life and set me on the path to success.
It was out of frustration by my 2nd-grade teacher during a parent-teacher conference that I would be introduced to how much education could open your world.
My second-grade teacher grew frustrated with how active I was in the classroom. I was not the class clown — I was the self-appointed teacher’s aid. She explained to my mother that, no matter how difficult the task was, I finished all my work early and proceeded to walk around the room with other students. She asked mother if there was anything she could do to help me “settle down” or just stop talking.
My mother suggested moving my seat next to the teacher’s desk. The teacher admitted she already tried that, but I just focused and finished faster and helped more students.
Thankfully this teacher suggested a program called Star Fire that was launching in the elementary school. In many cities, the slang term “busing students” had a negative connotation. In other stereotypical situations, kids from underperforming schools and economically underprivileged were bussed to better-performing schools.
She explained this was different. In fact, the kids from wealthier parts of the city were required to come to the center of the projects. Meredith Elementary School was in the center of Temple’s government projects.
She’ explained that for approximately 35 dollars my mother could get me tested and submit my application for to the program. To a single mother in our financial situation this was a huge sacrifice and commitment to my success.
Star Fire was a magnet program which ALL classes were accelerated without bounds.
The Star Fire program started at the third grade to fifth grade. Students were promoted to learn at an accelerated pace without any limits. I have found it difficult to get others to comprehend this who didn’t experience it. There never appeared to be a prescribed grade level. It was routine for the results of standardized tests to show we were performing three and four levels above our actual grade levels.
For example, our Star Fire field trips skipped the local middle and high school. We were taken to the University of Texas and Baylor University level science fairs. We went to see the symphony, and the theatre.
It was mandatory to participate in the Star Fire orchestra and learn a foreign language.
I played violin and learned Spanish. It was always a very interesting and sometimes challenging time to carry the violin case home through the projects. I guess I was thankful I did not play the Cello!
I always found it interesting that if someone compared a picture of our third-grade Star Fire class and high-school scholarship and academic award night it would be the same students. Many of us have stayed in touch. We went on to become business owners, doctors, and senior military officers.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I’m a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer. I served 24 years as a supply officer and ended my career as an inspector general for my command. I successfully transitioned from military life to become a department chair for logistics contracting and acquisition with American Public University System, an accredited online higher education provider that American Military University is part of.
As a logistician throughout my career, I had a unique experience to work internationally. In fact, I lived seven years in Japan. I coordinated all modes of transportation throughout Asia. So today I’m able to teach students about logistics with a practitioner approach.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I proudly served 24 years as a Supply Officer in the United States Marine Corps. I retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel serving as the Command Inspector General (CIG) for my command.
I always thought I would be a business entrepreneur but as I grew older, the military became more intriguing to me. I was heavily influenced by the great example of my stepfather, Lewis Perry. He married my mother as I started third grade. He was an army noncommissioned officer (NCO) at the time. So, for the latter part of my childhood, I was what many affectionately called an Army brat.
Lewis would take me to work with him. I watched him lead his soldiers throughout my childhood. I learned a great deal of my leadership style from him. He was always technically and physically prepared. He emphasized treating everyone with respect, but also to be firm and fair.
I attended two years at the United States Naval Academy (USNA). One of my proudest and saddest moments. I was a good enough student to get an appointment but not mature enough to buckle down and be successful. However, before I left the school, I had the great fortune to meet several Marine officers who tutored and mentored me.
I made it my mission to complete my goal of becoming a military officer. Due to the influence of my mentors, I choose the Marine Corps.
I graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1995. I accepted my commission as a Marine Corps Officer that year. Although I enjoyed engineering and was tempted to select other military occupational specialties, I choose supply because of what I considered was the best choice for transition into being a business owner afterward.
I started my career by serving six years in mainland Japan aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. While there I deployed to Korea, Australia, and East Timor.
My career would take me to various supply related commands in Albany, Ga, California and joint assignments in Norfolk, Va., and Tampa, Florida. I deployed on ships that took me around the Pacific rim throughout Asia, Middle East and Africa. I deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Afghanistan in 2010–2011.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
The most interesting experience in my military career was my deployment to East Timor. It was at a time great civil unrest due to a recent declaration of the country’s independence from Indonesia.
At the time I arrived in East Timor, it was experiencing over 95% unemployment. It was a sight to see every man, woman, and child walking around outside during the day because they had nowhere else to go. The country was unique. On one block there was a modern business and on the next corner were local fishermen selling their catch and people living in huts.
I was part of a small joint military operation called United States Government East Timor (USGET), which was formally The International Force for East Timor, or INTERFET.
We numbered less than three dozen U.S. military members and lived on a remodeled oil barge off the beach. We assisted in restarting the schools, rebuilding critical infrastructure, and ultimately helping them jump start their return to normal life.
It was my first real eye-opening experience to see how dramatic of a difference the culture was to the United States. The kids would play soccer barefoot with a ball that was falling apart. Goats and pigs would cross the street with the same frequency that dogs would in the United States.
As a supply officer I was aware of a resupply flight that ferried items from Australia to East Timor weekly. To make a difference in the lives of the kids of Dili, East Timor, I organized a donation from fellow military and coordinated a shopping trip to a sports store in Darwin, Australia to by sports equipment for the kids. The Seabees assisted in hanging the basketball nets and painting the lines.
In case anyone’s interested in reading more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_East_Timorese_crisis
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Throughout my career in the military, I’ve come into contact with many heroes, but one stands out, focusing on a gentleman, Staff Sergeant Jordan B. Emrick, who was explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) Marine that I served with during two deployments around the Pacific rim on ship and Afghanistan. In 2009, I was the Executive Officer for the Combat Logistics Battalion-11. SSgt Emrick was a member of our explosive ordnance disposal section assigned to us.
During the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were very lethal and killed many American service members. The EOD professionals were in high demand and usually overworked. These brave men and women were often placed in harm’s way to detect and disable IEDs to protect their fellow service members.
Due to the danger, stress and limited number of individuals, the desired rotation of service members into combat was to rest twice as long your last deployment. Our battalion had returned from a 6-month deployment around the Pacific. SSgt Emrick earned a year of rest.
Upon return to our base, I requested the opportunity to lead the next combat deployment to Afghanistan. I trained my unit and we deployed in Sept 2010. There was a requirement for additional EOD personnel. Although he earned a year of rest, SSgt Emrick volunteered to answer the call to help and protect his fellow Marines and Sailors with his unique skills.
Here’s an excerpt from the official account: “He turned down having time off and instead volunteered to go straight back to work,” said Staff Sgt. Donavin Bender, team leader with 1st EOD Co., 1st MLG (FWD). “We hit the ground running right out of the gates with a heavy workload.”
On Nov. 5, Emrick and his team were conducting a post-blast analysis on an improvised explosive device and he rendered another IED safe. The patrol he was with then came under heavy small arms fire, which restricted their movement.
“Jordan quickly maintained a low profile and began to clear a pathway around the compound in order to ensure a safe pathway for the Marines of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph M. David, 3rd Platoon commander with 1st EOD Co., 1st MLG (FWD). “He exposed himself to hostile fire, searching for improvised explosive devices.”
While sweeping the area, Emrick noticed something suspicious and shouted a warning for the Marines to get to a safe distance. He then attempted to disable an IED. His last act saved the lives of his fellow Marines.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
I define heroism as “doing the thing that others wouldn’t do, when it was the right thing to do”.
Staff Sergeant Emrick willingly did what needed to be done by volunteering to perform his profession in a combat zone to protect his fellow Marines and sailors. He didn’t have to do it, but he volunteered to do it because it had to be done in the face of adversity.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
No, a person doesn’t have to be facing a life-and-death situation to be considered a hero.
A hero could be a person with the intestinal fortitude to willingly do the difficult thing when others won’t or can’t. It could be having a difficult conversation to resolve an issue when others wouldn’t. It could be holding individuals accountable and preserving peace.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Five Leadership Life lessons
- Know your craft/profession. Never lose sight that leadership is part of your profession. You must continue to improve those skills in the same manner you improve your job specific skills. When I joined my first unit, I was able to bond with my team by taking a genuine interest in their jobs. I knew I would never do those jobs, but it provided an opportunity to learn about them and myself.
- Troops eat first/Respect those you lead as if they were your children. This may sound strange to non-military, but this lesson was ingrained in me by the Marine Corps at the Basic School and applies in all settings. In the Marine Corps the most senior person traditionally eats last and serves the junior Marines and Sailors. I remember returning from training in the field and going to the Armory to clean weapons before storing them. It was wintertime, we were very cold, we were wet, and hungry. We marched past the barracks that had the showers and dry clothes to go directly to the Armory. Our commander, Major Mundy, wanted us to learn the lesson of taking care of our equipment and responsibilities before personal comfort. The commander had coordinated for food to be delivered to the Armory parking lot where we sat. Although uncomfortable, not one second lieutenant complained. The commander called all of his platoon commanders up to the chow line to serve food to us as we stepped through with our trays. It was at this time I would witness a senior officer correct another officer for not holding up to the Marine Corps standards of leadership. All three company commanders reported to the Major who was standing in front of the food. There was one officer that appeared to have on fresh boots, a dry uniform, and a clean face. The company commander reprimanded the officer for placing his own personal comfort above that of his men. They made sure we all got fed and then he was punished. I would learn that the practice of leaders feeding the juniors served several purposes. One it showed mutual respect for the efforts of the junior person and gesture of sacrifice by leaders, second, it provided an opportunity for the leader to visibly connect and check on their physical and mental well-being, third, if supplies were limited, a leader should ensure those he or she requires the most from to be fed first. Last, it fosters trust by exhibiting that the leader is concerned with the junior’s well-being.
I apply a form of this practice in everything I do.
- Don’t allow your ego to control you. I was a fresh stereotypical second lieutenant overseeing my first major project. The problem is the process I determined was the delay in processing accountability paperwork as it was out of my warehouse. I determined it was worth the risk to rush things out of the warehouse because the items were only moving less than one mile to the new building being built. Besides this was on a military installation in mainland Japan that was less than 6 miles around the perimeter. My SNCO said not to do it. His experience was 20 years to my 6 months. I felt he just didn’t understand. So, he had to leave the base to go to Okinawa for three days. I determined I was going to show him efficiency and ordered the warehouse to release everything the way I had planned. In record time the warehouse was empty, and I gathered my paperwork to go to the new building to complete the signatures for the equipment. I would be ready to brag to my SNCO when he returned in 48 hours. The accountability process was going smoothly until the last item which was a restaurant freezer worth over 20,000 dollars. My heart sank. I literally could walk to my warehouse in 15 minutes. How could I lose track of such an expensive item that had to transit less than a mile? All of the people in the new building swore they had no idea what I was talking about. I did not sleep well for two days. I heard stories of second lieutenants getting fired and being the subjects of jokes. I was now going to be one of them. My SNCO returned and I told him what happened. He shook his head and told me to ride with him to trace steps. When we finally met with the SNCO of the new building, My SNCO proceeded to use language in a manner that we refer to as “translating our deep concern and interest” that our equipment is found that very second. It appeared the translation produced a new understanding of the sense of urgency. We were asked to follow the other Marine to his unit’s warehouse I had never seen. At first, the answer was to look for yourselves, we don’t have it. It was at that time my SNCO taught me about patience, due diligence, and tenacity. Their warehouse was twice the size of mine. We proceeded to look under every tarp and in every box for an hour. In the back of the warehouse, under a tarp, as if it had been there for months, we found the freezer. The Marines inside of the intended location were telling me the truth. They had not seen the freezer. My change to the delivery plan caused one thing to move too fast. The freezer never made it inside the building. It was getting dark the day of delivery and they told the driver to keep going past the building and place it in the warehouse. I had let my ego and desire to be right overlook years of experience. We later laughed about it when I got promoted, but I never made that mistake again.
- Be able to admit fault and learn. This story is one of me teaching a junior Marine this principle while holding them accountable. While deployed in the United Arab Emirates, we had Marines scattered across the countryside. Our security posture required armed guards and nightly radio check-in. As the Executive Officer, it was my job to ensure accountability and later report to my commander. One unit failed to report the midnight check-in. My radio operator felt as if their radio was off. I grabbed my driver and we raced across the city/desert to ensure all were safe. I reached one outer checkpoint and all things were fine. Those Marines from another unit were doing a great job. I drove further to the location of our unaccounted unit. There were several security violations visible as my vehicle pulled into view. Junior Marines were visibly shocked to see me. They knew I was not happy with the lack of discipline. I asked for location of their Lieutenant’s tent. I went directly to the tent and began to proceed to “communicate extremely severe concerns” in a manner and tone it would be understood the first time. All my junior officers knew all Marines under their charge were also “my kids” on loan to them. I made the lieutenant go to every tent and awaken every Marine and Sailor there and put them in formation. I wanted to physically see them and account for every Marine and Sailor. After I got my accountability, I had the leaders send the Marines to bed. I explained to the officer and SNCO that I was bringing them up on charges as soon as returned to the ship. “You put your Marines, my kids, lives at risk. You are the only leadership and justice they have in the middle of this desert. No excuse.” After we embarked on the ship, our battalion commander called for the officer to be held accountable. To my surprise, the lieutenant stopped and requested I go into the non-judicial punishment with them, and not their immediate Company commander. It shocked me because I was the one that originated the charges against them. However, how it was handled and the respect I apparently gained prior to that night, they wanted me to be there on their behalf.
- Don’t be afraid to work hard. No long story here but the experience of being in the most grueling conditions on several continents during my career. Some situations didn’t require a special credential or technology. Some situations just require the ability to put in the work.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Absolutely. I believe that the military helped me prepare for business and leadership in general.
In the military we discuss the “Fog of War” to describe the unknown/unknowable part of a plan you must execute.
Even though you know the fog exists you must account for it and remain flexible to alter plans in order to still achieve the mission. This experience with having to adjust and plan for the unknown keeps me in a dynamic planning mindset.
The second thing my military experience provided was the multiple opportunities to be tested physically, mentally, morally, and emotionally. I developed as an officer to learn perseverance and to push through significant challenges.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
In Afghanistan, there was something called the “ramp ceremony,” for all the killed in action service members, as their bodies were returned to the United States. After their caskets were prepared to be sent home there was a procession from the building or truck to the aircraft. Service members lined the path and saluted our sister or brother in arms as they were carried by us. I told myself that this was the least I could do for them. The unfortunate thing was the war was getting worse and we would have more and more ramp ceremonies. Until it was so many you could not make it to all of them. It was hard not to become callous and numb to death because you saw it so often.
I believe the scar that some of us have, that is unseen, is the numbness to death and losing a friend. I find myself being more deliberate and reflective on each experience so as not to allow them to get lost in other things. I would advise others to be deliberate in focusing on each moment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My days as a Marine leader are formally over but I still mentor from time to time. Now, I am a university leader. I am a Department Chair for Supply, Contracting and Acquisition.
The pandemic has severely affected the supply chain management process. We are experiencing delays in the delivery of products to an extent that can’t be ignored. The world has globalized economy. I have been fortunate enough to work around the world, learning my life-long craft of supply chain management.
It may sound too lofty or idealistic, but the exciting project I am on the verge of completing is
creating a benchmark and “Best in Practice” degree programs to produce the most effective supply chain management professionals of the future. I want to bridge the gap between practitioner and scholar. I want individuals to enjoy learning about their professional field. It is my competitive nature that if you are going to be involved in something, you should strive to be the best at it.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
The main advice I would give a leader now is to learn how to communicate to your team and foster effective communication amongst that team. Most problems I have noted within organizations are rooted in poor communication.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The best advice I can give to someone that’s leading a large team is to task/delegate, and lead by intent.
The larger the team and organization you lead, the more things will be outside of your direct control. Many leaders are poor at communicating a task and that typically manifest in the leader doing the task themselves and becoming the single point of failure.
If you don’t know how to delegate tasks, then it is important to practice. One of the most successful teams I ever led was due to me taking the time to develop my tasking directions, delegation plan and intent.
I took 24 hours to define the problem/ task I wanted resolved. I included the available resources, limits, and my leader’s intent. At the end of a well-developed tasking I had given them the power and the professional latitude they would need to execute the job.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother, Molly Perry. Her support and emphasis on education and business helped change the course of my life. My very first lawn care business was due to my mother handing me a stack of index cards to place my name on them to give to clients. I witnessed it working and it launched the entrepreneurial spirt.
In fact, it was the spirit by which I helped pay for college after I left the Naval Academy. I would later start a custom sportswear business out of my dorm room. I would order blank items wholesale and have a local printer and embroiderer finish them for me.
After my junior year, several of the college teams within our conference were buying from me. The university itself bought shirts from me. The oddest college business moment was going upstairs in the registrar’s office to sign up for classes and then downstairs to collect payment from the university for a recent purchase order placed for visiting students’ shirts.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe I’ve been successful in a few ways, including with my opportunity to be a family man and helping to raise two great sons. I also believe the ability to lead and teach within the military and university has placed me in critical junctures with individuals’ lives. I have shared my life lessons over time and provided encouragement and tough love punishment when required. In fact, I have been contacted twice this past year from Marines and students that shared those lessons I taught made a great positive difference in their lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Manage The Circle (MTC) ®of influence in their lives. This is a mantra I started and began to promote when I realized we/people only considered parts of their lives when looking to improve things.
When many self-help or improvement books were released in the 1990’s, I was a big fan of 360-degree surveys. Those typically only reviewed professional relationships. I knew people had great professional lives but played video games all night and neglected family or money issues. It was clear there were more things to consider achieving “goodness”
So, when I say MTC. I want you to consider everything in your life that influences your resources (Time, money, energy, and focus). It does not make sense to establish a goal of getting more rest and eating better by focusing only on eating better but stay up late at night playing video games.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It may sound harsh, but I always say, “The Calvary is not coming”. It is simply a mindset that you should not enter or work in any situation and expect to be rescued or for someone else to carry your load. The goal you set for your life must be your focus. You must consider the requirements for the goal and be prepared to pay the cost (hard work, credentials, money, etc.)
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Yes, for me it is Byron Allen, head of Allen Media Group. I have watched his career and I have an appreciation for how he methodically built an empire by acquiring various pieces of media; streaming, and television channels, including the Weather Channel.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.